$53.50 to charge your already pricey battery? Yeah, you've been had.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 01, 1999

Dear Tom and Ray:

I bought a battery at my Buick dealer for my 1993 Buick Century. When it came
time to pay, the bill was $144.96. They said $53.50 of the cost was to charge the
brand-new battery and to do something to keep the car's computer from going
haywire. Several people have said I got taken. After 30 months, that battery died
completely, and I replaced it at Wal-Mart. They did nothing special for the
computer. They said nothing special was needed. I then confronted the service
manager at my Buick dealership. He said my car should be running badly. It is
not. What's the story here? -- Elmer

RAY: Well, like some batteries, Elmer, you got overcharged.

TOM: Here's the story. When you replace a battery, you have to do several things.
You have to first charge up and test the old battery to make sure it really needs
to be replaced. Then you need to test the car's charging system and check for a
current drain, because any problem there will kill the new battery, too.

RAY: If those tests prove that the battery has, in fact, died of natural causes
(i.e. old age) and nothing else is wrong, then you install a new battery.

TOM: And when you add up the labor to do all of that stuff, it comes to about
half an hour. Then you add to that the cost of a better-than-average battery, and
the final price to the customer should be about 80 to 100 bucks. So you got
overcharged by at least 50 percent, Elmer.

RAY: I don't know why the dealership would have to charge up their brand-new
batteries, unless they buy them dry. And even if they do, I'm not sure why you
should have to pay for it.

TOM: I also don't know why you should have to pay for maintaining power to the
computer. The computer does lose its settings when you disconnect the battery,
but it relearns them automatically. In this car, all you have to do drive the car
for five minutes at 30 mph or more, and the computer completely reconfigures

RAY: Of course, you may also lose your radio station presets. But even that
shouldn't cost $50. We have a little $6 device that plugs into the cigarette
lighter and preserves the radio settings during a battery change. It takes us 30
seconds to use it, and we don't charge any extra for it.

Tom and Ray lead you step by step through the process of finding and buying a
great used car in their pamphlet "How to Buy a Used Car: Things That Detroit and
Tokyo Don't Want You to Know." To order, send $3 and a stamped (55 cents), self-
addressed, No. 10 envelope to Used Car, PO Box 6420, Riverton, NJ 08077-6420.

?(C) 1999 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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