Mike Kueber's Blog

March 30, 2014

Repair or replace

Filed under: Business,Finances — Mike Kueber @ 7:18 am

I grew up in an era (the 50s and 60s) when products were unreliable and cost a lot and our standard of living was relatively low. The confluence of these factors resulted in a thriving repair industry. It made sense to put a lot of time into fixing something.

Those days are gone. Today, products are relatively cheap and amazingly reliable, and the reasonable labor rate for a repairman (around $100 an hour) makes it prohibitively expensive to repair products like phones, refrigerators, TVs, washers & driers, and laptops. About the only repair business that remains thriving is the auto business, and that brings me to my sad story.

In December, my son Jimmy came back from Ohio with his 2001 gas-guzzling F150. The truck had been in Ohio for more than a year and was in sad shape. There was a slow leak in a tire, the check-engine and ABS lights were on, the steering wheel rested at 2 o’clock, the driver’s leather seat was almost like rags, the driver’s step had been broken off, the CD player had been stolen, and the inspection and registration stickers were expired.

After Jimmy left for Austria in January, I considered selling the vehicle, but decided no one would want to buy an uninspected vehicle with check-engine and ABS lights on and a slow tire leak. So my first order of business was to get those problems fixed.

  • First step – get the slow tire leak repaired at Discount Tires. Unfortunately, they couldn’t repair the tire because there was a nail that was too near the sidewall. Therefore, I had to replace the nearly new tire with another that cost more than $200. Although I hadn’t purchased insurance on the tire, Discount Tire gave me some sort of tread allowance that reduced the cost to a mere $170.
  • Step two – inspection. Before taking it in for an inspection, I replaced the windshield wipers because Jimmy had told me that they were bad. (This is easier said than done.) Then I took the vehicle to a repair shop on Bandera Road that one of my best friends swore was competent and honest. Well, the manager/owner honestly told me that the truck was a mess (spark plugs with 180,000 miles on them will do that) – brake problems, engine computer problems ($600 new, $300 used), plus the seal in the differential was leaking and needed to be replaced. $1,300 later I had my inspection sticker. Plus, they threw in a coupon for a free oil-change.
  • Step three – get a new CD player. First, I went to a couple of stores and got quotes for a simple CD player. Jimmy’s expensive touch screen had been stolen three times, and now was the time to stop that insanity. One independent shop wanted $200 for a non-Sony and a franchise shop (Mother’s) wanted $200 for a Sony. I decided to go with Mother’s, but then noticed that there was another Mother’s franchise closer to my place, and when I called them I learned that they would put in a Sony for $170. Obviously, that’s where I went, and this chapter ended nicely.
  • Step four – get the steering aligned. I had asked the first shop to fix the steering wheel, but they didn’t have alignment capabilities and said I would have to take it to an alignment shop. I called Midas and Brake Check on IH-10 and both assured me that a steering wheel could be aligned with a simple front-wheel alignment – cost $60 at one place and $55 at the other. Then I recalled that I had seen a sign near the Bandera shop advertising an alignment for less than $50, and I decided to take it there because I suspected that a shop in a middle-class neighborhood would be less likely to try to find additional work requirements. Boy, was that a mistake. Ten minutes after the Bandera shop started working on my vehicle, the repairman called me back to show me all the damage to the various wheel-support components. He said it would cost me $1100 to enable me to drive home without the wheel falling off and $2,400 to fix everything. After I pressed him to distinguish between the safety issues and defect issues, he was able to eliminate some overlapping labor and reduce the cost to $1980 if all the work were done at once. When I asked for his best price, sensing it was negotiable, he reduced it to $1,900. I paused for a moment (I should have paused for at least one day), and told him that he could have the job for $1,800. He immediately snapped up my offer, and I immediately thought that was too quick. The repairs were supposed to be completed that day, but due to some hidden problems and some severely rusted out parts, the repairs weren’t completed until the end of the next day. As a freebee, the shop threw in fixing the door step by moving a step from a rear door to replace the broken one on the front door. They also gave me a coupon for a free oil-change. In hindsight, I should have taken my truck back to the first shop to get a 2nd bid. Even though they don’t do alignments, they could have done all of the work except for the alignment and their labor rate was only $70 or $80 compared to $90 at the second shop. More importantly, competitive bids bring out the best in every business and are the best way to avoid unnecessary repairs.

As I was driving home with Jimmy’s truck, I started thinking that a poolside friend said he knew someone who would repair the leather seat for $200 a side, and at that point, the truck would be all set. But I started noticing it was warm in the truck, so I turned on the A/C, but the air wasn’t really cold. So I turned on Max A/C, and the air still wasn’t cold.

Uff da, when is it going to end.