Mechanic ripoff?, 30,000 mile maintenance, Ford recall

Q. I was hoping you could shed some light on this.  My husband brought his car to our dealer (Honda) for an oil change.  The technicians suggested other work, mostly oil/lubrication.  The car was there 2.25 hours with a $400 labor charge at the end, the total bill was $800.  We were in shock!  We disputed the labor charge we were told an extra mechanic was used and this is normal.  We aren’t young kids, and this has never happened to us.  What do you think?

A: There are three methods to calculate labor for repairs. Menu pricing, straight labor, and flat-rate labor. Most shops use a combination of menu-board pricing and flat rate times. In the flat rate system, the vehicle manufacturer performs time studies for repairs. In this case, the customer is charged the flat rate time, regardless of if the repairs are performed quicker or take longer than the scheduled time. Some shops will use the “pit-crew” approach to work more efficiently saving the customer time. Consumers should always ask for an estimate before repairs are performed and if there is any doubt, ask for a thorough explanation of all the fees for both parts and labor.

Q. I have a 2016 Mazda CX-5 which I bought used in 2017 at a used car superstore and it is approaching its 30,000-mile maintenance. I have had all my cars serviced at a local AAA facility for decades.  Recently I replaced the Mazda’s tires at a great tire store, where I have also purchased tires for the last 30 years. I also had the Mazda’s infotainment system updated under warranty at a local dealership. Both the tire store and the dealer have contacted me about the pending service. My question is where should I get the service performed? All seem trustworthy and reputable. 

A. The 30,000-mile service is a series of simple checks combined with, an oil change, cabin air filter replacement and tire rotation. Since you have a good relationship with the AAA facility I would return there for service. They know the vehicle and more importantly, they know you and what you expect from your car.

Q: Recently in Consumer Reports there was a notice about a Ford recall, of 1.26 million 2011-2013 F-150 6-speed transmission trucks for a software issue that may cause unexpected downshift to first gear while vehicle is in motion; the fix CR reported would be a software update.  Later I saw a reported recall of the 2013 models for this problem.  Because I have heard irregular “clunks” at times over the last year or so during automatic shifting I thought maybe this issue explains it, and since the report, I’ve seen my transmission downshift twice with the clunk, but it has downshifted to third gear, not first gear.  But I contacted my dealership and the service manager told me that my vehicle is not listed in the recall, so it is not eligible for the free fix.   I was annoyed by the manager’s answer because he did not follow up with a suggestion of what else could be done for my problem; since I spoke to the manager, I’ve wondered if they have a software analysis tool that would detect the problem if it indeed exists in my truck.  I haven’t gotten through to Ford’s Customer Service.  What do you advise?  Do you think I am right to feel unsatisfied?  

A. The recall for the Ford trucks was very specific for a dramatic downshift to first gear and the repair is a software update. That being said, there has been several updates to the transmission software of Ford vehicles and some of those updates may correct the issue with your truck. I would have the dealer check to see if there are any software updates that may apply. Keep in mind that unless you have an extended service contract/warranty on your truck, you will be responsible for the repairs. 

John Paul is AAA’s Car Doctor. He is an automotive expert who has been writing and talking about cars for more than 30 years. He also hosts the Car Doctor radio program on WROL radio in Boston. Email John at jpaul [at] aaanortheast.com.

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