Car Culture

10 Tales of Terrible Tinkering Turmoil

10 Tales of Tinkering Turmoil

We all have stories of car repairs that took a turn for the worse.

We asked FIXD readers to share their car repair horror stories. Here are the best (or the worst, depending on your point of view) stories of repairs gone horribly wrong.

If You Want It Done Right, Do It Yourself

Thomas Palandro followed this advice when he took his 1973 Cadillac in to get a new battery.

“They say it needs an alternator. Ok, they put one in. They say it still isn’t charging. I ask, ‘Why not?’ He says, ‘Duh, if I knew that…’ I took it home, put a new alternator on myself, and it worked. The one they put on was bad. Duh, he says…”

I once got a free Honda Civic wagon under similar circumstances. No matter what, it would not take a charge. I put in a new battery, the first thing the previous owner had tried, and it never had charging problems again. The previous owner’s replacement battery was bad.

He Broke Your Car, You Broke Up With Him, Sounds Fair

Couple fighting

It’s great to have a significant other who can help you with car repairs, but make sure they actually know what they’re doing before you let them under the hood. April Juip did not, but she made sure it would never happen again.

“I was replacing my transmission and asked my boyfriend at the time to fill her up with transmission fluid. He put transmission fluid in, alright, into the engine with the oil. What a mess! We had to yank the engine out and rebuild it after that. What should have been a 2-3 hour job turned into a week-long nightmare. Needless to say, I ended the relationship with him after that. I mean, really, how could I date a guy that knew way less about cars than I do?”

Try the Simple Solutions First

Before taking things apart and replacing the big, complicated items, try the easy fix first. Chris Marek did that and saved big money he didn’t need to spend.

“I had a Mercury Grand Marquis that wouldn’t start. The garage said that I needed a new fuel pump that was located in the tank. It was going to cost $700 to replace it. I went there and pressed the emergency fuel shut-off switch in the trunk. The car started right away.”

I had the same switch in my Mercury Tracer. I never had to press it, but I knew it was there in case I ever had a similar issue, which is common on Ford products.

“Certified” Pre-Owned

Used car salesman

Some dealers sell “certified pre-owned” cars without actually giving them the inspection they claim to. This happened to Brian Skrepnek.

“From day one, the check engine light came on. They told me it was repaired. They spent hours trying to fix it and told me to take the car and call back. I tried calling back for six months and they ignored my calls. I also found out that this ‘certified’ car had a busted power steering pump, which I’d asked them to check, and it didn’t have a jack.”

When we were together, my ex-wife bought a certified pre-owned Ford Flex. During the test drive, I noticed the brakes vibrated, becoming worse at higher speeds. “It passed our 100-point inspection,” they kept telling us, trying to assure us that this was completely normal. I knew it wasn’t, but they wouldn’t listen to either of us when we tried to get them to fix it.

On my recommendation, she bought the car anyway. It was in otherwise excellent condition despite the brake problem, which I knew was nothing more serious than warped rotors. They’re quite easy to replace, even though we shouldn’t have had to. If the dealer had actually done their 100-point inspection, they should have noticed this before even putting the car up for sale! I replaced the rotors myself, and the vibration disappeared like magic.

BMW Leaks Like a Sieve

Oil leak

From how many places can an engine leak oil? “Five different oil leaks in my 2015 X1 BMW within five months,” reports Philip Mailliett. Jess Williams suggests, “Take it in for a ‘snug’ up.” Bailliett replies, “Is there anything left to snug up after five different leaks with corresponding repairs and replacements?” I think you have a point there.

Trust, But Verify

Even if you don’t do your own repairs, it’s worth knowing how your car works and what the likely causes of your problems are before you take it to a professional. This saved Sara J. Fares a great deal of money and trouble.

I booked a mechanic via YourMechanic online and gave a description of what my car was doing. They sent a mechanic who didn’t even bring a code reader and said that It was no way what I suspected, or any of the things possibly listed. I’d found a YouTube video of some guys with the same issue. YourMechnic charged $100 for the diagnosis, then sent an estimate of $900 for repair, should I choose to have this mechanic do the repairs. It was impossible to print out their guesses prior to a mechanic coming. 

