Repair Shop Fails Test By Failing to Test

Dear Car Talk:

I was in a collision; thankfully, only the car's front end was damaged. I took the car to a tire shop and told them I needed it repaired. They replaced a control arm and struts and did an alignment.

I took it on the highway, and it shook something terrible once I got to 60 mph. I went back to the place, and they took off the left front wheel, spun it on the high-speed tire balancer and said it was bent. They said they couldn't have eyeballed that when they gave me the estimate, which I believe. But they also said spinning the wheel to find out if it's bent is not part of the process.

I asked how it cannot be part of the process when they knew I was in a front-end collision and they had the front wheels off anyway to do the struts and control arm?

Should they have checked for a bent wheel as a matter of course? I say yes; they said no. Who's right? -- Eric

Their mistake wasn't failing to remove the front wheel to see if it was bent, Eric. Their mistake was not test-driving the car before giving it back to you.

After any repair -- especially one that involves steering, suspension, wheels or tires -- we always take the repaired car out for a test drive. In fact, we've got a pile of speeding tickets because the limit on the road closest to the garage is 40 mph, and we make sure we test the cars at highway speed, too, before giving them back to the customer.

Had they done a proper test drive, they would have felt the car start to shake at 60 mph and would have known instantly that there was more work to do. A shimmy that reliably occurs at a certain speed is often a sign of a bad or unbalanced tire or a bent wheel. And they would have saved themselves considerable embarrassment by returning to the garage and finding the cause of the shaking before calling you and saying "It's all set, Eric!"

In effect, they made you the test driver. That's not cool.

So yes, they made a mistake in missing the bent wheel at first. But that's an understandable mistake. I could have easily done that. But failing to test-drive it -- to make sure it didn't drive like one of those old vibrating motel beds -- that was their real mistake.


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