Mechanical

Our experience with Toyota service has been uniformly bad. I suppose that this is not most people’s experience with Toyota, but is sure has been ours, over years, different dealerships and different cities. The car itself, at least until the warranty ran out, was fine. Then suddenly it wasn’t, and getting it serviced after that just felt like getting robbed over and over again, unconvincing reasons and repeat visits attached to hefty price tags, stuff we’d thought would stay fixed from the last time.

If we were still in Ottawa, I’d take it to Mr. Takaki again in a minute. But we’re not. So, our long saga of sporadic car repairs has come to a close. After yet another Toyota dealership tried to screw us, this time out of twelve hundred dollars (half of which was to replace almost-brand-new but dangerously aftermarket parts) I went, bought the parts and did the repairs myself.

I’m looking over their list of “recommended repairs” now, and I don’t know whether to be angry or just laugh. “Replace cracked drive belt: $107+Tax”. That breaks down to a twenty-five dollar part, and (presumably) an hour of labor; it turns out that a rank amateur with the right wrench and the replacement part can do that job exactly right, on the first try, in less than ten minutes.

These time estimates they give you are apparently written down as the “accepted industry times” somewhere, giggle. I’m sure somewhere it says “time to replace rotors: 1 hour” and “time to replace pads: 1 hour”, but when you take your car to (just to pick an example) Downtown Toyota on Queen Street East, they won’t tell you that the time to replace rotors and pads at the same time is 1 hour and two minutes. The retail cost of replacement parts is less than $150. Time? About one hour for the first one, and about twenty minutes for the second one. From start, with zero experience. Toyota wanted more than four hundred dollars for that work. And, according to them, not because there was anything wrong with the brakes but just to replace almost-brand-new parts whose only defect was that they weren’t manufactured by Toyota.

And it turns out that once you’re willing to get your hands dirty, the actual work is about as difficult as changing a bicycle tire.

I should have done this years ago.

5 Comments

  1. Guillaume
    Posted January 8, 2007 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    It’s always been true that doing the work yourself is cheaper than getting a dealership to do it. The only problem comes when you don’t know exactly what’s wrong.

    I agree however that the work isn’t that difficult as long as you know what you’re doing. And as such I recommend a book I got for christmas called “How To Repair Your Car”. It contains steps and instructions for nearly all the car repairs and maintenance that you could do yourself. Well worth it at $25.

  2. Mike Hoye
    Posted January 8, 2007 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    It’s not so much a surprise that it’s cheaper to do it myself. My surprise is that it’s also dirt simple, and that their “time estimates” are such fantastic exaggerations. The icing on the cake is how much completely unnecessary work they’ve tried to foist off on me.

    I’m using the Haynes manual for my car, and it’s also excellent.

  3. Jim Millen
    Posted January 8, 2007 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Oh yes, here in the UK too, it’s far cheaper to do everything you can yourself. I try to only use mechanics for major services and other heavy-duty work – I’m lucky in that my parent’s garage is very well equipped with tools, so rarely have to buy anything except parts. General maintenance really isn’t that difficult.

    Now I don’t know if your part of the world will be the same, but over here it’s worth finding a really good independent garage instead of going to the manufacturer’s dealership. Probably not much cheaper, but generally better quality. Most importantly, they tend to only do the work you tell them to and not find all kinds of other things that you’ve got to pay for. The VW garage who I use have even refused to do work I thought I did need before, saying that I didn’t – something unimaginable at a main dealers. Try finding some Toyota enthusiasts and seeing where they get servicing.

    Regarding Haynes manuals, they’re still good but definitely “dumbed down” in recent years. They used to contain all the information you ever could need, based on a full strip-down of the car – most usefully, they had exploded diagrams of everything. Now they don’t have half as much data, probably as cars are increasingly sophisticated and harder for the average driver to service. My skill isn’t sufficient that I’ve noticed it, but my father (aircraft/mechanical engineer – knew his stuff) found it intensely irritating. For older cars the old-style manuals are quite sought after – some go for surprising amounts on ebay.

  4. Jim Millen
    Posted January 8, 2007 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    D’oh! Re-reading your original post, I now see you used to go to an independent, so you’re probably well aware of their advantages. Sorry, didn’t mean to preach to the converted.

  5. Posted January 9, 2007 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    The Haynes repair manuals are indispensable. Even with an engineer-for-father-in-law who loved working on cars, I still found myself using it all the time with our older Mazda.