Did they see her coming?

Sandra Tsing Loh, in the December Atlantic, laments her repair bill:

I admit that — God help me — without intending to, with only the purest of intentions, I took my nine-year-old Volvo wagon in for a routine oil change and emerged with a bill for … $535!

Five hundred and thirty-five dollars!!! Although technically it was an oil change plus two changed-out hoses at $95 apiece, with four hours of labor charged for water- and oil-system repressurization and tire rotation. I’ve been with these guys since 2001, on my friend Keith’s recommendation, and I’ve trusted them through 109,000 miles. But why, why, why $535??? Good God! I kick myself! I gnash my teeth! My stomach lining burns! I can feel, viscerally, the weight of the $535 that is never coming back (and that’s just the principal, not all the interest that won’t be compounding decade after decade).

That term “repressurization” is perplexing. It’s a given that she got a new fill of coolant — you pretty much have to when you replace the hoses in question — and it takes a certain level of skill to make sure that there aren’t any air bubbles remaining in the cooling system. (Which skill, I remember, was lacking one day about twelve years ago when I had a coolant flush performed on a Mazda.) But what did they have to repressurize in the oil system? If the oil pump was bad, she’d have written a much larger check than that. I’m guessing they ran something like the BG PF12 Power Flush on the car and didn’t explain it to her properly.

Still, a $500-plus repair bill is a jolt when you own a nine-year-old car. As the owner of a ten-year-old car which got just under $1000 worth of service this fall, I’ll be too happy to testify to that effect.


  1. Nicole »

    16 November 2010 · 12:40 pm

    Repair bills period are shocking. I would more expect $500 out of an older car than a newer one. A 3-4 year old car out of the warranty period that has a $500 bill is equally shocking and painful. I am having to get a water pump replaced in my 3-4 year old SUV (purchased used) today to the tune of $500. They are also changing oil and replacing a belt, but still.

    Repairs are just shocking. Though having a $535 what one thought was an oil change would be enough to turn my hair white faster. :)

  2. CGHill »

    16 November 2010 · 1:34 pm

    A water pump for my car is $106.47, but the book calls for four hours of labor, so — $500 or so. And I’m not so handy with a wrench that I’d want to do this myself.

  3. Charles Pergiel »

    16 November 2010 · 9:31 pm

    Old cars break. Put aside $100 a month and hopefully you will be able to stay ahead of the game. i.e. repairs won’t run more than $1200 a year. I had to have the automatic transmission in my truck rebuilt a couple of years ago. $2800. That was painful.

  4. CGHill »

    16 November 2010 · 10:37 pm

    I expected $1500 this year, what with the bad O2 sensors and the need to address the CV joints; spending so far has been around $1330, so I’m not complaining so much.

  5. Keith »

    17 November 2010 · 12:39 pm

    Yeah, $100/mo is still much better than the typical new car payment. I like to buy a car that’s 2-3 years old (like a lease return) and keep it 10 years or more. Helps that I can do some of my own work, though they are making the tasks tougher each model year. A water pump used to be a piece of cake. Now-a-days you you have to remove 3 shrouds, etc, to just to get at the thing, and perhaps a “special service tool” along the way. Also scratching my head about “repressurization”.

  6. Mel »

    17 November 2010 · 11:23 pm

    Yeah, I just spent $300 for brakes on my 10 year old truck. That’s just the parts … pads and rotors all around, plus some additional necessities … I’m doing the actual labor. I know of at least $1,500 worth of work I could do on it right now, again, with me doing the labor.

    Of note, the GM rear rotors on my truck have a tolerance of 0.020 from “OEM Spec” to “Can’t have ’em turned”, almost assuring you that the rotors will have to be replaced instead of just turned. Granted, all 4 rotors have lasted 136K miles (front’s were turned 60K ago).

    And no, I’m not looking forward to an auto tranny replacement. I tend to be hard on them.

    1987 – $300 (failed 2,000 miles after buying a used truck)
    1990 – $450 (same truck, 145K on the rebuild)
    1999 – $1500 (different truck, 145K on the tranny)

    Oh crap, this little exercise has clued me into my personal tranny fail point …. which is less than 10K miles away on the current ride.

    I think I might want to start looking for a good used transmission “just in case”.

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