The other day, Moose’s battery light went on. Unlike the three other yellow error lights on the dashboard, the battery light was ominous red. Thinking it was no big deal, I decided to leave the light unattended for a couple days. After all, I just spent $85 on a new Diehard battery 6 months ago!
As I pulled into my garage, Moose suddenly lost power. The entire dashboard went out and pressing the gas pedal revved no engine. Oh no! Moose, don’t die on me old buddy!
Thankfully I was in my garage when the power went out. Otherwise, I would probably be stuck in the middle of the street somewhere. I called USAA roadside assistance for a jump. I cannot tell you how worth it getting any kind of roadside assistance is. For around $5 bucks a month, I get free jumpstarts and tows to anywhere! I’ve had to use them 5-6 times in the past 10 years, and each time was a life saver.
Roadside assistance came about 45 minutes later and Moose was back in business. I read the manual to review what happened, and it wrote, “If battery light goes on, see dealer service immediately!” OK, I guess I shouldn’t have been so nonchalant, but I couldn’t go see my mechanic since they were closed on the weekends. My flight to Hawaii was the next day and I wouldn’t be back for a week.
When I returned from my trip, I tested Moose out. He fired up right away, but I didn’t trust him. On Monday morning, I called roadside assistance again to have a tow truck escort me two miles to my mechanic. I didn’t want to run the chance of Moose shutting down in the middle of a tunnel. I got to my mechanic just fine and turned Moose off. When the mechanic got into my car to turn him back on, Moose wouldn’t start again! Damn, another close one.
After checking things out, my mechanic of 11 years said I needed a new alternator. Figures. I didn’t even ask him how much because I trust him to always give me the best price.
When I returned that afternoon I asked for the bill. It said: $440. Yikes! I asked if I could get a discount of I paid cash, and he said, “Yes. $400 and save on tax.”
“Done deal! Taxes suck,” I told him and busted out twenty, $20 bills and handed them over. I was anticipating getting a deal if I brought cash, so I went to the ATM beforehand.
$400 is still a crap load of money, but I was feeling good that at least Moose was back in good form and I was able to “save” $40 bucks. It’s funny how no matter how much one spends, if one thinks they are getting a good deal, it’s not that bad.
To make sure I got a good deal, I decided to call the dealer and ask them how much a 130 amp alternator cost. The parts person waded through a book and responded, “$885 for a new one from Bosch and $450 for a refurbished one.”
Are you kidding me? I asked the parts guy how much it would cost to install and he transferred me over to service. The service person told me it would cost about $385. What the hell. When I asked him how many hours of labor $385 buys, he said, about “2 to 2.5 hours.” The dealer charges $155-$192 an hour. Unbelievable!
If I went to the dealer, I would have had to pay at minimum $785 + 10% tax for a refurbished alternator and $1,270 + 10% tax for a brand new alternator like I got from my mechanic. My mechanic charged me $300 for the part and $100 for labor for a savings of $400-$900!
It makes me sick that the dealer would charge 100-225% more than my mechanic because drivers go there every day to get work done. I realize many go there under warranty, but still many more go to the dealer once the warranty is over.
Going to the dealer for car service is one big rip-off. If you’re off warranty, avoid them like the plague! Ask your friends who they go to and leverage their long standing relationships to save yourself some money.
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Updated for 2021 and beyond