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Troubleshooter: When just getting to a repair costs you money

 On some vehicles, the dash has to come apart to access the heater core. Jil McIntosh/Postmedia News
On some vehicles, the dash has to come apart to access the heater core. Jil McIntosh/Postmedia News - POSTMEDIA

There are very few vehicles owners who haven’t been shocked at one time or another by a repair estimate they’ve received from any type of facility. Many service consultants are very good at breaking things down and explaining them in a way that’s easy to understand, without coming off as condescending.

But when things get rushed, a lot of important detail can get lost in translation. Here’s a modest attempt to explain why some repairs hit the stratosphere in terms of cost.

First, understand that few automakers ever consider how easy or difficult it will be to repair certain things when it comes to design, engineering, and construction of their products. And absolutely no new-vehicle shopper ever asks about maintenance and repair costs when sitting across the desk from the sales rep.

Repairs that run hot and cold


If your heater malfunctions, you may be in for major sticker shock if your ride’s warranty has expired. 123rf stock photo - POSTMEDIA
If your heater malfunctions, you may be in for major sticker shock if your ride’s warranty has expired. 123rf stock photo - POSTMEDIA

 


It’s seldom very easy to get to any HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) systems and may require the dash to be taken apart. Any job that entails that much work just to access the system isn’t going to be cheap, and if your heater suddenly decides to refuse to change vent output or switch from full heat to cool, you may be in for major sticker shock if your ride’s warranty has expired. Depending on the equipment, most car and light-truck dashes involve at least eight hours of labour to remove and replace them, and with shop rates at a conservative $150 per hour, well, the math can be painful to do.

Like anything else, there are exceptions to the rule. Some components on a vehicle’s HVAC box are accessible without any major removals, as the tech only has to pop off an access plate. Experienced techs who have done this job many times before will have developed shortcuts — but don’t expect that to lower your bill, as most shops still bill by a predetermined rate instead of actual time.

Tip of the day: If your vehicle gets a dash removal for anything, make sure your drive home is done with the radio off. Listen carefully for any new rattles or squeaks and report them immediately to the shop. You don’t want to be dinged twice for a dash removal.

There’s a price to pay for design

It’s hard to believe, but there are more than a few jobs on pickup truck engines that are much easier and cheaper to do with the entire cab removed. You would think with all that space under those massive hoods, you should be able to do laps around an engine in a truck. But take a closer look, and you’ll see how far back under the windshield those powerplants have moved on newer designs, and how much more fragile plastic surrounds them.

More than a few shops have taken to removing the cab for access and to avoid damaging anything during such major repairs as engine replacement. But even with simple jobs, a lack of manoeuvreing room can mean lifting the front body section to complete the task. The use of side-arm hoists, proper tools, and experience can achieve this major surgery in less than an hour in many cases, but of course the customer will likely pay far more than that.

Nothing drives a car owner farther round the bend than being told that something as simple as changing a light bulb is going to involve time-consuming access procedures, such as removing a bumper cover. But more than a few models out there are just that frustrating. Remember, if selling and fixing autos while keeping their owners happy was easy, carmakers would have done it years ago.

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