My version of a
Frequently Asked Questions Page

I'm getting kinda tired of answering some questions, so I've decided to create a FAQ page for you. It's not very big right now (only three questions, all from the same e-mail), but it will grow as time goes on. Since this lady's questions are so common, and she seems so articulate and polite, I decided to use her e-mail to christen this new page. As usual, I haven't included her e-mail address, last name, or changed a single character in her original letter.

Notice how she started off with a compliment, took pains with her spelling and grammar, told me what kind of car she had, and phrased her questions clearly and logically. I wish everyone was so understandable. Please also note that she didn't send her e-mail as HTML, but formatted as plain text. I love this woman! My response is directly below her e-mail.

From: Molly
Subject: a question, if you don't mind :-)
Reply-To: molly@xxxxxxxx.com
Date: Thu, 3 May 2001 09:45:07 -0400

Dear Ken,
I stumbled onto your site this morning. It is so funny! And I really like the pictures of your assistants. My two-year-old goldfish was my social director for a while; I'd actually bring her down to parties and stuff.

I have a couple of questions, if you don't mind. If this is like asking for free diagnostics, then I'll send you some cookies or something in return. :-)

Last week, I was told that my truck needed its belt replaced (it only has one, he said). It's a 97 Ranger, automatic, 6 cylinders. The mechanic at Midas said that it'd cost around $180 to replace it (that's parts and labor). That seemed a little high to me, but I live in DC so things are really expensive. I have three questions for ya.

1. Is $180 a lot to pay to have a belt replaced?
2. Is it rude (ie, will it tick mechanics off) if I call up and ask for a price quote to do a certain job? (like asking them how much *they'd* charge to replace the belt) I wasn't sure if you were "supposed" to shop around for repairs.
3. Is it a huge faux pas to buy some of the parts myself? I know I could save a lot of money by going with my dad and brother to the junkyard, or even going to NAPA myself. But will the mechanics let me do that? Please advise.

Thanks so much. If you don't have the time/inclination to answer all three questions, any advice you could offer would be fine. Thanks again, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Cheers, Molly

OK, that's the original letter. Below is mostly what I sent back...

> Dear Ken,

Hi Molly,

I hope you don't mind, but I'm gonna use your letter to start a FAQ page. After spending an hour on my reply I realized that it was turning into a major project, and that a lot of my comments could help other people, and that I'd said most of it before in other responses and I'd rather spend my time answering NEW questions. Also, you seem to be a reasonably articulate and literate person with a genuine need for my help. Check back at Otto's place in the next couple of days to see your letter immortalized...

> I stumbled onto your site this morning.

Wow, think of the odds! Over 600,000,000 web pages out there and you tripped over mine! And, at a time when you could benefit from my services... Let's go buy a lottery ticket. Most people get to my site from a search engine or a personal referral or link...

> It is so funny!


Thank you. I figured people who are looking for help could use a little humor in what is usually a pretty humorless situation...

> And I really like
> the pictures of your assistants.


It took a long time to get a decent one of Otto, I didn't realize how fast they move... I'm still working on getting a better one of Tess, I never realized how hard it is to capture her facial expressions.

> My two-year-old goldfish was my social
> director for a while; I'd actually bring her down to parties and stuff.

Oookay....

>
> I have a couple of questions, if you don't mind.

No problem.

> If this is like asking for free diagnostics,

It is, but I asked for it, so I guess the normal rules don't apply.

> then I'll send you some cookies or something in return. :-) >

No you won't, but it's nice of you to pretend that you will, unless of course you think that I'm gonna give you a better answer if you pretend you're going to reward me...

> Last week, I was told that my truck needed its belt replaced (it only has one,
> he said). It's a 97 Ranger, automatic, 6 cylinders. The mechanic at Midas


Actually I'll bet that the guy you talked to was the "service writer", since shops like Midas seldom let the actual mechanics talk to the customers. The service writer is usually a much better salesman.

> said that it'd cost around $180 to replace it (that's parts and labor). That
> seemed a little high to me, but I live in DC so things are really expensive.

