Good Lawd Allmighty, I’ve Been Snowed!
On a whim I ask the mechanics at S&S Qwik Stop if they think $757 is too much for a distributor cap, spark plugs, computer chip, and labor.
“Good Lord Allmighty!,” the assistant manager says, tipping up his NASCAR cap and squinting at the numbers again. “Buzz, c’mere’n’ look at this.”
Buzz comes here.
“Lordamercy!“Look at it! Oh honey,” Buzz looks over the top of the receipt I’ve handed him and glances at me sympathetically. “This guy oughtta have a warrant out for his arrest.”
“Yeah, a warrant for fraud!I’m-a call my boss. Good L—I cain’t believe this.”
The boss is called and brings his son. There are now four mechanics, all in private practice in SmallTown, NC looking at my receipt from Local-Guy-Who-Ripped-Me-Off.
“You pay ‘im yet?” the boss asks, circling items on the parts list and shaking his head.
“Yessir,” I admit.
“Walk on over to Advanced Auto Parts now, an tellum to price these parts for you,” the assistant manager says. He points across the parking lot to the store. “Then come back and give us the report. Ain’t nobody shoulda charged anybody $96 for no distributor cap.”
The son, lowest in rank, finally gets his hands on the receipt and echoes the disapproval from the other men. The assistant manager turns to me and confesses he could have done the job for half as much. “An look here, $360 for labor?”
“Yeah, it’s $40 per hour from him,” I say, knowing that he’ll understand this is far less than the dealership.
“But this work he did – it couldn’ta taken nine hours. I could do this in three or four. Five if I had a lot of trouble.” He hands me his business card, which I eagerly accept.
The son looks up at me, then over to his dad, then back at me again. “Yer not from here, are yew?”
“No,” I say, “But I’ve been here four years.”
“He knew you weren’t from here. He could tell that ‘boutchew,” the son says and the other men nod in agreement.
“T’ain’t right, I know. Guys like this give mechanics a bad name,” Buzz says, still shaking his head.
At Advanced Auto Parts the clerk looks at the receipt and sees the name of Local-Guy-Who-Ripped-Me-Off, then says, “Now I don’t wanna cause no trouble here. Nope. But I’ll look up the prices for you.”
We work together and I write on the receipt:
Distributor cap: charged $96.79, costs $45.48
Spark plug wire set: charged $72.59, costs $41.48
Ignition rotor: charged $23.06, costs $9.18
Upper gasket set: charged $32.43, costs $18.48
Computer chip sensor: charged $146.34, costs unknown due to faulty UPC code
“And the labor, sir? How much time would you put into a job like this?” I ask, gaining confidence now.
“Two hours, three tops.”
I report back to S&S Qwik Stop. They coach me on how to approach Local-Guy-Who-Ripped-Me-Off and I drive away feeling nervous yet determined. Local-Guy-Who-Ripped-Me-Off has been fixing my family’s cars for two years. He fixes my friend’s cars. He fixes my neighbor’s cars. His buddy only charges $25 for towing. But the facts don’t line up and I know I’ve been snowed.
I begin by telling Local-Guy-Who-Ripped-Me-Off that I have no intention of calling anyone dishonest. I tell him I make $400 per month and that an $800 car bill (added in tax and tow) is no small matter.
Then I show him the numbers for the parts and he has no excuse. He concedes on the spot, albeit only with a slump of his shoulders and a barely articulate but defeated, “Well allright.”
Then I tell him about the labor. I tell him I have the name and phone number of a mechanic in SmallTown, NC who could have done it for half what I was charged. I tell him three other mechanics looked at the receipt and that I brought it into Advanced Auto Parts too. Then I remind Local-Guy-Who-Ripped-Me-Off that he never returned my phone call, which was placed 36 hours after the tow to inquire about parts.
“How much did you pay for the parts you put in my car?” I ask point blank.
Local-Guy-Who-Ripped-Me-Off looks at the receipt with my handwriting on it. “Less than that,” he says pointing to the prices I got at Advanced Auto Parts. “But I been doin’ this for twenty-seven years.”
At this point I expect him to make me feel small. I expect him to tell me that twenty-seven years is as long as I’ve been alive. I expect him to tell me he’s cashed my check already and they ain’t nothin’ nobody gonna do ‘bout it now.
“You paid LESS?” I say, flabbergasted that I’ve been ripped off even more than I thought. Local-Guy-Who-Ripped-Me-Off doesn’t get angry at this moment, but I can see him sweating and he’s running out of words. I hold my ground.
“I don’t know nobody who buys a part for $1 and sells it for $1,” he says in defense.
“I don’t know anybody who buys a part for $1 and sells it for $3, or $4. There’s got to be a happy medium and this isn’t it. This is not customer service.”
At which point I tell him I will put a stop on the check (and I do) and that he will hear from me in a day or two. Then I thank Local-Guy-Who-Ripped-Me-Off for listening to me and I mean it when I say it.
Right away I go to my parents’ house and Dad says he’s proud and I tell him he’s the one who taught me to stick up for myself in the first place. Then we remember that the Volvo is at the Local-Guy-Who-Ripped-Me-Off’s shop right now. Dad starts to stew, realizing now that he’s been snowed by this guy as well.
At home I compose a typed letter and write Local-Guy-Who-Ripped-Me-Off a check for $400, which I say should cover parts, labor, tax, tow, and everything from here to Mozambique [OK, I leave that last phrase off]. Tomorrow on my way to work I will put the check in his mailbox a few miles down the road and then I will call the Better Business Bureau and I will have enough money leftover to pay for two fillings next month at the dentist.