Sunday, June 23, 2013

Now, How Much Would You Pay?

In early 1993, when we are living in our three-year-old home outside St. Louis, Mom breaks the door handle on the three-year-old dishwasher she's trying to get it open. The handle pushes in and sticks without unlocking the door, and she can hear something snap inside.

Whirlpool sends out a repairman to have a look. A fat, long-haired, grungy looking guy walks in and fools around with it for about an hour before locating a snapped pin in the handle -- which should have been twice as long to begin with. He replaces it, and all is well.

The total cost of this repair job: $75. Yes, $75 for a broken pin. That's after a coupon for 10 percent off a service call.

Looking back at it, it's hard to justify that much money for a little pin that could fit in a watch. I break down the costs. Some of it had to be labor, but it's only one hour's worth. During that hour, Mom thinks the guy is going to have a heart attack as he gets down on the floor and wheezes as he looks under the washer during his diagnosis. I wanted to call up the consumer investigation squad at KSDK and complain.

I've found ways to do certain maintenance jobs myself, especially on my car. Fluid changes I leave to a pro, but there's no excuse to let somebody else change an air filter when it just pops in and out in less than five minutes. I walk into Walmart, look up the part number, buy it, and do it for half the price of a garage. I also do my own air conditioning recharges. It's easier for me than changing a tire.

When I still owned my dear departed Kia Rio, I went through a number of compressors in the hard Arizona heat. Most auto-repair chains will charge more than $1000 for a new compressor, plus labor, plus hoses and some other things they have to install in order to validate their corporate warranty. I found an ace mechanic in Tucson who would gladly install parts from a junkyard-- ahem, recycler to cut the cost. A $1200 job shrunk to $300 that way, and I was able to get through the summer months. I had an option to buy a $3000 recycled engine when the poor Kia threw a timing belt and clunked out, but by that time, I was ready for a new car after 171,000 miles of service.

"This car's been well maintained!" a mechanic told me recently as I took it in for a radiator flush. "The only thing I found in the inspection was a dirty air filter. I can put a new one in for 25 bucks!"

Uh, no.

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