MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The value of getting a second opinion about expensive car repairs has been mentioned more than once in this space. One of my WCCO-TV coworkers recently shared the story of his $1300 repair that — because he didn’t just blindly accept that figure — turned out to be much, much less.

The story begins with a 10-year-old Nissan Maxima with a V6 Engine. It began running badly and sometimes just stopping, and the problem was traced to faulty ignition coils. Because this car is a 1996-and-later model, it has the federally mandated On Board Diagnostic system, Second Generation, or OBD-II.

This simply means that when major parts like the ignition coils malfunction, a code is stored in the engine management computer. This code can be read later with a scan tool, pictured above, which gives the mechanic (or do-it-yourselfer) a real good idea which parts to replace. Many car parts retailers will loan a scan tool to home mechanics with a deposit. Some will even bring a scan tool to your car in their parking lot & help you connect it.

Replacing the ignition coils on a Maxima V6 is no more difficult than replacing the spark plugs, but GETTING AT the plugs and coils on the back of the engine (three of the six cylinders are tucked up next to the firewall) requires removal of the plenum. The plenum is basically a two-piece air distribution box that bolts to the top of the intake manifold. There is also some other “stuff” to disconnect.

A mechanic friend of mine said coil replacement on this engine should take about two and a half hours … which means to me a home mechanic could do it in less than five hours. The Maxima owner didn’t want to tackle this job in his unheated garage, but his friend Carlos was up for the job. As long as the plenum was removed, it only made sense to put in new spark plugs along with the new coils, and this is where the first estimate got inflated. The shop listed the LABOR charge for removing the plenum TWICE: once for the plug replacement, and once for the coil replacement.

(credit: CBS)

This picture of a coil-on-plug ignition coil shows the end that connects to the car’s 12-volt electrical system. The coil’s job is to change 12 volts into about 20,000 volts (some systems produce much greater voltage) to fire the spark plugs. This picture

(credit: CBS)

shows the end of the coil that simply plugs onto the spark plug, so you can see how the labor to change the plug or coil SHOULD BE about the same as the labor to change both.

There was also a considerable mark-up on parts in the first shop’s estimate. My colleague got his coils for about $60 each at NAPA auto parts, and the plugs were about $3.50 each. The shop estimate had coils at $125 each, and the plugs were $9 each.

Carlos got $150 for labor, so the car got fixed — and it runs well — for less than $400. Compare that to the original $1,300 estimate, and you can see the value of getting a second (or third) opinion.

Comments (7)
  1. Mike says:

    I wonder what shop gave the $1300 estimate?

  2. Courteney says:

    Mechanics ALWAYS try to rip people off. They don’t care about screwing somebody over, they always just want to take as much money as they can from people. Every time I have taken my care in for an estimate they have charged 2 or 3 times the price for parts then what NAPA or AutoZone charge. They are just purposely marking up the part that much. How come they can’t sell you the part for the same price you can get it at the autoparts store from? Obviously even the autoparts store is making a profit off of it so the mechanic just wants screw people over.

    Also, when we have taken our car in for a second opinion we usually have me take it in once and my husband take it in once. Never once have I been charged less then what these places charge my husband. They see a female and assume they can charge whatever they want.

    My husband and I usually end up doing about 90% of our repairs ourselves and in the middle of winter when we don’t want to work in the cold garage we dread finding a place to take our car into.

    Professional mechanics suck.

  3. Lars says:

    My preferred shop for repairs is Courtney Truck Service in Eden Prairie. By the name, you would assume they only work on trucks, but I hav seen everything from race cars, many Porsches, and recently a Rolls Royce there. Mike Courtney is the owner, and one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.

    Like a lot of things, you get what you pay for, and the quality of the work they have done for me for 20+ years speaks for itself. They don’t charge $9 for a $3 spark plug, and the mechanics will go over every detail of the repair if requested.

    I live in Apple Valley, 20 miles away, and every person I have recommended to them has thanked me for not geting ripped off by a dealer. Case in point – intake manifold leaking, and cylinder head frost plugs leaking also. Burnsville Chevy dealer quothed me $2500 – Courtney did it for $800.

    I have NEVER had to take our vehicles back after a repair, and they run like new. They have saved me so many times, and usually the repair is done in 1 day.

    Email me, and I would be happy to provide details on my experience with them.


  4. greg says:

    i have been an ASE tech for 28 years. the reason for marking up parts is to cover the high overhead of operating an auto repair business. insurance,wages,& utilities along with the costs of hazardous waste disposal are all factors. granted, some places mark up parts more than others. think about it…would mcdonalds or the local beer hall be open if they sold their wares for the same price that they paid for them?

    1. Andy says:

      Greg, your analogy simply does not work. McDonald’s and the beer hall do not provide a service. They sell food and ONLY food. There’s a reason Spongebob the fry cook makes minimum wage (or thereabouts): he’s selling $2.00 hamburgers. You wouldn’t expect that $2 hamburger (or a $2 spark plug) to be installed into a car for free! It’s acceptable for repair shops to mark up their parts a bit to cover disposal and storage, but the cost of labor is really what is at stake in this instance.

      You, sir, have a special skill. If you feel your paychecks from working under the roof of your repair shop are not high enough, perhaps it is time you marketed yourself the same way Carlos did with his friend’s Nissan Maxima V6.

  5. Marty says:

    One problem which comes to mind when talking about a car dealers repair prices vs. the local repair shop owner is UNION wages. The Union man works only to make money and have health benefits, then curses out his employer. Whereas, the local repair shop mechanic is among a family atmosphere, the owner works along side the mechanic with grease in his finger nails, lives in a average house and drives a well taken care of aged auto. He does not have two houses, 8 weeks of vacation time, a lake cabin, business provided auto and wearing a slick new suit to work every day. It’s spelled GREED . The MPLS. scene has somewhat recently had a good example of it!!

  6. john says:

    If you cant repair your own vehicle your self, then don’t complain about the price mechanics charge, one way or the other you must get it repaired somehow