Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Adventures in Auto Repair

A while back I bought a 2005 Saturn VUE that overall has proven satisfactory.  When I bought my first Saturn, its warranty came with PM's included, and the dealership mechanics proved to be excellent.  It was easy to become spoiled and let them deal with things that otherwise involved rolling around in the gravel driveway with motor oil and/or transmission fluid in my hair.

Saturn, alas, is no more, and Saturn repair with access to "factory" parts has been handed off to a short list of Certified Service Providers.

There are two in my area.  One has its business pretty much wallpapered with NO EBIL GUNZ signs, so of course I refuse to reward their bad behavior.  The other had been adequate for oil changes and tire rotations, but then the car came up with a Check Engine light (aka "the $300 light" according to a mechanic friend) and was running like crap.  Connecting the code scanner revealed only a P0300, Multiple Random Misfires.  So I made an appointment for it at Certified Service Provider #2.

Now understand I did this rather than digging into it myself only because I'm so expletive-deleted busy I don't have the time, not because I'm incapable of troubleshooting and repairing it myself.

Well, not only did they not fix anything, they told me I needed a whole new freakin' engine.  And then sent me this email:
From: Joe Redacted
To: hecate
Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 5:49 AM
Subject: Thank you! We hope we did an excellent job on your VUE.

Dear hecate,

Thank you for your recent visit to our Service Department. We want to make sure you had a truly outstanding service experience. Our goal is to always give you prompt and efficient service.

On each visit, we are striving for your complete satisfaction, so we would sincerely appreciate any comments or suggestions you might have regarding this visit.

Our hope is that you will continue to use our Service and Parts Departments exclusively in the future. If for any reason you feel that you can't do so or can't recommend us to a friend, please click the "Reply" button or call me at 855-XXX-XXXX.

Thank you for the privilege of letting us service your 2005 VUE. We value your opinion and we appreciate your business!


Joe Redacted
Service Manager
Redacted Automotive

Redacted Automotive Chevrolet Cadillac
Certified Service Providers for Saturn and Hummer
Yeah, right.

After some careful consideration, I sent them the following reply:
From: hecate
Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 7:34 PM
Subject: Re: Thank you! We hope we did an excellent job on your VUE.
To: Joe Redacted

Mr. Redacted:

Your service department had my 2005 Saturn Vue for two full days, during which time they put nearly 100 miles on the vehicle and left me with under 1/8 tank of gas.  I was told my vehicle "had an engine problem" that could only be addressed by replacing the entire engine.  I was given a preliminary rough guesstimate of $3,000 for a rebuilt engine and another $3,000 labor.

The initial presentation was a Check Engine light that coded P0300, multiple random misfires.  I was told while in your shop it also coded rich mixture.  When I asked how that related to "you need to replace the engine," I was told both codes were caused by oil-fouled spark plugs due to worn valve guides and seats.  I was also told I had "no oil pressure at the top of the engine."

Attached is a photo of the plugs that were in my engine when your staff said I had oil fouling.  As you can see, there is no oil fouling at all, wet or dry.  It would have taken all of five minutes to physically examine the plugs but apparently only computerized testing is the current SOP.

If actually looking at spark plugs to verify fouling is considered excessive effort, I would imagine performing something as basic as a leakdown test to assess actual engine wear would also be out of the question.

Now nothing I was told was technically untrue.  I knew when I brought the vehicle in that there was an engine problem.  I brought it in expecting a more precise diagnosis.  And regardless of the nature or severity of any engine problem, replacing the entire engine will certainly make it go away.  I cannot however regard what was done as anything resembling due diligence.

Rest assured that I will never use your services again.  If I ultimately determine my engine is truly so severely worn that replacement is potentially appropriate I will pull it and rebuild it myself.



Now I had to fix the thing myself.  After going through my set of factory shop manuals and some Google searches, I decided to start at the air/fuel/spark interface and walk the problem back from there.  The first thing I tested was the coil pack, and it was bad.  ICM's typically jump off the cliff hand-in-hand with the coils, so I tested it as well.  Bingo.

I believe in fixing one clearly identified problem and then testing to see if anything else is needed.  Guess what, no further troubleshooting was necessary.  So I sent the Certified Service Provider a followup email:
From: hecate
Date: Mon, Nov 4, 2013 at 12:37 PM
Subject: Fwd: Thank you! We hope we did an excellent job on your VUE.
To: service@redactedsaturnserviceprovider.com

Mr. Redacted:

I thought you might like to know that I fixed my 2005 Saturn Vue myself.

It did not in fact need a new engine.  All it needed was a new ignition coil pack and ignition control module.  I replaced those on Saturday, then drove to Lexington and back on Sunday, a 400+ mile round trip, mostly at 75 mph.  The Vue functioned flawlessly.  Noise and vibration are gone.  There were no engine stumbles, misfires, or DTC's, and my gas mileage was far better than it's been in a long time.

If I were you, I'd be embarrassed that a woman using a Radio Shack multimeter was able to diagnose a problem in less than 15 minutes that your fully-equipped service department failed to detect in two days.  Total cost was less than $200 in parts and a pair of dirty hands.  It took me longer to find and retrieve a torx bit I dropped in the engine compartment than it took to complete the repair.


Funny thing, they never responded.


Joe Allen said...

$3K labor?!?

Even at $100/hr, that's saying it'll take them 30 hours to drop a crate engine in?

Do they only have one wrench and everyone takes turns using it?

Laura said...


Good show. I love showing up the shops when they haven't bothered doing the work. Sometimes I really think they simply assume we're morons who don't know how to do anything.