Wednesday, September 22, 2010

So You Just Got a Scary Estimate...

One of the things that I hated to do when I was in the trade was to tell someone that something was badly wrong with their car.    Whether a major brake job, blown head gasket or whatever it was, it was always tough for me because I always knew that the first thing that was coming to their mind was "This guy's trying to rip me off".

Catastrophic failures are tough to deal with, especially when they come out of the blue.  A friend of mine just had her alternator die on her Sunfire (Yeah, another Sunfire) and I really felt sorry that I couldn't help her out.  She lives in the city and needed her car the next day.

Sunfires use a serpentine belt to run the alternator, like most modern cars, and a spring-loaded tensioner.  The ridiculous thing about GM's design on the 2.2 litre is that the tensioner is part of a large, aluminum bracket that also secures the power steering pump and bolts to the cylinder head.  My friend's tensioner was also bad (I wasn't there to verify this, but it's not atypical), and the labour to replace it isn't simple, so it quickly turned into a $700 repair... new tensioner, alternator and belt.

Ripoff?  Probably not, unfortunately.  The labour guides are pretty straightforward for this type of repair, so there's no way for a shop to legitimately overcharge for labour, and the parts are consistently priced, so when she called around the variance between estimates was only around $40.

She asked me if she should ask for a used alternator ... The trick with that is that if the tensioner is bad, it won't tension the belt properly after it's been compressed and extended to reinstall the belt (Which is, apparently, cracked), and she leaves with no warranty at all, so she could get a block away and have her belt squealing like a ... squealy thing.  Her best bet was to bite the bullet on this one, get the warranty (2 years is typical on alternators) and hope it dies a bit closer to my house next time!


  1. looks like fun!

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  2. Hey Lady, you're actually very lucky... I almost had to replace the jammyframas and boy, would that have cost you... instead I fixed it for ya, free of charge...

  3. I'll check back tomorrow for more news

  4. Luckily my uncle is a great mechanic, he never rips me off >.<

  5. Why oh why can't I have any friends that are mechanics? I'd even settle for a friend of a friend.

    You're right, though - the first instinct is always that you're being ripped off..

  6. i just changed my brakes yesterday, shits still scary