You paid for a new starter, but it was replacing the $11 "neutral safety switch" that fixed your Suburban.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Dec 01, 1997

Dear Tom and Ray:

I had a problem with my '90 Chevrolet Suburban. For a period of approximately
one month, I could not get the engine started. I'd turn the key and nothing at
all would happen. When I moved the shift handle slightly, it would start
immediately. The garage insisted that I needed a starter, which they put in.
Since then, the car has started fine. But could you tell me why moving the
shift handle would affect the starter? -- John

TOM: It wouldn't, John. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think these
guys made last month's boat payment off of you.

RAY: Either they just bought 800 GM starters at closeout, and were determined
to sell one to every customer, or they made a mistake and just didn't own up to

TOM: If we give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they didn't set out to
rip you off from the beginning, here's what probably happened: They didn't
diagnose your problem correctly. They didn't listen, didn't hear, or didn't
believe you when you told them about moving the shifter. They put in the new
starter, and, lo and behold, the Suburban STILL wouldn't start.

RAY: After smacking themselves (and each other) in the forehead a couple of
dozen times, someone realized that moving the shifter DID allow it to start,
and they realized that what you had really needed all along was a new "neutral
safety switch." That's an $11 safety device that prevents the car from being
started unless the transmission is in Park or Neutral. And when it begins to
fail, jiggling the shifter or putting it in Neutral will often allow you to
start the car (just like whacking the side of the TV will sometimes bring the
picture back).

TOM: But instead of admitting their mistake, they just quietly slipped a new
neutral safety switch in and charged you for the starter anyway. Not very nice,
in my opinion.

RAY: So you can go back and discuss this with the manager. If he recognizes
that someone in his shop used extremely poor judgment and apologizes profusely,
then I'd consider going back there again. If not, tell your 400 closest friends
about this episode every chance you get.

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