Accord At 66,666: The Thousand-Dollar Service Bill That Wasn’t

The grinding noise started as I backed out of the paddock garage at NCM Motorsports Park. Well, that’s probably not correct. At some point during what turned out to be a half-hour lapping session in monsoon conditions, my rear brake pad must have given up the rest of its low-cost lining and started contacting the brake disc directly. So it would have been grinding even as I entered pit lane and drove to the garage; it’s just that the noise of the weather was too much to hear it.

That was October 8th. In the nearly two months since then I’ve put about 1,700 miles on my Accord, passing the magic 66,666-mile mark in my fifty-sixth month of ownership. This morning I noticed that my right rear wheel was covered with fine-grained particles of iron oxide from the high-speed interface of iron disc and steel backing plate. Time to change the rear pads and rotors, even if it was twenty-eight degrees and cloudy outside. (No, I couldn’t fix my car in my garage like a normal person — I have 830 square feet of garage space and it is filled with two race cars, one Porsche 911, five motorcycles, and what looks like two tons’ worth of tires, wheels, and spare parts.) It took me a while to do it, mostly because I had to drill out the rusted-together setscrews that Honda uses to hold the rear discs on during the assembly process. Yes, that’s right: I made it through almost five years and perhaps a dozen on-track sessions on the original back rotors.

About two hours after I’d started, I was frozen but content. After all, I’d just saved more than nine hundred dollars. Or had I?

A few week ago, I took the Accord to my local dealership for a battery-sensor recall. I have zero respect for this shop; a few years ago, they tried to charge me for a tire rotation that they provably did not perform. Given world enough and time, I’d have taken my car to the dealer that actually does the work for which they charge, but it’s a 72-mile roundtrip and I can’t say that I’m all that worried about my battery sensor anyway. So I crossed my fingers, headed to the local shop, and left my car at the night drop. On the form, I wrote

IGNORE REAR BRAKE NOISE PLEASE THANK YOU

Then I went home, worked for a while, and went to sleep in a good mood because I knew that I was going to work late and therefore didn’t have to wake up until nine the next morning. Needless to say, the idiot from the dealer started calling me at 7:23AM. The sixth time he called, at 8:11, I picked up and was almost immediately deafened by the volume of his cheerful Hyderabad dialect.

“Yes, we inspected the brakes as you asked.”

“I didn’t ask you to do that. In fact, I wrote ‘IGNORE’ on the envelope.”

“Yes, well, we did inspect them, it was $34.95 for the inspection —”

“Which I refuse to pay, by the way.”

“—and it is very bad, very bad indeed. The rear brake is metal to metal.”

“I know that. It’s why I wrote ‘IGNORE’ on the envelope.”

“It must be replaced. The front brakes are aftermarket pads and they, too, must be replaced, along with the rotors. All of this is very vital. Finally, the battery failed our intensive testing. We will replace it with a battery that we are guaranteeing for a length of eight years.”

“What’s the total for all this?”

“One thousand, five hundred, and nineteen dollars. And fifty-two cents.”

“Alright. Here’s what I want you to do…”

“Yes, I am listening?”

“I want you to replace the battery sensor, per the recall. And the other things that you just said… Do you have the complete list of them?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Okay, I want to you do exactly none of those things. And I want to pick up my car this afternoon and not pay a dime. Do we understand each other on all counts?” There was a long pause, then,

“I am afraid we do.” Unfortunately for me, although I was specific to the point of what felt to me like rudeness on the subject of the brakes, I was apparently neither specific enough nor rude enough to be spared four more calls that afternoon, all regarding how I would be filling out my customer satisfaction survey.

When I picked up the car, I noticed without surprise that I’d forgotten to put the key for the security wheel lugs in the glovebox. Which means that my car was “evaluated” for a $34.95 fee (that I did not end up paying) without having the wheels removed. The tech just eyeballed the rotors and decided that everything needed replacement.

Luckily for me, I had pads and rotors waiting for me at home, picked up from Advance Auto at a total cost after discounts of $113. The battery was, of course, fine. The front pads were nearly new, installed by me in the spring. It was sheer profit-taking on the part of the dealer, and it forcibly reminded me:

a) why people hate dealers
b) why service, not new car sales, is the financial engine of the franchise.

The total dealer cost for pads, rotors, and battery would have been in the high three hundreds. A competent mechanic (which I am not) working indoors (which I was not) with all of the right tools (which I did not have) could have done all four corners of the car plus swapped the battery in an hour, for which he’d be paid about sixty bucks. That leaves $1,100 or so in pure profit for the store, on top of what they were being paid to perform the recall.

With 67,000 miles on the car, I’ve done one set of front rotors, three sets of front pads, one set of rear rotors, and two sets of rear pads. That’s not bad for a chronically underbraked and overpowered family car that regularly wanders onto a racetrack for various nonserious purposes. So far, no serious service has been required. At the 90k mark I’ll have the timing belt, drive belts, and water pump changed. Somewhere around 100k I’ll likely change the manual transmission fluid, swap out the shocks, and replace whatever bushings have disintegrated.

I’m just a month or two from having the Accord paid off. What I want to do is buy a new Civic Si in Energy Green before the remaining examples disappear from dealer lots. I’m not going to do it. Viewed objectively, my Accord does every single thing that a new Civic Si would do, only faster and with more space. The smart thing to do is to just keep driving my existing Honda after it is paid off. So that is what I’m going to do. After forty-seven years on this earth, I’ve finally become that bitter old man who drives a paid-off Accord around Columbus. There are many of us out there.

What I’m telling myself is that I’m going to use the extra $517 a month to buy an Indian FTR1200S. In reality I’ll probably spend it on racing. We will see.

