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How to tell when your car dealer is lying

There are good dealers and bad dealers, good days and bad days. Here are some bad dealers on bad days.

How dumb do we look? (Service version)

  1. Our favorite five
    1. "We checked the alignment and the camber is off but that's compensated by the caster being off the other way." - Gene Poon
    2. "Nobody can break into a Pontiac convertible because the top cannot be cut with a knife."
    3. "It's normal for cars to perspire anti-freeze."
    4. "You're a woman, you don't know anything about cars."
    5. "Slant six cars aren't very good anyway. The engine leans over to one side and throws off the whole balance of the car." - Mike Sealey
    "No need to replace the filter and drop the transmission pan for an automatic transmission flush. For $150 it just replaces the old fluid with the new. Whatever dirt was in the transmission pan just gets sucked up into the new filter."
  2. On diagnosing an engine for burning oil: "A compression test is not going to tell anything. You need to authorize a payment of $780 to open the engine to assess the damage. We will not put it back together if you don't pay further for repairs."
  3. "We don't make any money off the extended warranty but offer it as a public service."
  4. "It's not leaking (red) transmission fluid, it was only a valve cover
  5. "You have to use the Mopar antifreeze or your radiator will corrode
    out. It's really a bargain."
  6. "Yes, we aligned the front end after replacing the steering rack," (the
    toe out was so great I could see it by eye).
  7. "The problems you're having with your car are because you don't drive
    it hard enough."
  8. (Hyundai Service Advisor) I know I told you the car was going to be ready by 11:00am today, but the mechanic broke his finger and went home.
    (Me) When did he break his finger?
    (Hyundai) 40 minutes ago.
    (Me) That would make the time he broke his finger - 5:20pm?
    (Hyundai) Yes.
    (Me) So why isn't my car ready now at 6:00pm if he had all day to fix it?
    (Hyundai) What? Oh, I never said the car would be ready by 11:00am. I said it would be ready by 5:00pm because I know you have a trip to take and the car would be ready at 5:00pm.
    (Me) Right, but the mechanic working on my car broke his finger at 5:20pm. Why wasn't the car ready by 5:00pm? - Dave Vaio
  9. Dealership doing a state inspection: "Boy, that sure is a clean convertible. Shame that we can't pass it, needs emergency brake pads." Okay, fix it and pass it. The service manager comes out and says they don't make the part any more. He might be able to find a pair in six months or so but they'd be expensive, around $175 or so. Maybe I want might want to check out one of the nice new ones on the lot? NAPA had pads for $48 per pair.
"There's no problem" (and even if there is, we won't fix it)

  1. "It's OK you can only put 12 gallons of gas into your van. These new minivans just carry a 7 gallon reserve in the tank."
  2. "Four hundred miles per quart is within the normal range of oil consumption."
  3. Wheel Motor vehicle Tire Mode of transport Transport
    "The cruise control can't be used below 55 mph. That's why it surges."
  4. "I can't hear anything wrong."
  5. "That noise is normal; there's nothing you can do." (sometimes true!)
  6. "Some of those engines idle rough, some don't. It's normal."
  7. "The part wasn't in the box so we didn't have to use it."
  8. "The problem is the way you're shifting."
  9. "All carbon breaks squeal after a while." (Seized brake caliper). - Tammy Fox
  10. This problem happened a lot, nothing to worry about - SBed83215
  11. After visiting Royal Jeep C/P in Orlando, Florida and telling them that my Neon had loud exhaust and excessive shaking after going through puddles, they told me they couldn't find anything. Then, I found the TSB and took it back to them telling them about the TSB, they said they couldn't find the TSB. Then, I printed it out from the Internet, handed it to the service guy and told him this is my year, my engine, and my exact problem. They returned my car to me saying they didn't fix it because they couldn't duplicate the symptoms. - Brian Schulte

  12. Quality is Job 1. Putting out the fire is Job 2.

    "Those black spots? That's brake dust. It'll come right off with a toothbrush." - Bryan Scholtes (The spots were due to clearcoat flaking off the aluminum wheels, letting black corrosion eat into the metal.)
  13. Our cars never have problems. We don't have lemons! (Toyota dealer, BC)
You have to pay for it yourself

