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  #1  
Old 07-16-2004, 08:48 PM
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Location: Miami, FL
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Evil shop stews my prunes

I am going on a trip and therefore I decide to have the front end realigned on my 90 300D, which gets better mileage. This hasn't been done for two years, so I guess it's best to get it done. Carlos, the guy who usually does this with great equipment and great care, seems to be in the hospital, so I call a number of shops. Some want me to pay as much as double ($89.95) the $45 that Carlos charges AND leave my car 20 miles from home and return five or six hours later.

The shop down the street tells me that his equipment can't deal with a caster of 10 degrees (or was that camber)?

Finally I find a guy in Hialeah who sounds like he might have aligned a Mercedes, charges $45 and can do it this morning. So off I go. 20 minutes after I get there Miguel and his bro, a pair of somewhat chubby Cubans are fiddling away with their 'puter games and a skinny Central American is doing the job in the unairconditioned shop. Then Miguel has the revelation that my car actually has four wheels that need aligning and tells me that I need to spring for $10 more. I had been trying to keep the extra two wheels a secret, or perhaps I concluded that four wheels were not too much for Carlos to do in a half hour, and that $45 was a fair price for 30 minutes work.

Anyway, I agree to this, and after ten more minutes the skinny anonymous Centrral American guy is on another car, the chubby Cubans still are playing their same 'puter games, and I get a bill that lists an extra $5.00 for "shop supplies".

Hey, what supplies do you use in aligning four wheels? I have seen many a car aligned and other than a coule of squirts opf WD-40 and a little wear on the mechanic's gloves, I have never seen any supplies consumed.

"It's like a fee for oil changes and new batteries, it's for the environment", says Miguel with a completely straight face.

I try really hard to envision innocent alligators in the Everglades perishing from WD-40 exposure, endangered Manatees choking on used gloves.

I point out that nothing has to be disposed of after an alignment, either. It is as environmentally friendly an act as any shop could perform.

So he admits that there are no materials consumed nor thrown in the swamp. He says that they are allowed by Miami-Dade County to add a surcharge for extras, even a bigger one than he has stuck me for. "All the Big Boys do it" he says.

I have lived here since 1976. No one has ever added anything except battery and tire disposal fees, and I always take the batery with me and sell it to the recycler for $1.50.

I recall telling him that I had had too many bad experiences with Sears, Midas, Aamco and such that I not darkened their doors in decades. In small towns, where shops need repeat business, such places can be honest, but here in Miami each one sems to be intent on screwing every customer once. (And the female ones twice or thrice or until they learn that a carburator cleaning is not a part of a wheel balance. At least on a furel-injected vehicle.

So then he points to the Miami-Dade sign in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole that I as a consumer, have a right to see a written estimate before any work is done, as though this actualy meant that I could be gouged for costs unmentioned when I asked the cost of the alignment. I mentioned that he should have revealed the $5.00 sucker charge when he first quoted his price to me.

I confess, it's only a lousy $5.00, but I could not help sharing this guy's bogus tale with the good folks at Consumer Affairs. I wrote this really polite letter asking for a credit to my card of $5.00 plus 7% tax, a reminder that his bogus charge was unallowed under County law and perhaps an apology for doing a bait--and switch AND a bait and sucker on the same job.
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Semibodacious Transmogrifications a Specialty

1990 300D 2.5 Turbo sedan 171K (Rudolf)
1985 300D Turbo TD Wagon 219K (Remuda)

"Time flies like and arrow, yet fruit flies like a banana"
---Marx (Groucho)
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  #2  
Old 07-16-2004, 10:53 PM
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Richard,

Although I feel for you regarding the $5.00, the real question is what did you actually receive for your $55.00? With alignment, you have to take it at blind faith because you will not know for another 15K miles what you received
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  #3  
Old 07-17-2004, 12:00 AM
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Crap charges

I took my mercedes to a tire shop that i have been going to for about 20 years, I about fell over when i looked at the bill. Ok I had them pull the rear cover off of the diff because of a Leak, seems like all those covers leak. any way resealed cover with sylicone or how ever it is spelled, put in new rear end oil done. ok look at the bill and they charged me for Oil and labor and $3.50 for sylicone, I bet he didnt use 1/8 of it out of the tube. boy it they charge everyone that much every time they use that stuff they could buy 400 tubes a week...
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  #4  
Old 07-17-2004, 07:53 AM
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I get the feeling that these clowns went to the hospital and when they saw that they were charged $10 for two Tylenols, rather than protest, they thought. "Sweet!" and decided to screw everyone.

