General Question

lilalila's avatar

If an auto repair shop runs two diagnostics, finds basically nothing, and tells me to take my car elsewhere, do I still have to pay?

Asked by lilalila (477 points ) January 3rd, 2011

On New Year’s Eve, my car decided that it would not start. I have had this problem once before, and it was an electrical issue. In response, I had AAA tow it to the nearest large auto repair shop (Firestone in this case) because they would be most likely to have the parts necessary to fix it.

Anyway, they ran an electrical diagnostic, found nothing, then a compression test, and found that the engine was flooded out with gasoline, but do not have the capability to find out what had caused that or if that was even the reason why it would not start. So they said I have to take the car somewhere else. My bill for this valuable information is around $130, and it still won’t start, so I have to tow it AGAIN.

I called the other mechanic I’m taking this car to, and he could not figure out for the life of him what in the world these other mechanics had even tried to tell me.

What I want to know is whether I can raise enough of a fuss in order to not have to pay Firestone the full cost for these useless diagnostic tests, what the heck I am supposed to do now, and whether this would constitute justifiable assault and battery.

And fyi, the car is a 1994 Volvo 960.

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21 Answers

marinelife's avatar

You still have to pay for their time and the tests. Sorry.

Fred931's avatar

You asked for someone to do a service, and they did their service and charged you for it. The price, I don’t find reasonable, but like @marinelife said, you’ll have to pay anyway.

We at Fluther, however, have Jerv for solving automotive woes. I’ll send him this question ASAP.

lilalila's avatar

@marinelife ; Awesome.
@Fred931 ; Thanks for forwarding it on.

nikipedia's avatar

You do still have to pay for the diagnosis, even if it yields nothing of substance.

A couple years ago I noticed huge plumes of black smoke coming out of my car as I was driving on the highway. I panicked, pulled over, and had it towed to the dealership. It turned out that when my friend had changed my oil the day before, he had added too much, and the smoke was excess oil burning off.

They charged me the full diagnostic fee, $180, to tell me this and throw out some oil. I was just as irritated as you must be now.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

You should definitely complain, and then settle, if possible, for a lower amount.

The reason you should complain is that you didn’t take your car to them for a response to a philosophical question of “Why won’t my car start?” (at least I hope you didn’t). Your request to them should have been on the order of “Can you fix my car so it starts and runs again, please?” They clearly failed at that – and I’m surprised that they themselves accepted a diagnostic result that returned “Normal” ... and yet the car still wouldn’t start. Someone should have been embarrassed by that result, but instead they ran another test, found a problem, and then left it alone. (Or did you get fed up at that point and tell them to give up?)

Taciturnu's avatar

I’m with @CyanoticWasp.

Raise some hell, get the bill knocked down. You’ll still have to pay something, though.

Blueroses's avatar

My local mechanic does not charge me for diagnostics if he can’t repair the problem.

I would call the manager at Firestone and reasonably explain your objection to the fee. Tell him you chose his shop because it has a good reputation and you’ve done business there in the past but you don’t feel these charges are reasonable.

He may reduce the amount by writing off either the labor or test fee. You’ll still pay something, but it’s worth trying to negotiate.

koanhead's avatar

If the car does not start, there are three possibilities:
1) Fuel problem – too much (flooded) or too little (starved)- this generally does not occur in fuel-injected engines.
2) Spark problem – always electrical- the engine will turn over but won’t start.
3) Compression problem – various causes- engine doesn’t crank or is mechanically broken.

EVERY Otto-cycle gasoline engine ever built follows the same physical laws, and every engine will start and run if the necessary conditions of fuel, spark and compression are met. If a mechanic can’t figure out why it won’t start he has no business in the business.

Whether or not you have to pay this bill varies according to where you live. Read the fine print on the back of the bill; if you have consumer-protection laws in your area that cover the situation they may be addressed there. Don’t just refuse to pay and not attempt to negotiate with the business. Talk to the manager, not the mechanic.

Consider contacting the Better Business Bureau for more information about this situation and perhaps file a report with them.

SavoirFaire's avatar

As a chronic pain in the ass to local merchants, I agree with the last four responses: make a fuss (to the manager). Demand to pay nothing, but be willing to settle for paying less. Most likely, you’ll have to at least pay for the mechanic’s time. But like @CyanoticWasp said: the service you requested was getting the car fixed (or at least information on how to fix it), that request was not filled, and any decent mechanic would feel embarrassed about that. Payment is exchanged for goods and services. No goods or services, no payment.

And in my defense, I’m only a pain to the local merchants once. I find the one’s I like and stick to them.

perspicacious's avatar

Yes, if it is posted in the shop that diagnostics carry a charge, or if they advised you before running the diagnostics that there would be a charge. Otherwise, I would fight them. This is my opinion.

jerv's avatar

Unless they have a big sign saying “Free diagnostics” or similar, yes.

Troubleshooting a car takes time. At $80–150/hr, that time could be spent working on a known problem, but your car is occupying a bay and at least one mechanic. They will get their money no matter what car they are working on, and if it’s your car in the bay being looked at, it’s you that will pay for the time it’s in there.

I say @koanhead is correct about the engine. For a car with electronic fuel injection to flood is rare for reasons I won’t get into for brevity’s sake. I have a carburetor, which is completely different in regards to fuel delivery, so I can flood it fairly easily though. If your compression test was ok then I would check your ignition system; coils, wires, plugs…

lilalila's avatar

UPDATE: So Firestone told me when I went to pick up my car that based on what they found with the diagnostics that I might have to rebuild my whole engine. I went ahead and paid the full cost of the diagnostics without making a fuss, since it sounded like they knew sort of what was wrong. When I called a tow truck to take it to another shop where I could get my engine taken care of, it started up no problem and drove just fine. I dismissed the tow truck, and took it to an import specialist.

