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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hey guys,

I just got my car back from a mechanic a couple days ago and am a bit disconcerted. I'm wondering if I'm perhaps too picky. I haven't had a car in a shop for anything but specialty work (e.g. alignment, tires) in several years, but just don't have the time that I used to with two kids and a wife who works nights. I certainly know that I like things done "my way" and I was nervous as heck about turning my baby over to a stranger.

What I had done was the head gasket and passenger-side motor mount. '90 Motronic Spider.

The shop in question is quite reputable, recommended by folks on this forum and in my local Alfa club. They are used to high-end automobiles as they are a Ferrari, Maserati, Bentley and Lotus dealership. Alfa dealer "back in the day". They were very helpful, friendly, professional and fair. Didn't try to talk me into work I didn't need, didn't try to "nickle and dime" me. Total bill was below estimate. They washed the exterior (dropped it off in a snow storm) and perhaps vacummed the interior though it was pretty well spotless when I dropped it off. I was quite happy until I started looking under the hood.

My gripes (all minor, I admit) are as follows:

1) Coolant level low. Not dangerously low but slightly below the "low" mark in the reservoir. OK, it's butped a couple of times and just need a little top-up.

2) Rubber intake hose crossing the head not very well atached to plastic tube leading to the throttle body. It only catches 1/8" or so at most. I always make sure that the full width of the clamp carches the plastic tube.

3) When I took the car in the top of the head (spark plug wells) was clean enough to eat off of. When I got it back it's kinda dirty, with a bit of "gunk" down in the plug wells. I guess this is from cleaning the sides of the head before he pulled it? I'm a bit puzzled by this.....I'll definitely give it a good cleaning before I pull a plug.

So now I'm debating about whether I should stick with them the next time I want to have something done. They're the most convenient shop that's been recommended to me, but there are others around the city.

What do you guys think? Am I being too picky? Or were these guys a bit careless? Would you be concerned?

Thanks,

Chris
 

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Not really

My experience with mechanics of special marque cars has been best served by developing a relationship where 2-way communication is established -- and a longer term bond emerges, as well as trust.

Many, probably most, mechanics look at their work in terms of how many hours they may bill, and how many hours it takes to deliver the job. The highest quality is not the issue. If that commitment to quality is important, and it is to me, I make it clear to the mechanic that I want the best from him, and I'm willing to pay a premium to get what I want and expect. In smaller shops, you deal with just the mechanic. In larger shops, you have to include the service writer in this relationship, and make sure you are getting the same mechanic each time you seek service. Following the write-up, a 5 minute exchange with the mechanic with each service, reconnects you as a customer and your car, to the mechanic and the service he'll provide.

While you may pay $50 more for your service, and the mechanic will get his share of the billable time, you may find the price worth the personal satisfaction. I have often made tip arrangements with good mechanics, and these guys made sure they serviced my car.

Over time, the relationship deepens and moves beyond just the work ticket. And problems do occur. Mechanics are diagnosticians, and sometimes there are difficult and incremental steps taken in breaking down a fuel v. electrical problem, for instance. Sometimes things take more than one visit, and patience seems a prerequisite.

So, I think it's more than appropriate for you to set personal, high standards. But I think to accomplish the results you want, it will take some time and effort to build a relationship. It starts with your communicating to the mechanic where he let you down, in a constructive fashion. And it finishes with your assurance to him, that you will be a good customer, and take care of and respect him for what he does -- but you want it done to your level of quality.

If the service writer and mechanic don't welcome this relationship, find another mechanic.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)
OK, just had a long talk with the mechanic who worked on my car and I think we see eye-to-eye. Several compliments on the condition and cleanliness of my car from him didn't hurt!

Since with my location and the makes they carry pretty well give away what shop I'm talking about, I do want to reiterate that besides those nit-picks above, I was pleased as can be with their service. I had them do some diagnostic work for me on some stuff I plan to do myself (told them so) and they did it for free even though I offered to pay. The bill was less than they quoted me, parts prices were reasonable, etc. They seemed to have a very high regard for the car (something I was worried about - there was an F40 being serviced in the bay next to mine) and its condition. As added bonuses, the showroom is a very entertaining place to wait - the new Lotus Exige is something to see, as are the Ferraris - and made quite an impression on my coworker who took me to pick up the car on his way home. He drove right by chuckling "riiiiggghhhhttt" when I directed him to turn in to the shop. Had to turn around when he figured out I was kidding. LOL.

To take this completely off topic, my coworker had a pretty funny comment. We were looking at the Ferraris which these days show off the engines in a pretty garish way and he told me something that he'd read somewhere. "It's like cutting a hole in your pants to show off your Calvin Klein underwear". I got a chuckle out of that.

edit: Elio - I'd already done the driver's side myself and in the course of pondering what it was going to take to do the passenger side I decided to stop fooling myself about the head gasket. Since spring is here and I'm an extremely slow mechanic with very little time to work, decided to have a shop do the gasket and put the mount in there while they had everything apart.
 

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Coolant level - There was probably an air bubble that escaped after they'd topped up the level. Can happen with major head-off repairs. I wouldn't worry unless it keeps dropping.
Clamp - Yeah, he made a fitting mistake. Not a big deal.
Cam cover - You really are picky :p If it was a local grunt, I wouldn't worry, but I guess if these guys are working on F40's & such, they could have at least cleaned it up.

If nothing else, they gave you a discount, instead of giving you a quote & then blowing it out by 3x by the time you've picked it up. Don't worry, sounds like a nice bunch of mechanics to give business to if you ask me...
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
Actually it was the grubby head that got me looking at the other stuff. I agree the others are no big deal. I was just a bit puzzled and worried about all the grime down in the plug wells. I was imagining they had removed the manifolds, pulled plugs, etc. so that grime down there really worried me. I guess I just expected it to come back cleaner than I left it rather than dirtier.

The mechanic explained that he had to clean all around the head before removing it and that gunk got everywhere. The head came off really easily with a few taps of a mallet so he didn't have to resort to any tricks involving pulling plugs. He left the manifolds in place. They washed the exterior because of all the grime flying about and even gave a quick rinse of the engine bay. He just didn't pay that much attention to the top of the head. It sounds like they aren't used to Alfa engine bays as clean as mine - surprising as I don't consider mine to be all THAT clean! Fair enough.

Quadrifoglio - you nailed the dealership (like I said, pretty obvious as it's the only Ferrari dealership in town) but not my experience. I'll be taking it back to them at some point in the future. Like I said, I like to do stuff myself but with my current life situation that just isn't very realistic.

C
 
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