Did I get taken for a ride or does it cost that much to replace an ignition module?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Nov 01, 1995

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1990 Chevrolet Lumina with 83,000 miles. Last Monday, the car started fine when I drove to work, but when I went to go home, it would not start. It cranked away, but would not fire up. I had the car towed to the nearest Chevrolet dealer. They told me the electronic ignition module went bad, and would need to be replaced if I wanted to start the car. The part was $258 and the labor was $84. Is this normal for a car with 83,000 miles? Why would it die with no warning? The dealership gave me the bad part. Is there any way a person can go and have it checked?. I'm concerned that I may have been taken.

TOM: I completely sympathize with your instincts, Kathy. We know that everyone even remotely connected with the automotive industry is a sleazeball (including us). But in this case, unbelievably, and against all the odds, the diagnosis and the price both sound perfectly reasonable.

RAY: An electronic ignition module fails like a light bulb. It works fine, day in, day out. And then all of a sudden, you go into the room, flip the switch, and pffft! Doesn't work. Looks exactly the same. Just doesn't work anymore.

TOM: Of course, the ignition module takes a lot more abuse than a light bulb. It's subject to huge fluctuations in temperature, from below freezing in the winter to hundreds of degrees in the summer. Plus, it gets bounced and rattled every time you drive the car.

RAY: And eventually, one of the tiny, little, electronic circuits in the module fails. And when it fails, the car won't start.

TOM: And 83,000 miles is a perfectly reasonable lifetime for an electronic ignition module. The price for the part was about right. And some of the labor charge is for the time spent diagnosing the problem. So that's about right, too.

RAY: So I don't think you were cheated at all, Kathy. I think this dealer was absolutely honest with you. And if you'll be kind enough to send us his name, we'll turn him over to the proper authorities first thing in the morning.

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