Turns out Volvo 960’s flood with gas like that for pretty much no reason. It’s just something that model does every once in a while, and the problem gets worse as it gets older. To prevent that from happening, they replaced the spark plugs and did a fuel treatment to get rid of carbon build up. Super cheap repairs. They’ve been test driving it over there, and it’s been doing just fine.

NEVER taking my car to Firestone again. Should’ve gone to a specialist in the first place. I would’ve probably paid less and been less freaked out.

lilalila's avatar

Thanks, all of you for your help! :]

koanhead's avatar

Neither new plugs nor gas treatment will prevent the engine from flooding. The problem will almost certainly recur. It sounds like you are aware of that already, but I’m reiterating just in case.
Anyway, flooding doesn’t occur for “no reason”.
IMO technically what you are experiencing is probably not flooding, which is the situation in which so much gasoline enters the cylinders that the spark plugs become wet with gas and won’t fire. This is fairly common with carbureted engines, and the fix is just to let the car sit for a few minutes. Some folks advocate leaving the throttle open during the wait, but there’s no real reason to do that.
Flooding is a rare condition among fuel-injected vehicles, and really only happens in “single point” type vehicles- that is, ones that have a single “fuel injector” which squirts gas into the throttle body. There are a few things that can cause such an injector to leak enough gas to flood an engine (especially a 3-litre 6) and all of them are signs of imminent failure. The good news is that throttle-body injectors are relatively easy to replace.
The other general class of fuel-injected engines are “multi point” type. These have one or more fuel injectors for each cylinder. It’s unlikely that this type can cause engine flooding because all of the cylinders need to flood before the car will refuse to start, and an individual injector can only affect one cylinder.
I suspect that the problem with the car is not “flooding” but insufficient fuel pressure due to poor filtration. At least some of these cars apparently came with mechanical fuel injection which is notoriously picky about particles in the fuel. I strongly recommend that you take the car to yet another mechanic. It doesn’t need to be an import specialist, but make sure you take the time to search out a reputable mechanic- use yelp.com or ask your car-savvy friends or relatives (not the guy with the hot rod.) Fuel filters are a commonly neglected maintenance item, and they can cause intermittent trouble when they get old and clogged.

On the other hand, if the engine is literally filled with so much gas that a compression test can’t be done, something is very very wrong.

lilalila's avatar

I’ve already spent 300 bucks on this car, and it’s running fine now. Considering I am a student and spent under two thousand bucks to buy it in the first place, I’m not in any rush to get anymore work done. I take it in for tune-ups pretty much every two months or so. God though, I really really would do more if I had the money. I love this car to death.

To kinda correct what I said before, she said not really “no reason,” but that several things could cause it, and it’s a common defect in the model of car I have and plenty of people drive it forever without it messing up too bad. It just makes it slightly less reliable. Or that’s just what I gathered from what she told me. Neither of the mechanics seemed too surprised or alarmed that my 1994 Volvo 960 was flooding, and neither suggested I had to replace my engine or anything.

For the record, my car has 166,500 miles on it. I am pretty much COUNTING on this happening again. As long as they’re sure it’s not a problem that will happen while I’m driving it, I am good.

The compression test returned results, so I’m not too worried. It was definitely just flooded, considering clearing out the flood started it right back up, and the fuel filter was replaced recently.

jerv's avatar

Volvos tend to be a little odd anyways, and older, high-mileage cars tend to have quirks (my ‘85 Corolla has quite a few after 220K miles!), so it’s inevitable that an old Volvo will do interesting things from time to time.

Unfortunately, like most European cars, when they throw a temper tantrum they can cause a lot of confusion since they tend to do things a bit differently; enough so that you want to take them to either a specialist or a mechanic that really has seen it all. Too many mechanics seem to have too little experience outside of what they learned, and most learn on American and/or Japanese cars.

@koanhead Actually, I can see one way that a gas treatment could help, but it’s really a band-aid solution. Electronic injectors sometimes stick, and older injectors get stickier. If the treatment helps at all then odds are that it will only help temporarily. And new spark plugs will help get a cleaner burn in the cylinder so it will be a little longer before the injectors get sticky again than it otherwise would be, but at the end of the day there is no getting around the fact that the injectors are dying a slow death.
Mechanical fuel injection is enough of a hassle that I was glad to be rid of my ‘85 Golf. But one thing you neglect is that if the fuel distributor goes bad. then all sorts of interesting fuel delivery issues are possible… like leaking gas into all of the cylinders. They can get just as sticky as your electronic ones, but they don’t always show it the same way an EFI engine would.
I mention this here because both Volvo and VW used Jetronic mechanical fuel injection at various times.

Blueroses's avatar

Well, since this question has been settled by the OP already paying for the service and the experts have come in… I now can post this somewhat relevant link

jerv's avatar

@Blueroses Guys are naturally inclined to solve problems, but we are simple in that we only solve problems we can see and touch. Emotions are intangible, and you can’t wrap then in duct tape, so we leave them to the gender that is actually wired for that type of thing.

lilalila's avatar

@jerv and @koanhead ; Well, I think what I’ve learned here is that I will watch out for it. Seriously, at the first sign of messing up I will take it to my normal mechanic in my school’s town and have them check it out. They’ve done awesome work for me in the past (and it’s actually a Volvo dealership).

I THINK the people I took it to last were experts on Volvos, actually. There were plenty in their lot (though that could be because absolutely no one in my town knows anything AT ALL about them). But yeah. I’ll keep an eye out for any more screw ups.

@Blueroses ; Hahahahahhaaha!

Blueroses's avatar

@SavoirFaire Thanks for the link. That will keep me busy for a while.

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