I agree that they didn't use $3.50 worth of silicone to seal your rear end, but these bozos didn't actually use ANY materials for thr $5.00 they charged me for. The fool admitted that he could stick each and every customer for $5.00 for crap whether he used any or not and that he was damn near required to do so by the county.

Of course, the hospital does actually treat people who pay nothing. I am pretty sure that the only charity cases at The Tire Factory in Hialeah are the two obese Cubans who gaze at games in their monitors all day while the skinny little Central American guy does all the work.

I agree that alignment must be taken on faith, even more so than when you buy strawberries in a sealed container. You get home, all those on the bottom are rotten. You have paid $3.00 a pound for garbage and you are stuck.

I went to about five shops and called four others before taking my car to these guys. There were obvious signs of incompetence and obnoxion from the boss guys of the other nine shops. Either they guy says "you'll have to leave it and wait five hours" or "Eighty-nine ninety-five" or "We have to charge extra for Mercedes because you need SPECIAL TOOLS." Well, Carlos, whose work I have evevidence to trust, did a great job in thirty minutes on three diferent cars of mine, including two Mercedes and never touched any special tools.

Once the tools are paid for, why charge extra? But they are lying when they tell you about special tools, at least for W123's and W124's. When they won't let you watch them work, there is a reason that goes bewyond their insurance alibi. They just don't want to let you see that they have lied to you about the special tools.

Midas is the worst about overcharging. They sell a $35 rotor for $150 and tell you the part is "guaranteed for the life of your car as long as you own it", but should you ask them to replace it, they will tell you it just needs to be turned. (after they have told you that they are so interested in your safety that they NEVER turn rotors, or that the government won't LET them turn rotors.

Well of course, you needed TWO rotors for $300 rather than just one. So you are doubly screwed.

Any sane custodian of his pocketbook should stay well away from the Midas on 163rd St in North Miami Beach. This is what they did to a friend of mine who is so mechanically disadvantaged that I had to show him how to use the dipstick.
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Semibodacious Transmogrifications a Specialty

1990 300D 2.5 Turbo sedan 171K (Rudolf)
1985 300D Turbo TD Wagon 219K (Remuda)

"Time flies like and arrow, yet fruit flies like a banana"
---Marx (Groucho)

Last edited by Richard Eldridge; 07-17-2004 at 08:05 AM.
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  #5  
Old 07-17-2004, 09:06 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Richard Eldridge

Midas is the worst about overcharging..........................Any sane custodian of his pocketbook should stay well away from the Midas on 163rd St in North Miami Beach. This is what they did to a friend of mine who is so mechanically disadvantaged that I had to show him how to use the dipstick.

I believe that any of the "chain" stores should never be utilized for auto repair. They basically are in the business of "ripoff", not auto repair. In our case, we can clearly see the incompetance and the fraud, however, in the case of individuals who have no knowledge of vehicle maintenance and repair, frequently the opposite gender, the ripoff becomes that much worse.

I had the opportunity to overhear one of them tell a customer, over the phone, how much a certain brake job was going to cost. It was over $450.00 and it did not take too much effort for him to make the case. Kind of went something like, "Well we really should do all of this work, because you don't want a job that is only done half right when you really need your brakes in an emergency, do you?................" The vehicle is already there, the customer is not (vehicle dropped off). The scenario is always the same: RIPOFF.

BTW, I was there for an oil change way before I owned any M/B. They did oil changes for $12.00 at the time.
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  #6  
Old 07-17-2004, 10:25 AM
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What an amusing thread.

The fact that auto repair costs more than the economic value of such, is a disturbing concept to most.

As I listen to all the whining you all make while trying to beat the system at low rent shops, I just have to giggle.

I'm 55 years old and am probably ten years too young to happlily last out the remaining life of independent auto repair. Only the most efficient shops get it all right. Getting it right means three things. Most importantly, a proper repair and happy consumer, next comes a sustainable, liveable, income with health insurance for all employees, and finally a profit for ownership. The repairs that can be done and satisfy those three conditions deminish every year. We are passing through the point at this moment in history where only large specialists can approach those three conditions. Most rape their employees first, virtually none have health insurance. Probably the ones that handle all three have passed the economically justifyable limit to repair expense but their customers haven't yet realized.

