Sunday, April 6, 2008

$100 Gas Cap

Sometimes things happen that cost me a lot of money and I wish I were smarter so that I can avoid these costly SNAFUs.

This morning the "Check Engine" light came on on my 10-year old car. I duly drove it to the local Kwik-Kar where I've been having it serviced for most of the last 8 years or so. Once there the discussion turned bizarre.

Me: "I'd like an engine diagnostic check, please."
Receptionist: "Sure, that'll be one hour of labor - $91."
Me: "Wow. Do I get it included in the cost of the repair if you fix what turns out to be wrong?"
Receptionist: "No, repair costs will be extra."

To make a long story short, turns out they will check the dignostic readout from the car for free. So they plug in the device and get something along the lines of "Evaporative fuel check." Turns out that there could be any number of reasons for this particular check and I'd have to spring for the $91 diagnostic check - big surprise.

So they test it and the guy calls me over and tells me that the first step in the diagnostic is to check the seal on the gas cap - they have a fancy attachment to do that. Turns out my cas cap failed the check. So he sends me to O'Reilly's Auto Spares to buy a new gas cap at $9 and change.

I've got a new gas cap and I'm out $100. And Kwik Kar offered that if the "Check Engine" light comes back on in the next few weeks, they'll do the next diagnostic free of charge.

I'm bummed.

I'm painfully reminded of a situation back in my glorious past, when I did a contracting job at a big US company on behalf of my erstwhile employer. The contract was billed to the customer in the region of $450,000. I spent about a week there, got someone else to write about 200 lines of assembler code (They wouldn't let me write it, so I had to debug the code the other guy wrote, which made the actual deliver to the customer slip into another month). I complained that the customer got a raw deal, and was told that the old joke of the mechanic applied.

Old Mechanic Joke: Customer takes his car in for a problem that makes the car hard to drive. The machanic got the car on the hoist, peered around, took a ball-peen hammer, tapped once, firmly and returned the car to the customer in fine working order. The customer was outraged at the $100 repair charge. "Well," said the mechanic "I've charged you a dollar for the actual repair and $99 for me knowing what and where to hit."

I guess what goes around, comes around, even indirectly.


j9359 said...

There are several auto parts places (at least where I live) that will read the codes for free. And you can buy cheap code readers for less than $100 now, or better ones for less than $150.

Old Stump said...

Kwik Kar did the code reading for free. Problem was that the code indicated an error in an entire "system" within the auto. It needed the diagnostic check of the various components within that system (one component being the gas cap) to determine the error. These guys had a gadget that they hooked the gas cap up to for testing. I doubt that part goes for cheap.

I guess I'm just railing at a diagnostic charge that's 10 times the cost of the faulty component.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me:

When the price of one of his paintings was balked at, given that he completed it within an afternoon, the artist James Whistler said:

"I do not charge for the work of an afternoon, but for the wisdom of a lifetime".


LC said...

That's what you get for forgetting your cap at the gas station... ;-)