“It turned out he was completely wrong. It was an issue originally listed on their website when I entered the description in the first place. I ended up paying a local mechanic $325 to fix it the same day I had it towed to the shop.”

Holding FIXD Sensor in Ford SUV

“This is what inspired me to order FIXD. I just installed my second FIXD unit in my husband’s truck. He had a check engine light on, with a P0455 code, an evap problem. If this ends up being the cause it will be worth it to have bought it. Gas prices are going up, up, up…”

Sara’s research before booking her first appointment taught her enough about the problem to know that their diagnosis was way off. FIXD will tell you why your check engine light turns on, as well as the most likely causes of the problem. For example, before taking your husband’s truck to the shop for that P0455 code, make sure the gas cap is tight. That’s one of the top causes of this problem, and easy to fix for free!

You Can’t Trust Some At All

Some mechanics who misdiagnose your car are simply making an honest mistake. Unfortunately, there are a few out there who may outright deceive you to turn a small job into a big, profitable one. Duane Roach caught one of them red-handed.

​​My mom replaced the original engine in her El Camino because her mechanic told her to replace it. He put the new motor in, but it still had the same problem. Finally, she called me. I went over, checked it out, and found a plastic bag in the air intake. I went ballistic on the mechanic and told him to put the original motor back in free of charge, which he did after a little coercion. The bill was $1,800, which he returned. The classic car still has its original engine with matching numbers.”

Check Those Jacking Points

Car lifted on jack stands

It’s important to use the correct jacking points when lifting and supporting your car. This is just as true for the shop putting your car on a lift as it is for your home repairs. You would expect the professionals to get it right, but Steve Sykes wasn’t so fortunate.

Everything was good until the mechanic put the car on the hoist. Then it fell off. The mechanic was taking an apprenticeship program at the Canadian Tire mechanic shop.”

I’m assuming this particular apprentice didn’t earn a passing grade.

It’s Not the Sensor

Oil light on

It’s the worst when the person you trust to diagnose your problem is wrong, causing far worse problems later. This happened to Martha Rose Dyer Gatlin with disastrous results.

“I took my Volkswagen Passat to a lube shop because the oil light came on. They said it was a bad sensor. I had a tow truck there, waiting to tow it to my mechanic, but they said there was no need because it was just a sensor. Less than two days later, while driving, the car sounded like it blew up. Come to find out the oil pump was clogged, so my turbo blew up because there was no oil flow. This was after the lube shop told me it was just a sensor and to keep driving it. They also gave me an estimate of almost $900 just to change the oil sensor that, of course, would not have fixed the problem.”

Breaking My Brakes

Front brake pads worn

Our last story comes from my own experience. Years ago, I was a member of the Saturn Performance Owners Club of New England. (Yes, believe it or not, a few of us were crazy enough to race Saturns.) 

From time to time we’d have a garage day, where we’d get together at someone’s house and work on car projects together. I needed to bleed my brakes to get my Saturn SC2 ready for an upcoming track day. I tried to open the first bleeder screw, and it snapped right off the wheel cylinder with virtually no force at all. Several New England winters had taken their toll and rusted it out. Now I was stuck with a broken bleeder screw, and no way to bleed my brakes as required before the track day.

Fortunately, my friend Cris had upgraded his Saturn SC2 from rear drum brakes, the same as I had, to disc brakes. He drove an hour home to pick up his old parts, then another hour to bring them back to me. What a guy! I replaced my wheel cylinder with his good one, bled the brakes, and finished the job. But you’d better believe the club never let me hear the end of that story. I earned the nickname MOBBO, which is an acronym for “Master of Breaking Bolts Off!”

Justin-Hughes

Recovering autocross and track day enthusiast. Once turned a VW Jetta into a pickup truck. Lives in a van down by the river. Dream car: 2001 Subaru WRC rally car.

Justin Hughes
Recovering autocross and track day enthusiast. Once turned a VW Jetta into a pickup truck. Lives in a van down by the river. Dream car: 2001 Subaru WRC rally car.

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