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Friday, April 29, 2011

2003 Olds Silhouette Repair debacle and questions.

We have owned this 2003 Olds Silhouette for the past 2 years. It's by far the best vehicle we've yet owned. Had it from Michigan to Minnesota and back. Husband drives it every day a total of 62 miles. For the most part, we are confident in its reliability. It currently has 158,000 miles on it.

But we figured it was time for some general maintenance, and a repair. We have been hearing a POP noise when we go down an incline like a short, steep driveway. Primarily from the right. My husband thinks he's hearing it on the left now, too. I haven't heard that but definitely have the one on the right. Neither of us are car experts, but we figured ball joints or something similar. (My husband is that most dangerous of people, someone who knows "a little" about cars. He's getting better at admitting he really doesn't know all THAT much about them, really. ;D )

We've also got a bit of a wobbly, shaky ride. We put used but great condition tires on the front prior to the winter. Now, they are quite worn on the outside edges. My husband thinks they look canted to him and thinks we need an alignment. (I don't have the car here to tell you if the tires are more worn on inside, outside or evenly on both, but I think the inside was worn more.)

I took the van to a mechanic yesterday that came highly recommended. I trusted this guy and honestly, still don't think he was in any way trying to cheat me. However, this is what I asked him to do:

Check and top off trans fluid. Flush and fill radiator. Check AC but DO NOT RECHARGE until I know what everything else would cost in case we couldn't afford it after everything else. Change plugs and wires. Diagnose popping noise and do repair. Do an alignment.

The ONE thing I neglected to tell him was about the wobbly drive.

He was instructed to not do ANY repairs/tune-up/charging/etc until he called me with a report on what's causing the popping noise and what it would cost to fix it. We're under pretty tight funds and I needed to make sure the most important things were done and paid for leaving the rest for when we had more money.

I sat in the library all day while waiting to hear from him. Hours went by and I still hadn't, so I called him. He said he couldn't find what's causing the popping noise. Said that it might be something up in the struts, but he didn't think it was something like ball joints, etc. (I forget the exact wording he used, but it was akin to that). He said he'd keep looking, but that he thought the car was in excellent condition and safe to drive. Said he'd call back in an hour.

Well more than an hour went by. At least 2 or more. I called him again. He said he still can't find a problem causing a popping. He also said that we have platinum plugs and wires and that they don't need replacing. When I expressed some surprise and doubt about that, he said if I insist, he can replace them and charge us but that we don't need to.

In retrospect, the previous owner had this under warranty and had it serviced quite often - I wouldn't doubt he put top of the line plugs and wires in it. But my husband insists it's not running as smoothly as it did 2 years ago. He does the oil changes himself, most often well before the automatic "change oil" alert says we need to. And we think we could be getting slightly better gas mileage (we got 25 mpg when we drove it to Minnesota 2 years ago, and now get around 22.3 tops). I don't have them on hand right now, but I'll be double-checking the repair/maintenance records the previous owner supplied to see if there's note of what kind of plugs/wires he had put in.

In any case, the mechanic said he did the fluids and AC, which pissed me off a bit because the popping noise had not been fully diagnosed and I didn't want to put any money into something as unimportant as AC when still faced with possibly pricey repairs, and had VERY plainly told him so when I dropped the car off. I let that go and asked about the alignment. He said, "you want an alignment?" as if I'd never mentioned it (and saw him write it down). I did say I was not sure if an alignment should be done in case whatever's causing the popping noise would cause the car to quickly go out of alignment again. But that the car has a wobbly ride. He had not test driven it himself (had another guy do it) and didn't know about the wobbly ride. I said yes, it's quite obvious when driven, and that the tires are wearing unevenly, too. I told him I had to talk to my husband before he did anything else.

I talked to my husband. At this point, he was pissed and didn't want this guy doing anything else to it. So I called the guy back. He was out test driving the van, so I told the person on the phone to have him call me as soon as he got back.

Over a half hour went by. I called back. He answered the phone. He had been "messing with another car" and didn't call me. At this point, it was getting VERY late in the day and I needed the car back so I could pick up my husband from work. He said he felt the wobbly drive but blamed it on the condition of the tires. I don't doubt that is a big part of the problem at this point. However, the tires wore very quickly and both my husband and I think it's due to a misalignment.

I had a lot of trouble being confrontational with this guy because 1) I don't think he was intentionally blowing off my concerns 2) I trust that he wasn't trying to rip me off 3) I needed him to pick me up from the library and take me back to the shop to get my car, so I was facing a very uncomfortable ride if I at all got testy about things like him charging the AC, etc.

My husband and I are also willing to admit that we're not used to owning a vehicle that needs relatively little service. We're used to having lots of things go wrong with our cars (the 1999 Chevy S-10 was a particular nightmare of dysfunction), and having to dump a lot of work and time into them. We're willing to admit maybe we're not used to being told "the car is fine, it doesn't need pricey repairs done."

At this point, my husband and I agree on a course of action:

1) We're going to get 4 new (used) tires put on the car. We have a total of $1150 we're prepared to put into the car (after the $150 we paid this guy yesterday), and have a reliable tire shop with a set of nearly new tires for about $200 we're going to pursue.

2) Before we do that, we're going to take the car, with the current tires intact, to an already highly recommended alignment shop so they can see the tire wear and test drive it first. We'll tell them about the popping noise and get their opinion. If they don't do the sort of work that might be involved in diagnosing and fixing that, we'll ask for their recommendation on a place to take it.

3) We'll get the tires. And take the car to either the alignment shop or the recommended mechanic to have the popping noise properly diagnosed and repaired, and aligned.

4) We'll check maintenance records about the plugs/wires and ask a 2nd opinion if we still think it's necessary.

I welcome input as to whether we're still on the wrong track with our new plans. It's not usual that we have this kind of money to devote all at once to car maintenance. We need to make sure we keep this van on the road.

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