Thursday, October 4, 2007

The House Always Wins

Let's scrutinize the bill:
(I've cropped out the boring stuff to make it easier on us all.)

At 11:55 AM on Tuesday we were quoted $116.95. That was for the oil change and engine diagnostic, which itself cost like $85. Forget for the moment that I can go down to Pep Boys and buy the Diagnostic Computer for $85 and hook it up myself and tell you what's wrong with the vehicle, but I know that you're going to fix it anyway, whatever it is, and you will not charge me for $85 for the half a minute it takes you to roll the little machine over and plug it in to the car. And these are not the droids you're looking for. (It never works for me, but it's worth a shot.)

At 1:42 PM they called us back and quoted a new estimate of $403.95. This is the new total cost that now includes removing the valve cover and peering at the valves to see what was wrong (as previously mentioned.) Fine. I'll suck it up. They said they'd call at the end of the day to let us know the real total of fixing the problem. Needless to say, they didn't.

The next morning, at precisely 8:23AM, I wondered aloud to Mrs. Ditchman if the "service" department were going to call us or just give up on us entirely. The phone rang at 8:24. Suspicious as it was, it was nowhere near the suspicion I had when they told me the new total: $671.45. I had braced myself for a bill over a thousand, and they must have sensed this because then they began to list a few other things that could be done while they were in there: Radiator Drain/Flush ($55), Throttle Housing Flush ($189.00), Brake Fluid Reservoir/Brake Line Flush ($200), new set of belts ($150). I decided to go with getting the new belts and the radiator flush because, well, the car's old, man! I just contented myself that we were getting the "15% Mature Toyota Discount" and the brakes are going to need to be replaced sometime soon, anyway, and this whole "Throttle Housing Flush" scam is really starting to bug me. Every time I take my truck in they tell me I need a "Throttle Housing Flush." They claim it's the quality of the gas we get nowadays, and if you clean out your throttle housing you will see an increase in performance and fuel economy. Guess what? I've had it done several times and to no noticeable effect. And it's not something you can just lift the hood to see if they've done -or to see if your housing is actually dirty- so it reeks of SCAM every time I hear it. When I decline they just make that "tsk"ing sound and shake their heads as if to say, You know, your #1 cylinder was misfiring and it was all because of this dirty throttle housing of yours. Yes, and it's very unfortunate that the gas they sell us nowadays is much dirtier than the stuff they used to sell us, back in the old days. Why, when I was a kid, gasoline was less than a dollar a gallon and it was so clean my parents used to gargle it for mouthwash! Can I get the Middle-Finger Discount with that?

Anyways, $671.45 was in the neighborhood of what I was expecting and it included a new set of eight Valve Adjusting Shims (whatever those are) and I was very careful not to show my hand, as I always complain about the cost at the dealer. Somehow, the conversation ended with, "We'll call you in two or three hours when it's ready for pick-up."

At 12:32 PM, 4 hours later, we called them. New total: $1,122.45. (Cough, cough, choke, eyebrows raise, sphincter cinches up) "What?"

"It needs a new radiator. Do you want a factory replacement or an after-market cheapy?"

There was never any talk about a new radiator. It didn't have a leak when we brought it in. A new factory radiator was like $1300, so guess what? We went with the cheapy. They had to send the car out to "Ronnie's Radiator" -which is probably where we should have began with all this- and who knows when it would come back. By this time, the family was yelling at each other, the kid (napless, having been dragged around in her car seat all afternoon) was crying, and everybody's schedule for the day was shot and the mother-in-law arrived with her good advice about credit lines and new car purchases, and well, I think the family all just gave up on each other.

We coughed up the cash, er, credit card. The service department took it upon themselves to replace the thermostat, water inlet gasket, and radiator cap sub-assembly for an extra $40. This had never been discussed, but I assume it was necessary for the never-discussed leaky radiator replacement. In the end, we got the car out of there before they found anything else wrong with it and before the credit limit was blown altogether. Mrs. Ditchman made it to the counter to pay the bill, but she noticed something amiss. "Yes, um, what about my 15% Mature Toyota Discount?"

"Oh, do you have a coupon?"

It still makes that flying saucer sound. Must be the brakes going out. Or my head is spinning off.