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Motormouth: Repair bill sticker shock

Bob Weber, Tribune News Service on

Published in Automotive News

Q: I took my 2007 Lexus LS 460 to the dealer when the "check engine" light came on. They diagnosed it as a misfire on cylinder No. 4. After investigating, they attributed the misfire to a wire that had been chewed by a mouse. I was told a new wiring harness would cost $1,200 but they could repair the wire for $400. I authorized the repair. Their work fixed the problem, and the charge was $1,650 (including tax). The charge was all labor, not a penny for parts. My question is whether this seems reasonable.

P.B., Glastonbury, Connecticut

A: Heck no. If they quoted you $400, they should be held to that quote. If the work was expected to exceed that amount, you should have been contacted for your approval. Even if their labor rate is $200 per hour, you were charged for more than 8 hours! Incidentally, if you have comprehensive insurance coverage, contact your agent. Rodent damage may be covered.

Q: A relative of mine, who is a bit of a motormouth himself, says brake fluid flushes are a scam and that since it's a closed system there is no need for that service. Everything I've seen in internet searches recommends that service being performed at various time or mileage intervals. Can you give me your thoughts or recommendations on this matter?

B.B., Romeoville, Illinois

A: I would wager that most people do not have their brake fluid flushed. And in the past, major problems seldom developed. But with the advent of anti-lock brake systems, damage could cost about $1,000 to replace the ABS control module. Follow the schedule in your owner’s manual.

Q: I’ve got a 2009 Toyota RAV4, which currently has red coolant in the radiator reservoir. I need to top it off and am reading conflicting articles and opinions regarding mixing different colored coolants. Reading labels on the latest technology of new coolants on the market, which claim to be compatible with all colors, gives me the impression that they are safe. Are there coolants that exist that are truly alright to use with all colors of antifreeze? I really don’t want to have to buy a different product for each of the cars that I have and would much prefer to buy only one to use with them all.


J.W., West Hartford, Connecticut

A: You can buy one brand of coolant to cover domestic and most imported cars. European cars, however, are often the exception. They require coolants that are phosphate free.

Q: I have noticed lately when I go to the local Valvoline oil change garage that they do not drain the oil out the drain plug. Instead, they insert a tiny hose through the dipstick tube. Doesn't this leave dirt, sludge and metal shavings in the oil pan? As a motor head who changed my own oil for 45 years, this bothers me. I am too old to change my own oil.

T.T., Fort Myers, Florida

A: Vacuuming the oil out of the oil pan is becoming the favored method. Pulling the drain plug does an adequate job, but some junk sitting in the bottom of the pan may remain behind, especially on a cold engine. Sucking out the oil can actually remove more stuff. Vacuuming also precludes getting a stripped drain plug, damaged gasket or, worst of all, an untightened drain plug. There once was a time when there were no oil drains. Engines had total loss lubrication.

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