  1. "The seat belt recall is over, you'll have to pay $280 to get it fixed."
  2. "You can't expect us to repair the transmission, steering, brake, and other problems under warranty, since you didn't let us do the 12,000 mile service."
  3. I took my brand new Tacoma in because a check engine light came on. The manager called to say that I had a bad knock sensor, and since it was due to rodent damage, it would cost me $600. I asked him how did he know, and he said because my engine had mouse pee and turds in it. I checked it, there was no turds, and how could he see mouse pee? - chrisj760

  4. The other side of the story:

    Sometimes the customer does not understand how the car works, which causes misunderstandings. Also, most techs are paid flat rate; if a problem can't be verified or if something is normal, they may not get paid. "Certainly the customer won't pay us $200 to try and reproduce a dashboard rattle noise on their new car, so where does that leave us? [We] have a
    college degree in automotive technology and hundreds of hours of
    training but get treated like crap by [some] customers..." - Jon (Certified Master Technician)

    "I was told by the guy at the dealership when I bought it that I could go over 5,000 miles without an oil change. I went 5,438 miles without an oil change and the service rep told me that because I broke 5,000 miles they might not cover the rod that is going bad. When he first called me, he had said that when they drove it into the shop he couldn't hear anything." - Vince Toney
  5. "What do you want us to do about it?"
  6. "Water got under the hood when you went through the car wash and shorted
    out the wiring, your warranty excludes flood, therefore the repairs are not
  7. "We can't do the warranty rust repair because almost all our warranty bodywork is due to rust claims, and handling your $2,200 repair would ruin our rating. We can refuse to work on any vehicle, you should take yours to the dealer you bought it from." - H. Fiedler
  8. If you install a Toyota alarm system on your Corolla, it will completely void the warranty.
    If we install an aftermarket system, it won't.
  9. A VW dealer told my daughter the catalytic converter in her 1999
    Volkswagen Jetta had rocks in it and would not be replaced under warranty.
    Another dealer replaced it under
    warranty. - Danny Coulson
  10. A new car with 1,200 km had mushy brakes. The service manager told me that the entire brake system had to be replaced (front and back).
    He told me this wasn't covered under warranty because "You use your brakes too often, and they're not meant for that."
    - Julian Hampson
How much was that again?

  1. "What do you mean that the payments sound too high? Oh... Sorry, we
    accidentally used a 13% interest rate."
  2. "That's without the engine." (salesman discounting a buyer's price quote) W. Caudle
  3. "Your car is worth $5,000. That's the book value. You can't believe
    what you see on the Edmund's site."
  4. "We're losing money on this deal!" - Robert McDaniel
  5. There is no such thing as the NADA Blue Book. We will just give you what
    we think it is worth! - R. Michael Murphy
  6. "You'll never sell that Spirit R/T for $4,000. It's only worth $750." (Toyota salesman...the car sold for $5,000 in the end.)
  7. "Your 2002 Dodge Dakota R/T QC with 6000 miles on it is only worth $15,000." Never mind the same dealer sold me the same truck for $24,500 six months prior to this! - A. Hart

Product Architecture Floor Flooring Property

  1. I was looking at an Escort GT (in 1986) and was trying to get the price reduced. The sales manager had the nerve to tell me that each car only had $100 profit added to it so the price on the sticker was a low as they could go....As I was leaving they said they would take a loss just to sell the car and I could have a $1,000 discount. - Tom Davies
  2. After the contract had been written and signed, the Nissan salesman notified me that he would need an additional $2,500 because there was a difference in the payoff on my trade-in and the figure they had. - Keith Mittan
  3. "We'll give you $500 for the 1990 Beretta GT sight-unseen." After bringing the car in they could only offer $100 and raised the price on the car we were talking about. - Mike Smorul
  4. "Well, the blue book doesn't really mean anything. You'd be lucky to get a dollar for your car right now." - Tiff in Denver Colorado
Sales - say what?

