My car’s air conditioning stopped working a few weeks ago. I made the mistake of asking our local Monro Muffler Brake shop (Eisenhower Blvd.) to fix it. $250, a warning that they never found a leak in the engine compartment, and four days later, it wasn’t working again. I took it back and they gave me an estimate for how much it would cost to replace the evaporator: their best guess as to what was broken. That would be about $600, but they would be recharging the system for free (that is what they did for $250) because of their earlier misjudgment.

This is the first break/fix that this car (1998 Dodge Stratus ES) has seen. Everything else has been regular “wear” maintenance. I was a little stunned by the $600 number, so instead of letting them go ahead and do the work we decided to take the car into the local Dodge dealer (Brenner Dodge) for a look. There was one safety recall issue that they needed to fix anyways, so it wasn’t a completely wasted trip. They also couldn’t find a leak without taking off the dashboard, and they wanted $140 to charge the system with refrigerant and dye to be sure. Instead of doing that, I asked them my cost for the evaporator ($240) and decided to take it back to Monro and let them do the work.

I dropped the car off last night per their request, thinking they would start on it early today and let me know what they found when they got the dash off. Instead, I get a call in the late morning letting me know they haven’t gotten to it yet, and then another call at about 1:45pm telling me that their initial estimate was wrong. They were now estimating $1200-$1400 for the repair, blaming their initial estimate on faulty software. The labor estimate went from 5.5 hours to 6-7 hours (at $80/hour) the parts estimate went from $142 (which was low for this part) to $320 plus “incidentals”, like o-rings and other things they would have to use to install the new evaporator. I was trying to parse these costs on the phone and I wasn’t liking what I was hearing. I also got the dreaded “we don’t do this very often” line, so that was it. Classic bait and switch. I told them not to do the work and picked up the car. I’ll take it to Dodge to get it fixed. Even if it costs $1200+ there, at least there will be guys working on it that know the vehicle and the job.

Moral of the story: don’t trust the general repair shops with anything but light maintenance and their specialties. And don’t believe every repair estimate you’re given.