When they realize that auto repair has passed into the realm of TV repair, they will join the masses who no longer pay for auto repair by keeping only vehicles in warrantee.

My view of the demographics is this (only my opinion and observation): 40% of the populace have entered the never again land and will never again pay for auto repair. These are the people who could afford auto repairs costs but are smart enough to realize the economics. The bottom 50% can't afford real auto repair and do their best to remove sections of the "3 things". Most would hope to beat the tech out of a livelyhood, all would rather buy their repairs without paying for health insurance for the worker.

This leaves the 10% supporting real shops. Unfortunately the numbers are so small the shops are forced to deal with the lower 50% who just physically can't afford it. It doesn't change the numbers and thus most repair shop problems.

The funny thing about all this is as the need for competent techs increases logrithmically the money available to support them is decreasing at least geometrically for the same reasons. Those reasons being the economically sensible limitation to repairs.

Now that my gigling is over, I might point out that in the State of Florida it is illegal to add such charges as listed in this post. More than its illegality is the stupidity. Look at all the aggrevation it caused here. The shop should have charged the reasonable charge (89.95 sounds reasonable for Miami I charge 75 in Gainesville) and not pulled the whodo charge.

What is a reasonable charge? I know a lot about it, as I align cars for atleast 15 other shops. I charge 48 to other shops and I can do about 6-8 alignments a day. As an owner my paycheck is not obvious, because the pittance I get every Friday is not my lifes story, but if you multiply the best days by the discounted charges one will see that it works out to a little more than the $60k a year a good tech in Gainesville should make. For those of you that think that a shop should bill no more than technicians wages, get a grip. In my shop we have one person in customer service for everyone billing hours. I suppose those people should work for free? Every analization of labor dollars per hour needs to understand that. You get two people for every hour you buy and no one is playing computer games.

Oh that felt good....
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Continental Imports
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  #7  
Old 07-17-2004, 12:07 PM
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If you charge $60 for a decent alignment, and tell me that you charge $60, that's okay by me. But if you decide that I need to pay first ten bucks more because you were too dumb to know that the car had four wheels that needed aligning and THEN decide to stick each and every customer for another five bucks "because the Big Boys do it" I am gonna get pissed, and I fail to see why I should not be pissed. It's not like these clowns are going to use that $5.00 to enrollSilvestre el Salvadoreņo in Blue Cross.

In Miami the wages are LOWER than in Gainesville and the degree of expertise is lower as well. I would wager than not one of the people I spoke to in any of the shops had ever even finished high school down in Zamboanga or San Chrindongo de las Iguanas, which is not to say that they might not do a decent job.

But when some clown tells me that he is gonna stick me for $90 (no, eight-nine-ninety effing five" AND I am going to have to get a ride to take me back from his shop AND take me back when he is done, I am going to assume that that clown neither needs nor wants my business.

As for the guy that buys a brand-new car every four years, he is paying through the nose and you know it. Extra for interest, higher insurance and he is still waiting and waiting for the stealership to finish his car every time he needs his oil changed. It takes me less time to change the oil than to drive to the dealership, and I know what oil I am buying and that it's done right. I just don't have an alignment machine.

Cars are not TV's yet. Hyundai is on the right track with cheaper cars and a ten-year warranty, but it's still a Hyundai. I suppose in 2030 we will be driving hybrid cars made in China. And the dealership and the banks will get an ever bigger piece of the total pie. It's a race to the bottom. I didn't make this world, I just live here. And when I get screwed by some dolt who tells me the law says he gets to screw me and I know he is bloody lying, I am gonna diddle him back.

Who wouldn't?
Our MBCA club has a meeting at the dealership here. The manager comes and greets us and reminds us that we get a 10% discount on parts. So, I decide to buy a couple of small parts and save a two hour trip to Finishline. The Parts Guy says he has never heard of the MBCA OR the discount and the manager is out to lunch and come back at three.

Yeah, sure. And I am going to buy a car from these guys?

