Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Why I love cars

I know next to nothing about cars.

Oh, I know in theory how they work, and vaguely the types of things that go wrong and what symptoms might be exhibited with certain problems. But I can't do any maintenance more strenuous then changing the air filter, wiper blades, or currently playing CD. It usually takes about 3 sentences from a mechanic before my eyes start to glaze over and I start to wonder if I really know what I think I know.

Since I don't know anything specific about how things work, and I can't verify anything myself, I have a very hard time trusting what I hear from mechanics. Oh, I'm sure there are honest mechanics out there. I just haven't had good luck finding them. And its hard to get a feel for if someone is honest, when I have absolutely no way of verifying what they are telling me, myself. At best I can get a second opinion. Or get some 'how a car works' theory from a friend who knows a ton about how cars work (but nothing specific about mine).

Today I had the perfect example of why I hate dealing with anything car related.

After the trip to Chicago this weekend, I was about 100 miles overdue for an oil change. Now, a bit of background. Normally I go to Precision Auto Tune in Eagan (the Nichols Road location). They are always very helpful and seem to be good about explaining what is going on, and/or why something needs or does not need to be done.

Today however, I was in a hurry so I went over to the newly opened Goodyear store just a mile from my house (Precision Auto Tune is like a 10-15 minute drive).

After a bit of waiting while they changed the oil, the service guy came out.
Service Guy: Have you noticed squeaking?
Me: From what? There is a squeak that I've noticed from the rear, that sounds like one time when I had a leaking strut.
Service Guy: Well this is from the left, you brake pad is very worn, and I think the wear indicator is rubbing making the squeak. You have less then 10% left on your pad.
Me: Well, that is weird, I just had a brake inspection done a month ago, and they said the pads had 4mm left out of 9mm. And that they should be good for another 6 months.
Service Guy: Well, I think they are worn, <blah, blah, insert standard comments on not changing pads quick enough and hosing your rotors>. Do you want me to do a brake inspection?
Me: Nope, I'm comfortable with what I was told a month ago.

So I go back to waiting for the oil change. While I am waiting, some other lady came in to pick up her car and I overheard the (different) service guy telling her that her brake pads were very worn and had 'less then 10% left'. Along with the assorted normal comments related to getting pads changed promptly.

Eventually my car was done, and as I was paying the service guy brought up the pads again. He said he 'had to disagree with whoever did the previous inspection, because the left side is very worn.'. And to make sure that I get the pads changed right away if I hear any squeaking. He even wrote down some comments on my receipt about the brakes being worn.

At that point I was all done, so I left, pretty confused.

Now, I really did had a brake inspection done a month ago, at Precision Auto Tune. In fact, they did it for free (even though they quoted the price at $20 over the phone), and basically talked me out of getting the pads replaced. I was going to have them replaced, to the tune of ~$200 since my car uses outrageously expensive ceramic pads. But they were like 'Well, you can replace them. But our recommendation is to just leave them, you have at least 6 months left in them'.

There seems to be a few possibilities:

1) Precision Auto Tune was lying when they said the pads looked good for at least 6 months.
2) Goodyear was lying when they said the pads looked worn
3) The pads suffered ridiculous amounts of wear in the past month, shearing off 3mm of pad in 1/48th of the amount of time I've owned the car.
4) Some other bizarre circumstance such that both Precision Auto Tune and Goodyear are telling the truth.

I have trouble believing that #1 is the case, because Precision Auto Tune had no reason to lie to me. In fact, by telling me the pads were fine, they gave up $200 in business (and from what I can tell, that location needs all the business it can get).

I could see #2 being the case, especially since I question how the heck the service guy was even checking the brake pads. That's not exactly easy without taking the tires off, and why in the world would you take the tires off while you are doing an oil change?

Except that it makes no sense why the guy would bring up the brake pads again at checkout. I mean, if you were just trying to drum up business, then try the brake pad sale early on. But once I have pointed out that I just had an inspection, and it is clear that I'm not buying any additional services today, wouldn't you just drop it?

I don't think #3 is the case, because I haven't driven hardly at all in the last month, except to Chicago and back.

That leaves us with #4. The best I can think of is that Precision Tune actually only checked 2 of the brake pads, one front and one rear. Since in theory the front/rear pads should all wear exactly the same, if you were in a hurry, I could see checking just one side. If they happened to check only the right side, and Goodyear happened to check only the left side and the brake pads were wearing unevenly then they could both be telling the truth.

The problem with this of course is that I have no way to know what Precision Tune did. My receipt says only 'Brake Inspection'. And I wasn't watching closely enough to know if he took all four tires off (or only two). I do recall that Precision Tune had the right side tires off at one point.

I could call Precision Tune and ask what they did, but I'm sure they will be rather vague since it probably depends on the mechanic. And they might be supposed to check all four tires, but that doesn't mean they actually did.

All in all it leaves me with no idea what to do.

I don't hear any horrible wear-indicator type brake squeaking; all I hear is the normal brake squeaking that my brakes have always done on the first few stops since the day I bought the car.

On the other hand, my brake pads are plenty expensive without adding new rotors to the deal (if I wait too long in replacing them).

This is precisely why I've had newish cars after college (when I had to deal with repairs), and why Linzy has a relatively new car.

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