I agree Jackd, if you have an established relationship with a shop, it is not neccesary to go through those steps, and alot can be taken on word and trust, however if you have never dealt with an establishment before, it your own responsibility to cover your butt.
Spencer was asking if he was ripped off, I say yes!. Was it on purpose? maybe not, however there was no communication between him and the shop. If you want someone to do a job for you to your satisfaction, they must understand what it is you want. I feel the shop was lazy in their communication, but it was up to Spencer to call them on it. It is near impossible to go back after the fact to ask for an adjustment, it goes against human nature to give something back they regarded they earned. They did accomodate somewhat, but 1 hr labour on a $1100. bill?.
Of course it's a pain in the ass when your car has to be towed into the shop, and the pressure of time and loss of use adds to the problem, but signing blank work orders, or even no work order is like signing a blank cheque, once they have your keys, you have surendered your rights to your car, until the bill is paid.
Back to having an established relationship with a shop for a moment, in the beggining I see nothing wrong letting them know what kind of customer I am, and what I expect, if they meet my expectations, they will have a customer for life. A basic life principle in all relationships I say.
Regarding quotes, I have no problem paying for a diagnostic service, but this is not the same as an off the top of your head quote. If I know what the problem is, I will tell them exactly what I want done, if its wrong I'm at fault, but if it's something I can't diagnose, then I will pay them to do it for me, but it better be right. I don't agree that car repair is not an exact science. In diagnostics, a trained mechanic follows a set course of action to determine the problem. For instance your coil wire example would not happen if a proper diagnostic routine was followed, check for spark, fuel, compression ect. The same for transmissions, once there cracked, the only determining factor is the torque converter, everything else is prepriced in the book, but before you crack it, you diagnose and eliminate all other factors first.
In summation, the problem is not really with the mechanic, but the front end guy. The mechanic should only do what he is told, so it comes down to management of the front end, which is really about people skills and good business practice.
Any mechanics or front end guys out there with an opinion?