I see nothing wrong with allowing capitalism to do its competitive thing by calling around to check on prices. I know that it's a 30 mnute job, I know that the guy doing it is not making more than $15, and he is not going to be the owner of the shop or even a relative.
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Semibodacious Transmogrifications a Specialty

1990 300D 2.5 Turbo sedan 171K (Rudolf)
1985 300D Turbo TD Wagon 219K (Remuda)

"Time flies like and arrow, yet fruit flies like a banana"
---Marx (Groucho)
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  #8  
Old 07-17-2004, 12:43 PM
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You don't get it, not that I expected you to.

First Miami like all metropolitan areas pays its techs 30% on average more than happens at small localities like Gainesville (who would live there otherwise). This of course is for real shops. It doesn't sound like any of your candidates would qualify. I know a number of quality shops in South Florida and my numbers are real.

So (due to mass marketing of price leader, chop shop, tire store, alignments), you think an alignment should cost 60 and you think it takes 30 minutes. There are no parts sales so this is all the income the store gets to pay two people and all the expenses you haven't a clue about, including the depreciation expense of $50,000 worth of equipment. Maybe you would understand this better if we talked about getting a ditch dug with a backhoe. In this case society has probably allowed you to realize that the cost isn't for the backhoe tech, but due to the cost of the equipment.

It is a shame you had to have your car aligned by someone who didn't know ahead of time which MBs have rear wheel alignment. If you had a 126 car and I aligned it I would know ahead of time that I would only be aligning two wheels.

It is also a shame that you dealt with a shop too stupid to know that all one's expenses need to be realized with the quoted charges. Adding the 5 bucks seems to be your biggest complaint. If they just had included it in their quoted charges this thread wouldn't have been written is my guess.

Not only are they stupid not to hide the charges but they are also stupid not to know they are breaking the law.

If as a DIYer you wish to buy labor only when you can't do it, you must understand that the shops catering to your business are all chop shops. You will have to understand that reasonable shops expect to make half as much per hour in parts profit as the labor charge. You don't have to like it, but even with that as a standard most shops aren't efficient enough to satisfy all three standards even at that rate. You read every day innewspaper adds of 39.95 alignments just like you read about $12 oil changes. you think this indicates a standard I suppose, as I said before you don't get it.

For those of you who aren't getting it, try another tack. Go look at the house the owner of your shop lives in and then venture out of town to where his techs can own a house. Of course you all think auto techs are the scum of the working community so the fact that they all have to live out of town to find affordable housing must satisfy you immensely.

As to the racial bias extended in your post, I will leave it alone.
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  #9  
Old 07-17-2004, 03:36 PM
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All shops are ripoffs!!

They charge $60 - $90 per hour for labor. Bad enough, but what most people don't know is that they're making 300% profit on the parts they sell you too!!! O.K., so they gotta make a livin' too. The sad part is that if you take your car to someone who hasn't a clue on how to diagnose/fix it, then you just pissed away your money. He's still gonna charge you and then you have to go to another shop. They may fix it/may not, then it goes on and on. Sounds like the medical community doesn't it? "Sorry, we don't have that equipment, but we can recommend you to someone who does, that'll be $345 please, Thank you!"

The best advise I can give is to:

1. Only own cars in warranty
2. Learn to fix anything on your car
3. Live in Gainesville, Fl. and use Continental Imports!
or
4. Bend over and grin
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  #10  
Old 07-17-2004, 05:15 PM
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As I read the first lines I knew my reply, but you trumped me by saying it first: sounds just like the medical community.

If you go back to my first reply you might find that even your good advise is often wrong. In my first reply I noted the number of jobs that can no longer be done economically even in Gainesville.

As to your parts mark-up, you are mostly wrong. Even the mass markters like M*d*s usually only double list price. I can say from numerous invoices that they straight double list price. If I straight doubled list price on a brake rotor I would have added more than 300%, BUT what your have to understand about these terribly inefficient shops is that they haven't a clue as to where they should buy their parts. In most cases they probably went to the MB dealer who knowing them as turds sticks them with a whodo price that they then double.

So, where it is posible to get stuck with a parts price that is 300% more than decent wholesale, the pigs that do this are so stupid that they aren't really getting 300% more than they paid for it.