  1. My Dad was shopping for an F-150 and asked the salesman what the button at the end of the column shifter was for. "It increases the strength of the FM radio signal." (It was the overdrive shutoff.) - Keith Reimink
  2. In 1961, a Dodge dealer told me the slant 6 was made that way because under acceleration it straightened up and sat vertically. Another salesman explained that the unibody was actually cut out of one huge block of steel. - Duane Hughes
  3. "Those aren't very good cars anyway. The engine leans over to one side and throws off the whole balance of the car." - sales manager at Harris Ford, Lynnwood, WA, after selling a beautiful 1973 Scamp (with a 225 Slant Six) to another buyer despite having taken a deposit to hold the car less than 24 hours earlier. (Mike Sealey)
  4. "The Neon [Sundance]
    has a good Japanese engine. Designed and built by Mitsubishi." (The same dealer insisted that the Mitsubishi-made Colt was American made by Chrysler.)
  5. "We have exactly the car you want in stock." (Followed by, "Well, I thought we had one.")
  6. Lindsey Davis wrote: "I noticed the trunk on a used Prelude wouldn't shut all the way and the wipers
    wouldn't work. The salesman said 'Oh, my cleanup guy didn't tighten the bolts
    all of the way, it wouldn't take you 3 minutes to fix them.' I found out
    later that the car had been rebuilt with two different cars..."
  7. A Corolla is faster than a Neon, and it handles better, too. (Toyota salesman)
  8. "Neons are crap. It'll be dead in a couple of years." (Paraphrase
    from two Toyota dealers, a Mazda dealer, and a Honda dealer, three
    of which knew we already owned a 50,000 mile old Neon. We sold the Neon at around 120,000.)
  9. "We're not a five star dealer any more, so we can sell our cars more cheaply!"
Really bad information (mostly service)

  1. "Children only fit in built-in child seats for a few months...they aren't any safer than the aftermarket seats."
  2. "The rocking drivers seat is normal." - Bruce Vipond
  3. What's a "Technical Service Bulletin?"
  4. "The factory recommends 10W30 oil now. There was a change. It
    wasn't in the service bulletins or manuals."
  5. "Those can't be repaired; you have to get a whole new unit."
  6. "These cars will idle differently depending on the weather,
    temperature, humidity and such." (Real reason: mechanic forgot
    to reconnect distributor advance vacuum hose.) - Aaron Gold
  7. That price for repairs is only an estimate. The actual price may
    be less.
  8. "The only way to get engine codes is with our analyzer....
    You simply can't get codes with your key...You
    have to be trained."
Really, really bad mechanics

  1. "We're sorry but the mechanic replacing the shock absorbers on your Daytona ES accidentally caught the vehicle on fire. We think it might be totaled." The entire interior was a mass of molten plastic. - Bruce Vipond
  2. "The tow truck driver ran into the service garage partially collapsing the building onto your Durango. I'm sure the scratches will buff out." - Bruce Vipond
  3. "Your car should have the bearings repacked, they look dry, and the rear drums need to have the brake dust removed." Bearings
    were repacked two months prior.
  4. "We replaced the subframe assembly parts as per the recall" (two weeks later I got a card tellings for the recall were in and to please schedule an appointment for the repair. "Ooops, we must not have gotten to your car the first time)"
    - Maggie Collister.
  5. "We're all trained mechanics here. I promise we didn't cut your wires to your subwoofer on your 93 Cavalier when it was in for warranty work. It's out of our sight for 90% of the time it's here."
  6. "I'm sorry, but it looks like you need to have the head gasket replaced." Actual problem - my husband forgot to put the oil cap back on the car after adding oil! - Tracy Reynolds
  7. "Won't the car start? Strange, have you tried to turn the key both ways?" - Böll
  8. "This car can't be put onto the computer. It's too old; the computer is analog, not digital." (Volvo dealer, referring to a 1994 Volvo 850, at a cost of $85.)
  9. My mom had to have a ball bearing changed. The part and the labor came to over $200. My brother went about a month after that and had the same part changed on the other side of the same car. His bill was $75.
  10. We received a direct mail coupon for a free "80 point check up" from my local Volkswagen dealer on our new VW Jetta. In curiosity, I made the appointment and brought it in. Two hours later I received a call from the shop: "Well, the tappet cover gasket, oil pan gasket and head gasket all need replacing along with a full brake job, timing belt and tune-up. No worries though, the gaskets are all covered under your 70,000 mile warranty, but the brakes, timing belt and tune up aren't." There was no 70,000 mile warranty. Everything but the head gasket was fine. - Jason Groszowski
  11. "Just to let you know, it can take up to 1.5 hours to program a new remote alarm transmitter." (Another dealer did it in ten minutes for free). - Lawrence Gandt
  12. After the dealer claimed to have rebuilt the engine, I noticed a cigarette butt that was left on the engine still in the same spot when returning to pick up the "fixed" car! - Mike Reese
  13. ..."After the guy had the car on the rack he came back in (long face and all) and said I needed new front wheel bearings and proceeded to tell me it would cost about $300 to do the job. I told him I had just done a brake job on the front wheels the day before and had just repacked the front wheel bearings and that they looked like brand new. - Mark Whitehouse
Stories of good and bad service

The good news!

