Sunday, March 6, 2011

caveat emptor

"Let the buyer beware" is a bit of wisdom I've always thought I practiced reasonably well.

But I also have a weakness for bargains--as in the case of a recent coupon I got for a $19.99 oil change, complete with a free 19-point vehicle inspection.

Somehow, saving $15 sounded so good I forgot to apply another wise saying, "If anything sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Anyway, soon after leaving my Nissan pickup at an unnamed tire dealers, I got a call from the pleasant and very nice person I had just spoken to. 

"Mr. Yoder, did you realize your vehicle is due for an inspection?" (I had failed to notice) "We could do that for you for a standard $16. And by the way, your left front wheel has worn bearings, and the tire is wearing unevenly. We'd be glad to fix that up for you, too, get your vehicle realigned, and you'll be good to go until your next inspection."

I was having a busy afternoon, and while I hesitated at first (I had just had an alignment done), I was assured that the work on the wheel bearings was necessary and that the alignment was indeed required. So, trusting and ignorant as I was, I agreed, figuring it would be convenient to just get all this out of the way.

Later that afternoon I had serious second thoughts about my choice, wishing I would have waited and gotten a second opinion. But by then I figured it was too late to change my mind.

Do I ever wish I had. That evening I was hit with a serious case of sticker shock and buyer's remorse when I was handed a bill totaling over $300.

I asked for my old wheel bearings back, just to check them out, and when I inquired about why this required a realignment, I was told it was because the tie rod needs to be removed in such cases (which could make sense only to a mechanically challenged person like myself).

The next morning, I showed the bearings to a nearby mechanic, along with my bill.
Here's what I learned--the hard way, of course:

1. My left front tire wear was normal.

2. The wheel bearings showed no significant wear (also confirmed by a second mechanic I took them to).

3. It is not necessary to remove a tie rod on the front wheel of a two-wheel drive vehicle to replace wheel bearings.

4. Therefore no wheel alignment was necessary.

Needless to say, I registered a complaint with the overly helpful folks who did all this, and am waiting to hear what adjustment they are willing to make. Or whether I need to take my case to the Virginia State Inspection folks to enlist their help.

Meanwhile, I'm posting this embarrassing tale to warn others to exercise more care than I did, and I will P.S. an update on this post as soon as I know more.

A March 17 P.S.: The manager and the lead mechanic at the tire dealer spoke with me today, and while they still insist the wheel bearings needed to be replaced they conceded on the alignment issue, offered me a full refund for that ($115) plus a free rotation of my tires, which leaves me at least 90% satisfied. 
So, case closed, lesson learned.
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