I have a old friend. He worked for me for a couple years about 25 years ago. He moved to Santa Monica and had a one man shop there for many years. He closed it down a couple years ago and moved back to Florida. He got a job in one of those tire stores and we were talking one day. His job was as a service writer. He told me about how easy his job was in calculating an estimate. All he had to do was find out his parts total cost and multiply it by 4.5 and that was the total bill. That is a different world from shops as I know them.

Shops as I know them have techs that make from 30,000 to 90,000 a year and get get about cost plus 100% on parts. My own business averages cost plus 65%. This is because I never charge more than MB suggested list price and many of my parts come from the dealer where I only charge cost plus 35%.

Mine is an efficient shop that handles two of the three points well. The only one that suffers is ownership profit. It is not on the scale a business major would tell one should expect to receive from a small business investment. If I were to get the cost plus 100% for parts that most of industry expects I would finish that third level, but probably infringe on the first level. My stuff is paid for and I don't like accountants anyway, so I do have a different picture but as I was saying, every years another job that we have done a lot of disappears as people realize the economics of the situation.

The point of me telling all this is so that maybe you will understand that even after they gouge you they probably still don't make a descent living. Most of the good techs I know don't work for the money and would tell you right off if they knew then what they know now they would have taken their smarts to a trade that gave them a degree of respect and a decent living.

The real problem with shops is that no fool would invest what I have invested for the return I get. My business and uncle sam have paid off over a million dollars worth of real estate and tooling. The tooling is at .5m and the real estate at over 1m. The tooling is paid for an the last parcel of real estate has got 6 years to go. When I make the decision to rent my building for more than I take home as a paycheck a small part of a different era will die. I already take in more money from rent than I take home each week as a paycheck. The part of the rent that comes from where Continental Imports exists is not rented to its fullest as I have to pay sales taxes on it. If I rented it for market value (as a warehouse) my partner and I would take a small cut in pay to continue paying ourselfs and the mortage. In six years we may change our minds. I really love what I do with cars but dealing with the disrespect of the public will be the reason I leave it.

BTW the shops I have talked to recently that had their top techs over 90k were located in metro centers : Miami, Washington DC and Belleview Washington (home of Bill G). Two of my techs make almost 60k. The others go from 35 to 50k. All of these shops are what you should be hoping for and the point I'm making is they are passing through the point in time where what they do is no longer economically feasible. The guy in Belleview is in his thirties, I really pity him.
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33 years MB technician
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  #11  
Old 07-17-2004, 05:26 PM
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EDIT: Steve got his post up while I was typing. Sorry if this is redundant.

Guys, we've gotta be realistic here. We essentially are asking a shop owner to bear the expense of owning/leasing a piece of real estate, owning/ leasing/ paying installments on equipment needed to handle jobs that may or may not come in, be aware of and deal with various consumer laws, environmental regulations, and increasing OSHA type rules, pay insurance to cover him when you sue him because you sprained your ankle over a tire anyone could have seen, plus insurance in case he or one his employees does what you and I do with have our DIY repairs - damage something that we weren't working on, plus meeting payroll and withholding taxes whether enough money has come in to meet all the above or not. Not to mention that the shop has to deal with the fact that the dealer can do all of the above with more resources. Plus, a generation of newer cars that are highly resistant to being worked on without equipment and information that the manufacturers won't give them. Don't get me wrong - I DIY everything I can because I am in fact too cheap to pay my indy for jobs that I can do adequately myself. But, for times when I don't have the time to do the repair, or the skill to do it, I happily pay him. I even have provided my indy w/ parts, and told him to bump up his hourly rate to compensate, because I WANT him to be there when I need him. As it is, there are only two shops in my area that I would use. I recommend them whenever I can, and support them with my business when I need to turn to pro. Auto repair has some fraud of course, but I like to think the folk here can smell that out and wouldn't deal with those shops.
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Last edited by tjohn; 07-17-2004 at 05:37 PM.
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Old 07-17-2004, 05:58 PM
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Well put Mr. Brotherton!!