...your letter and the ALLPAR.COM web site saved me a lot of money and time. It seems that knowledge of the transmission fluid problem is not foremost in their minds or maybe they are happily using it as an excuse to drum up business. In any case the "driveability" expert for the Plymouth dealer went for a ride with me in my 94 Gran Voyager, at which time I showed him the 37 mph shudder, he immediately diagnosed it as a transmission problem. I asked if he could be more specific, such as what inside the transmission might be the problem. He thought the torque converter should be replaced and while the transmission was open the seals should be done too. I asked the service department head guy what it would cost to replace the torque converter and he looked in his huge book detailing the hours it would take to do the job and came up with 15 hrs, which equated to $1900 plus $165 for the torque converter and $95 for the seal kit. I said no thanks, and instead bought a new filter and 5 quarts of 7176 transmission fluid. I would have liked to change the fluid in the torque converter as well, but the parts department guy said that it was sealed and that the torque converter fluid does not commingle with the fluid in the rest of the transmission.

I changed the fluid and the car now drives great. I don't know what fluid was in the car previously, since I had just recently bought the car. When the dealership opens on Monday, I intend to give Joe (the "driveability" expert) a ride in the car and show him the difference. Thank you, I would have been completely at their mercy if it had not been for your letter and the web site.
Just ignore that noise behind the curtain

There is a huge dealership in my town that sells just about every make and model of new cars. My wife and I were looking for a good used truck, and happened on a 1992 Chevy pickup at their used lot. We talked to the salesman, and in just a few minutes we were on a test drive.

When we were leaving the lot the brake pedal went almost to the floor before jarring the vehicle to a stop. Then, the transmission would shift into second gear with huge jolt. It took us about ten minutes to realize that the truck was not safe on the road, and we took it back to the dealer. We were still interested about it, so we told the salesman what the problem was. Seeming concerned, he went for a quick test drive and confirmed that the truck was not in the best of condition. We asked him if the problems could be repaired before we bought the vehicle. He seemed confused about our request, so he went to his boss, who said the brakes were fine he drove it yesterday! The salesmen then informed him (in front of us) that he had driven the vehicle and it had a problem stopping, and the shifting wasn't good. The sales manager gave him a horrible look, and told us that every vehicle was thoroughly checked out before being put on the lot, and then added, "besides, what do you expect from a 15 year old truck?"

They were asking $5,500, top dollar for a truck of that year and type. It just seems silly. P.S. The dealership ended up wholesaling the truck because no one would by it! - Chris Stirewalt
Why should we pay?

I have a 2002 Buick Lesabre bought used in May 2002 from a Buick dealer. It had 11,000 miles on it. The car was brought in April 8, 2004, for oil change and lubrication, and state inspection. The car then had 38,005 miles on it.

A service advisor advised me that the passenger side tie rod was worn and should be replaced and that wheel alignment would also be necessary. I told him I had an extended warranty and gave him the paper work. He checked with the warranty company. He advised me that it was covered and would proceed with the job.

When I returned home there was a message on my machine that my bill was $1,099.46. I assumed that there was an error and that they must have called the wrong owner. The service advisor advised they had installed the tie rod and gear rack. Parts were $550 and labor was $391.95. I asked how there could be that much labor when the car was only worked on for, at most, 1 1/2 hours. He said it went by the book.

I also asked whether it wasn't unusual for tie rods to be worn at 38,000 miles especially inasmuch as the 27,000 miles I put on the car were almost 95% on interstate highways. He said "you drive the parkway and you're always steering."

I asked that a copy of the bill be sent to me and he assured me that "the girl was putting it into an envelope as we spoke." That was on April 8th. On April 13th I still hadn't received the bill. I called again and asked him to send me another copy of the bill. On April 14th I received 2 envelopes; each contained a bill. Both were postmarked April 13th. (I have the envelopes.)

I waiting for the payment to appear. On April 26th I called the warranty company. They advised that everything was approved etc. but they were still waiting for the invoice for the repair from the dealer's service dept. I then faxed it myself to the warranty company.

I checked further. I phoned another Buick dealer. I told the service advisor I might need tie rod and steering gear rack. I asked if I brought the car in for the first appointment in the morning how quickly I could get the car back. He told me it would take at least half a day. (That was without the oil change service and the NYS inspection.)

