Gandalf Lives!

It’s been said that all women need two people in their lives they can trust: a hair stylist and a mechanic. I’m happy to say my hair has been taken well care of by the same person for the last 17+ years. The mechanic part…well…let’s just say I haven’t been as lucky. I thought I had that one taken care of years ago but instead got ROYALLY screwed as the result of his dishonesty. I’ve now had Gandalf with me the last 5+ years. He’s a gray Kia Rondo, and I plan to drive him until he falls apart. I thought the end was in sight this weekend, but instead, my eyes were opened to yet another dishonest mechanic.

It’s been on my bucket list to take an automotive class so I’m better equipped to handle things myself, or at least discuss them with some knowledge. Hell, I’ve changed the oil in my car before and even, under the guidance of a good friend, changed out Gandalf’s brakes and rotors. I don’t mind getting my hands dirty, but there are some things that are too involved for me to do. That’s when I leave things up to the experts.

A few months ago, I was having some issues with Gandalf, so I took him in to have him looked at in hopes the issue could be corrected. I wasn’t able to go to my usual mechanic, as they are no longer open on the weekends. Instead, I went to a place, a chain, that my parents have used for as long as I can remember. I felt I was in good hands since it was like keeping it in the family, so to speak. It was discovered that the catalytic converter was shot and it needed to be replaced. (I am now questioning if that was even the case.)

The part was ordered, and when it finally came in, I waited at the store for several hours while the job was completed. Upon being checked out, and after all the work was done, I was told then that they didn’t realize that the part that was ordered was going to cause some noise that sounded much like I was driving a hot rod. I was told by the manager that if it bothered me to let him know and they’d order the other part and replace it for me.

After two days of driving my 17-mile-one-way commute, I called and told them that it had to go. How people drive a car with that racket is totally beyond me! They ordered the part and said they’d call me when it came in. I waited almost two weeks. Finally, after having to call multiple times, they confirmed the part was in and my appointment was scheduled. I waited, again, for several hours while they removed and replaced the catalytic converter, and all seemed fine.

This brings me to last Saturday.

It has only been a few months since the replacement of the catalytic converter when I began hearing some noise when accelerating that sounded much like a knocking or rattling, It was almost like someone was spinning a lottery wheel hoping to land on a good prize. It was extremely annoying, however Gandalf seemed to drive fine despite that. There was no oil light on. There was no check engine light on. Regardless, I called and made an appointment with the same place and was sure to describe the issue. They agreed that it was probably the heat shield and they could look at it on Saturday morning.

I got there right on time for my appointment. Once Gandalf was examined, this is what I was told by the manager. He said that the problem is that there was no oil in the car. Apparently there was an oil leak and no oil was showing on the dipstick. He then said that whoever did my last oil change “owes me a new engine.” (His exact words.) The knocking sound was one of the rods in the engine that was broken and that the only recourse was to buy a new car or completely replace the engine on a model they don’t make anymore. He and the other manager both felt like Gandalf wouldn’t last very long, and I shouldn’t wait to start looking. Nothing was repaired, but they did put in about 2 quarts of oil at no charge to bring me up to 4 ½ quarts. It turns out that just because there is no oil on the dipstick doesn’t mean there’s no oil in the engine. I was due for an oil change, but after being told Gandalf was done, I didn’t figure I should bother with that added expense.

The manager also mentioned that the reason that their oil changes take an hour is because they take the time to look at the car in case anything else is wrong. He said that had they done the oil change, they would have found the leak and fixed it then. He said that the lack of oil in the engine ruined it. It was broken…and so was my heart.

I spoke to the manager and district manager for the prior service center, both at the suggestion of this shop’s manager. I got nowhere. They said they noted it on the ticket. I then told the district manager that it’s ridiculous that they’ll verbally upsell you on every service under the sun, but when there’s a physical problem with your car, they simply “make note” for you. Poor Gandalf.

After leaving the mechanic, I sat, dumbfounded for a while trying to figure out where to start. Thanks to suggestions from several friends, I spent the rest of the day, until 9:00 pm, looking at cars. At a minimum, it was going to cost me around $16,000 for a pre-owned vehicle. I had not planned to spend my entire day doing this, but after the grim news from both the managers, I felt I didn’t have a choice.

Yesterday, a good friend took a look at Gandalf, and then we took him for a short drive. He seemed to think that the sound wasn’t coming from the engine, but he did notice that there was oil sprayed on the underside of the hood, so that could have been part of the issue. After his examination, I felt the need to get a second opinion, as I was not happy about having to shell out $16,000 for a car.

Today, I took Gandalf into an auto repair place I have used in the past. They have been very honest about their work and I trust them completely. Again, the only reason I wasn’t going to them was that they weren’t open on the weekends. Fortunately, I was off work today, so I was able to schedule an appointment. Pretty quickly, they noticed the oil leak, but realized that it can be fixed by getting a new front crank shaft seal kit. This runs about $15 for the part and $585 for the labor, as it’s a very involved process…which they fully explained.

Regarding the knocking, it was discovered very quickly that it was NOT coming from the engine. In fact, it was nowhere near the engine. I stood with them under the car and saw for myself the source of the sound. It was coming from the REAR catalytic converter. It was BEYOND obvious that was what was making the noise…even to me! They confirmed that the issue is either with the heat shield or with something that was knocked loose when the front catalytic converter was replaced and is now rattling around inside. The cost to fix this would be no more than $562 for the part. Given the location, it was much easier to replace if need be, so the labor would be much less. Because they may not even need the part, it could be an easier, and less expensive fix.

My gratefulness to these guys was diminished in part by the pure FURY I had for the prior shop. HOW ON EARTH can someone who works on cars day in and day out not be able to locate the source of a noise that is not only BEHIND the front wheels but is located in the middle of the car with nothing around it?!?! The other shop almost cost me $16,000 (at a minimum) when the cost to repair these FIXABLE issues won’t cost more than $1500 for both the catalytic converter and the oil leak. The technicians who looked at Gandalf today were dumbfounded as to how this was missed. They simply couldn’t explain it given how obvious it was. All I can say is that this place now has a loyal customer for life!

I have already reported this to the Better Business Bureau and will be posting a negative review on Yelp and any other place I can find. I have emailed their area manager with all the details as well. I will never step foot back inside that place again, which is sad given that my parents have always been loyal customers for as long as I can remember. How this was missed is totally beyond me. I put my trust in that company and in people who clearly do not know anything about cars or how they work.

I couldn’t be happier that it now appears that Gandalf and I will still have many happy years together. He has been a great car, and knowing he’ll be well taken care of makes me beyond happy. In addition, I am currently completely out of debt and plan to stay that way for as long as I can. I now know that I need to start planning for the day when this weekend’s events become a reality. Until then, I will be forever grateful for great family & friends with not only amazing advice and support, but incredible senses of humor!

About robynthorn

Robyn Thorn is just a girl learning that she’s perfectly normal after all these years. She has been blogging for several years and can often be found singing the night away at her local karaoke establishments. Although she has no children of her own, she is Aunt Bobbyn to many. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Communications and finds that this fits her personality perfectly. She is a certified Zumba® instructor, an ACE certified Group Fitness Instructor, and holds a Texas Secondary Teaching Certificate in Speech Communications. Robyn has also been a mentor with the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas since 2011. She is the author and publisher of "We're All Rubber Bands: Finding happiness with who you are."
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