Here’s an email we got from Geoff asking us about an unnecessary repair:

I took my truck in to be fixed and was told it needed a new exhaust system along with a new catalytic converter. I was told the reason the truck was running poorly was that the catalytic converter was clogged. The work was performed, but the problem remains.

The truck is still in the shop while they try to figure out what’s wrong with it. I’m sure you’re aware that replacing an entire exhaust system along with the catalytic converter isn’t cheap. Since the truck wasn’t loud as a result of the bad exhaust, and since there aren’t any state regulated emissions tests where I live, I wouldn’t have replaced the exhaust system if it wasn’t causing the problem.

How would you suggest I handle this situation when I am presented with the bill for the new exhaust?

Typically, when a vehicle is running poorly and the exhaust is suspected, the 02 (oxygen) sensor is to blame. While I have heard of a clogged catalytic converter before, it’s not terribly common. I’m not sure if it was a bad diagnosis, but the repair shop might have determined the catalytic wasn’t the problem by pulling it off and checking your truck’s performance without it. That would have been a good way to verify their diagnosis without making you pay for a bunch of parts. Of course, that’s only true if your exhaust system was in good shape. If it was completely rusted out (which is possible – obviously I’ve never seen it), they did the right thing. An extremely rusted exhaust should be replaced. It’s only a matter of time until rust flakes clog your catalytic, muffler, etc. It’s also tough to pull any parts off a rusted exhaust without breaking something. The steel is just too brittle.

As for your next step, the first thing you should know is that you probably own all those new parts. Unfortunately they can’t be pulled off and returned. You can try and get the parts for free, but my opinion is the best you can hope for is a discount on the parts cost. You can find out exactly what parts have been added and then call around to some auto parts stores and get some price quotes for them. Most repair shops will mark-up the price of the parts they sell you – if you can find the parts cheaper somewhere else than I would present that information to the shop manager and try to get a discount (assuming they charged you more).

Regarding the labor that went into the unsuccessful repair, it should be free. However, if it shows up on the bill, I would speak with the shop manager. I would explain to him or her in a calm and reasonable manner that while you appreciate that vehicle repair isn’t an exact science, you feel the mechanic made a mistake and recommended the wrong service. I would then request a discount on the parts and ask that all the labor associated with the new exhaust should be free. I would also explain that you would like to continue to work with this shop in the future. A good shop will do as you ask.

Unfortunately, the labor probably isn’t the bulk of your costs, so I don’t know how much this will save you.

If you don’t have any luck with that, it starts to get a little more difficult. If you’re working with a dealership, you should go straight to the general manager. If you’re working with an independent shop and they don’t respond, my next call would be to your local Better Business Bureau to file a complaint. Sometimes this will get results – business owners are more likely to respond when they see that their reputation is on the line. It’s even possible that the state attorney general would investigate if the shop you’re working with has a history of making unnecessary repairs – something the better business bureau can tell you.

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