I also took the car to my mechanic of 22 years. He put the car on the lift. The tie rod on the passenger side was replaced. It was clean and has no rust. However the gear rack was rusted and was obviously been in use for a long time. I returned to the dealer service dept that charged for the repair they hadn't done. When I went to the service desk to get back my papers the service advisor mumbled that they "must have pushed the wrong button."

I was paged to the cashier and advised that they were crediting me for $740.99. I in turn sent the warranty company a letter advising them of the "error." I also sent them my check for $740.99. (contributed by David Veder).

I am a service advisor at Ford so I know what is right and what the Jeep dealer is trying to fill me full of it! The best line I ever heard was from Big4 Motors in Calgary, AB. "There's nothing wrong with your Jeep...some of the engine wiring does just melt for no reason."

One from Tower Chrysler in Calgary, AB: "Yes, we have to charge you for checking your leaking axle seals...even if the repair is covered under warranty...the manufacturer does not pay us to put the Jeep up on the hoist." I suggested them go to the rear of the vehicle and look at the leaks while it is on the ground in the lot...answer: "Our Techs are not qualified to do that type of diagnosis." Same dealer would not cover the power steering pump because it was noisy and leaking...said it had to fail completely to be covered under warranty...another dealer replaced it under warranty no hassles...and the axle seals.

Courtesy Chrysler Calgary, AB. Me: "My rear brakes are noisy and grabbing, please clean and adjust them-low mileage shouldn't need replacing-probably just mud or whatnot in them." Them: "All done...we cleaned them...they sound fine now." Me (15 mins after picking Jeep up on my cell phone to Courtesy): "My brakes are still noisy and grabbing." Them: "Nothing we can do". Me (30 mins after picking Jeep up from dealer-after jacking the Jeep up at home and checking things out myself-rear drums had not even been removed-dry mud still on-in them-no cleaning had happened there): "you guys charged me to clean my brakes and you didn't do the job." Them: "you must have driven over something on the way home." - CanadianJeepGirl

"We buff 'em out."

[When our 2001 Toyota RAV4] was nearing two years old, I got letter from Servco Pacific Toyota to get a rust proofing check. I went to Kauai Toyota, and they checked my RAV4 and tell me to bring car back on April 6 and can pick back up on April 8, for rust spots approximately 1/4 to 3/8 inch long at the front window posts.

A couple days past that time [with no communication from the shop], I drove past the shop to see what's going on. I spotted my RAV4 across the street from the shop with the front and rear windshields out and loose plastic front and rear.

On April 12, I still had heard absolutely nothing. I went in and spotted my RAV4 in a paint bay, with the windows out still, and I asked a shop employee if I can go look at my RAV4. The man was very quiet but shook his head yes. I opened my door. I leaned on my seat to reach for personal belongings and my hand was instantly wet! Amazed, I looked down at the floor to find my floor mats standing in water. Dazed, I got the employee that I spoke with and he was still very quiet. He said, "We buff 'em out."

I believe "We" were trying to dry out my RAV4 without my knowledge and buff it out and not ever tell me what happened. Neglect and dishonesty? You tell me....... Future problems with my RAV4 with being rained into? Water running all down behind dashboard? Wet carpets and mold here on a tropical island? Electrical problems? Seats and mold?

I refused to take my car back. I tried to get to the top of Toyota and they all seem shielded. They wanted to depreciate my car two years, give me $13,000, and sell me a new one at "cost" plus $500. They screw up big time and want to make money off the old car, never tell the new owner, and make a deal on me plus $500? .

Note: James Batten replied:

The person complaining of the shoddy work done at a Hawaiian dealership need not go any farther than the local college. Write a letter to the CEO and President of Toyota. Use words like "lacking honor" (as in leaving car in their care and they left it in the rain), "disrespectful" (lying about situation), "unworthy" (general attitude), etc...

Have a student or professor who speaks and reads Japanese translate the letter (for a small fee), then send that to Toyota of Japan addressed to the Chairman. He won't get the letter, at least not right away. His secretaries however will. You may find results faster than you think. A friend of mine did this several years ago when the paint began peeling off her new Toyota. Dealerships dead ended her, wanting payment for what they claimed was non-warranty work. She sent the letter to Toyota and a month or so later a representative of Toyota of Japan contacted her to schedule a new paint job, at dealer expense.

Thanks to Nevin Cheung, Mark Johansson, vandammej, Joseph Kintz, Jeff Pujol, Carol Cation, Ed Sinofsky, and others.

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