Was Mike on the verge of losing a boat payment to a crooked dealership? Find out.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 2008

Dear Tom and Ray:

We have a 2001 Honda Civic that was just serviced at the dealership for its routine 90,000-mile service. During the checkup, they strenuously suggested that we replace the front-end lower ball joints, as they were worn out and had too much play in them. They showed us that if you stuck a long crowbar below the ball joint and tried to move it up and down, it moved and inch or so (too much, in their opinion). They said they could replace the ball joint, knuckle and bearings for $1,130. I decided to get a second opinion, so I went to a local Firestone dealer. They inspected the entire front end and said that there was nothing wrong. Two different repair places, two very different answers. So, who are we to believe? Then the answer hit me: Write to America's most beloved car analysts, Click and Clack! What do you think about this situation? Should we fix the car, and is the car safe to drive? -- Mike

RAY: Geez, I hate to reach a conclusion without seeing the car, but I suspect those dealership guys are crooks, Mike.
TOM: An inch is an enormous amount of play for a ball joint. Imagine if your knee had an inch of play in it. You wouldn't be able to walk! The same is true for a ball joint. If it had an inch of play in it, it would already be toast. It wouldn't function.
RAY: My guess is that what they did was take the crowbar and pry up the control arm. That would compress the coil spring. And THAT could easily move an inch. In fact, they could have made it move four inches if they'd wanted to.
TOM: And then, not satisfied to simply take you for a ride on a new ball joint, they wanted to sell you a steering knuckle and the bearings, too.
RAY: And the fact that another shop couldn't duplicate such a drastic problem makes it all very suspicious.
TOM: Since it's potentially very dangerous, though, we're going to suggest that you get one more opinion before drawing a conclusion. But do it the right way. Find an independent shop that specializes in Hondas. You can find one by going to The Mechanics Files on our Web site, cartalk.com. It's a free listing of mechanics who are personally recommended by other readers and radio listeners of ours.
RAY: If the independent mechanic confirms that nothing's wrong, then never go back to that dealership, tell all your friends about it and drop a note to your attorney general's office.
TOM: And if it turns out that the dealer was right, and your ball joint is about to break off, then fix it right away and let us know so we can apologize for calling these guys crooks. Oh, and send us a photo, too, because we've never seen a ball joint with an inch of slop in it.

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