Bullsh*t, that's the biggest lie yet. Why would things be any more expensive there? The parts are coming from the same supply system that the rest of the country uses, I'll wager that the rents aren't much different and the mechanics aren't getting paid any more there than they are in Phoenix, Arizona or Buckfutt, Alaska, so where would any extra cost come from? I'm so tired of hearing this EXCUSE for overcharging. Guess what, shops in small towns use the same excuse. Everybody does it, and it's always bullsh*t.

Whew, sorry about that, I got a little frothy around the mouth for a second, sometimes that happens when I hear certain "trigger phrases"

> I have three questions for ya.
>
> 1. Is $180 a lot to pay to have a belt replaced?

You don't need me to answer that question, of course it is a lot. I suspect that either he's planning to do more than just replace the belt (like maybe also replace the belt tensioner, or the water pump, or maybe some other work that your car needs) or else he's going to surprise you with a final bill that's smaller than the estimate.

> 2. Is it rude (ie, will it tick mechanics off) if I call up and ask for a price quote to do a certain job? (like asking them how much *they'd* charge to replace the belt)


Yeah, maybe a little bit. The biggest problem is that many shops will give you a lowball price on the phone, then sock it to ya when they actually do the repair. Sometimes the lowest estimate isn't the best place to get the repair done. The larger shops usually have someone who spends most of their day answering questions and making quotes on the phone. That guy has to be paid. Usually not very much, but the job isn't too tough, just looking up labor and parts prices in a couple of big books. The smaller shops usually have the owner or one of the mechanics doing this job. They DON'T get paid for it. That's the problem. You know, like using the doctor to answer the phone in the clinic.

> I
> wasn't sure if you were "supposed" to shop around for repairs.

You're not, although that hasn't stopped most of you from doing it anyway... I guess we mechanics have created the situation ourselves by ripping off and lying to so many people that you are forced to shop around. The problem is that the final price you pay (in most states) doesn't have to bear any relation to the price that you were quoted anyway.

> 3. Is it a huge faux pas to buy some of the parts myself?

Yeah, kinda. Many shops will let you get away with it, but most of us don't like it very much, and of course the money you save is usually offset by the fact that if the part fails, you are the one stuck with any warranty problems. And when that happens, the parts guy says the part failed due to bad installation and the labor guy says the part was defective... When both parts and labor come from the same shop, you are spared this complication...

> I know I could save a lot of
> money by going with my dad and brother to the junkyard,


Not for a belt. They are considered to be a 'consumable' part, and no self respecting wrecking yard would sell you one.

>or even going to NAPA myself. But will the mechanics let me do that?

Most will, but nobody likes it very much. They usually figure out some way to recover the profit that they didn't make on the belt... And, should you buy the wrong belt,(which happens a lot) and they don't find out until they have your car apart, guess who gets to pay double labor, or else gets to wait an extra day to get their car back...

> Please advise.

Since I can't see your car, and there ARE (rare) conditions under which $180 would be a fair price, it would be unfair of me to condemn the guy from Midas, even though I'm tempted to. The belt shouldn't cost more than 20-25 dollars retail, and any mechanic who can't replace one in less than a half hour is a hack. You do the math...

The best advice I've ever given, and this question gets asked of me ALL the time, is this: "Find a mechanic that you can trust, and then trust him." Don't waste his time, question his judgment, or forget him at Christmas. Don't expect him to be right every time, but expect him to treat you fairly and in a professional manner. Don't lie to him about your driving habits, or about your finances. Treat him like you treat your doctor, as a trained professional whose time is valuable because of the knowledge that he has.
>
> Thanks so much. If you don't have the time/inclination to answer all three
> questions, any advice you could offer would be fine. Thanks again, and I look
> forward to hearing from you soon.
>
> Cheers, Molly


Hope this has helped, keep in touch, and thank you for an articulate and well thought out letter. I wish all my e-mails were this much fun to answer.

Ken :-)
 
 
 
 


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