My post was intended to evoke that exact response. Let me qualify my experience on this matter. In 1969-1970 I worked at a Ford dealership after school and on Saturdays. I started out washing parts and cleaning the mechanic's bays and tools. The parts manager saw potential in my work ethic and had me assisgned as his assistant. In that job I learned about mark up and cost/profit. A few years later I embarked on the path of the small self employed bussinessman. I learned a lot from that 12 year battle!! Now, fast forward to the present. I am currently working as a courier for a factory parts franchise. I see the invoices daily and I see the list verses cost on every one. Radiators and A/C compressors have 300% mark up. Other parts have very small mark ups, so it averages out. (unless you're the poor soul that needs a radiator or compressor!)
But, I also see how much lifts and diagnostics and tools and, well, all the overhead costs. I also see people bent over all day wrestling with "that damn hard to get to bolt" or that "Ooops! I shorted the computer!!!" problems that keep most of us away from being pro techs. I know some shop owners that make a good living and others that fight it every step of the way. I suppose the bottom line is that if you choose this line of work, then you'd better learn how to be the Lead Dog. The only wealthy people I have ever known at a dealership were the owners, and I've seen some of them go broke.
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Old 07-17-2004, 06:15 PM
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"Plus, a generation of newer cars that are highly resistant to being worked on without equipment and information that the manufacturers won't give them"

Thanks for the support. The above statement is really something the public is mislead on. As it stands now the only tooling I can't buy is the access to security issues on my DAS tool I bought from Mercedes Benz. This is the diagnostic computer that the dealer will tell you can't be had. I have bought such diagnostic tools same as the dealer uses for MB, BMW, Volvo, Lexus, Saab, and Honda. I am working on a used tool for Porsche at the moment and plan to get Jaguar within the year. They are all available now if one has the money. Of the .5m in tools we own almost .1m is in diagnostic computers: scanners by another name.

The dealers tell folk independents can't buy them. That is mostly because being a dealer employee is kinda like the dark ages in auto repair information. With the internet the factory relationship is not what it once was. If a shop is not internet savy they might also be in the dark ages and not know these tools are available, or they may just tell you they can't buy them. Not including the finish to the statement that the reason is because they are cheap, or maybe I should say they are cheap because they have a small business with cheap customers.

I am the Chairman of the Communications Committe of the IAIBMWSP
( www.iaibmwsp.com ) which also includes being the membership chairman. We represent about 150 shops specializing in BMWs, almost everyone of the members has a GT1 BMWs $17,500 diagnostic computer. Just like my shop many of these shops do MBs also. Our group is so strong that BMW sent representatives to our last national meeting and will again this year.

I am just not certain that a dealer tech's hot line capability is anywhere near as strong as the daily email pouring out of problems and fixes in groups such as ours and the archiving and networking that results. I am really popular (as my chairmanship shows) and have a great resource for BMWs since I freely help so many in the group with their MB problems.
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Steve Brotherton
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Bosch Master, ASE Master, L1
33 years MB technician
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  #14  
Old 07-17-2004, 06:59 PM
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stevebfl I understand completly what you are saying. I work at a boat yard after school, people get annoyed when they see the labor rate of $85 dollars an hour. But they don't think about how much it costs to operate a yard, all of the equipment doesn't come cheap. A travel lift is $150k, not to mention paying taxes on a huge piece of water front property. People just don't understand what it costs to run a business. Also the margin on most engine parts is very small 30%-10%. Some customers are good but a large group want everything.
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  #15  
Old 07-17-2004, 07:01 PM
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Back to mark-up. A new BMW radiator for a 540 or 740 costs 185 dollars from the dealer if he sells it at suggested list price. Now if you work for parts companies that sell that radiator for 220 and suggest a retail price of $600 you may see what goes on in small, know nothing, shops.

Take that radiator for your 89 300e, I just looked on my suppliers site and MB list is $184, my cost is 147 for a Behr and 132 for a Nissens (which is the better radiator - thicker reinforced plastic). I don't have a calculator but looks like I don't get my average on that one. Looks like radiators aren't such a money maker, I just looked at fastlane (same source with same options). Looks like you save 1.84 of list price. I'm not BSing you, BS don't walk on the internet. Check me out.

No one that knows what they are doing on MBs is selling that radiator for $528 (300% on the Nissens). Your, buy it locally, know nothing specific, shop might do that if he has the wrong general supplier.

The point here is local parts suppliers apply some sort of BS list to whatever they have for sale and you get some nice guy who says he doesn't need to charge list and gives you a break by only charging 428 for that 184 dollar radiator.
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Steve Brotherton
Continental Imports
Gainesville FL
Bosch Master, ASE Master, L1
33 years MB technician
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