Dear Car Talk:
How much of a refund does a garage owe when they screw up?
My 2006 Honda Civic's wipers would stop after 30 minutes. A local garage replaced an electronic control box for $750, parts and labor. The next time it rained, the wipers failed again.
I then took it to the Honda dealer, who found several problems with the wiper motor, replaced it and the car is fine now.
I don't think the local garage was dishonest, just incompetent. I feel they owe me the labor charges, plus whatever markup they took on the new part.
They don't think they owe me anything since they did their best. -- Robert
I can tell you what we'd do in a case like this. We'd give the customer their money back. Then we'd put the part back on our shelf. And it would sit there, glaring at us every day, as a reminder not to guess -- but to actually figure out what's wrong.
Then we'd pray another '06 Civic would come in needing a body control module, so the part would stop mocking us.
These days, every shop has access to all kinds of online diagnostic tools and mechanics forums to help eliminate a lot of guesswork. And shame on any shop that doesn't avail themselves of those resources.
When you come across something unusual, it's often possible to find a post from another mechanic who had a car with the same problem, and can tell you what fixed it. Or what he tried that didn't fix it.
If you'd come into our shop, I probably would have suspected your wiper motor first, because I know from experience that they tend to overheat and conk out like that due to an open circuit. But let's assume I didn't know, and I was stumped. And I couldn't find anything definitive online to help me.
The first thing I'd do is let you know that I didn't know the answer, so you could make an informed decision about whether you wanted me to take an educated guess. Maybe you wanted to go to the dealer instead. Or take it to someone smarter than me (which wouldn't be hard!).
Then, with your knowledge and assent, if there were several options, I'd guess the cheapest part first. So I would have proposed that we get a rebuilt wiper motor from my regular auto parts supplier for about $150. Since I do a ton of business with him every day, I know he'd take the motor back and put it back on his shelf if need be.
I would have installed the wiper motor, and told you to report back after the next rainstorm. If that fixed it, great. If not, I would have put you your old wiper motor back and refunded the money, or applied it to our next guess.
The next guess might have been that body control module, depending on what information I found. But I might have looked for a used one first, instead of a new one. Why? On a 2006 car, everything's used. So why not save you some money, especially if it might not work, and we can't return it?
Unfortunately, the mechanic you went to guessed, and guessed wrong. That happens. But unless you gave your consent to that, knowing it was a guess, he really should take responsibility for the error.
Giving back a customer's money and eating your diagnostic time and labor hurts. But we tend to assume that any business we lose with a refund gets more than made up for over time by having repeat, loyal customers. Plus, that way, we can always overcharge them and make it up next time they come in.
So you might try him one more time, Robert, and see if he'll compromise and give you half your money back. If he says no, never go back there again. If he says yes, take it, and then never go back there again. Good luck.