It seems difficult to believe that I bought this car five years ago. The time really has flown. At the time it seemed like a stopgap, a sensible purchase to hold me over until I could make a non-sensible purchase. It turned out that my non-sensible purchase was, in fact, another Accord coupe. So instead of a slick German prestige car like my old S5 or my Phaetons I have a gaggle of Marysville Hondas. No complaints here.

44 Replies to “Accord At 66,666: The Thousand-Dollar Service Bill That Wasn’t”

  1. Economist

    My Vessel Impacta makes short work of those stupid screws. I used to struggle with them for what felt like an eternity. I never knew I was using the wrong tool on those until I learned about Japanese motorcycles and JIS fasteners.

    Reply
  2. -Nate

    Typical $tealer B.S. play ~ don’t you have a state office/department of Consumer Affairs you can report them to ? .

    I can’t imagine leaving any lubricant in for more than 40,000 miles .

    I thought you liked the touring Indian Motos…..

    -Nate

    Reply
  3. gtem

    Holy sh*t you were driving on rear rotors that looked like THAT? :/ C’mon Jack!

    Funny story, one of the rear calipers on my wife’s 2012 Camry started to drag just a bit at about 65k miles, I had gone in to the local Toyota dealer to get a second opinion on a wheel bearing noise I was trying to isolate, first time I had ever gone into a dealership for anything other than tire mounting/balancing. Anyways they put it up on the rack and tinker around with it, and the service shmuck comes back with the news: the rear brake is dragging, and they recommend replacing both rear calipers, along with the pads and rotors, to the tune of $1200. They also thought the wheel bearing issue was from the driver side front wheel ($700 with labor).

    Long story short I pay nothing for the diagnosis and end up going to my brother’s for some trouble shooting. We ground down the caliper bracket a bit with a file to get rid of a bit of rust that was causing the stainless shim to pinch the pad ear and prevent it from sliding well, greased and installed new pads. Good as new. The wheel bearing ended up being the passenger right that my wife had curbed and I had suspected all along. The front bearing noise was something internal to the transmission that could be heard/felt in the hub by way of the CV axle, it did in fact sound like a bad bearing when spun up while stationary. We ended up (mistakenly) initially pressing in a new front wheel bearing ($30 made in USA Koyo), and then later in my driveway I installed a new Seymour-Indiana made Aisin rear hub assembly ($130 boxed as a Timken part).

    Reply
  4. Baconator

    Well, why not wrap the street Accord in Energy Green vinyl? Probably $1000 in that part of the world, about as much as the sales tax on that new Civic.

    Reply
    • Josh Howard

      Vinyl’s old and busted. Ya gotta dip if you want to be a supastar. *makes squeaky sound with shoes on floor* *put on shades* *big vape exhale*

      Reply
  5. ThePennySaved

    I’ve been mighty tempted to put down a deposit on a FTR1200S with the fancy paint. Definitely drool worthy. That said, the 2014 Ducati Monster 1200S in my garage is pretty damn near the same thing except she sings in Italian. I’m not even curmudgeon age but I can’t bring myself to spend $10k to upgrade to an LED headlight and #madeinamerica. So to soothe my consumer itch I bought a Motodemic headlight kit for the Monster on Black Friday.

    Oh, and the nearest Indian dealer is 1,359 miles away …

    Reply
  6. Dirty Dingus McGee

    ” I’ve finally become that bitter old man ”

    Welcome to the club. Now go chase them got dang kids offs the lawn. 🙂

    Reply
  7. hank chinaski

    The joys of living in a low trust society. Between the shenanigans and the driving time, our vehicles only see dealers for warranty or recall/TSB work.

    BTW, D. Taco’s novel dropped. He’s been posting bits for months and will unlock his pre-doxxing content to early buyers.

    Reply
  8. Mark

    Dealership recommendation on 14-year old Aviator misfire with know faulty coils = $1400 tune-up with many lines of B.S.! Inspect & clean the heads and gasket? 6/8 burnt coils were already replaced for free under a recall. My wife almost green lit this nonsense before calling me due to the startling vehicle shudder and stutter at low RPM. According to the tech, the final two couldn’t be replaced for free because the vehicle subsequently crossed 10 yrs/100,000 mi. Approximately $200 in auto parts including 2 coils, 8 plugs and investing one night of oil-soak time to overcome the fear of cracking metal plugs that have welded themselves into the aluminum block = a similar >$1,000 savings and a new-found hate for the service department. This negatively influences my willingness to buy a new product. Truck still runs very strong.

    P.S. This dealership already replaced a leaking power steering rack with a leaking power steering rack. The second attempt was successful., and they told me, “We had the best tech do it this time.”

    Reply
    • -Nate

      No surprise ~

      I keep telling you mugs about dealer ‘mechanics’ ~ they’re all parts changers who know very little about what makes things tick and only want to flat rate 30 hours every day .

      The dealer always ragged on me for ‘taking too much time’ and ‘fixing too many things’ .

      Comebacks are accepted in $tealerships, not by me .

      -Nate

      Reply
  9. DougD

    Well done, pay yourself that great dealer margin on brakes. Not so well done on waiting until you get metal on metal contact. The only time we’ve done that is when our Topaz spit the friction material for a brake pad onto the driveway in one piece.

    Never heard of FTR1200S before, interesting. I’m thinking Versys 650 with Givi bags next year…

    Reply
  10. CJinSD

    Obviously a shop should hire people who understand two syllable words like ignore, but they may well have pulled your wheels to perform their brake inspection. I ran a shop that had ‘platinum’ level Honda trained techs. They had a complete set of Honda wheel lock keys, which IIRC consisted of about six in total.

    I bought my Civic Si sedan in 2007 with the intention of keeping it for perhaps three years. For some reason, I thought the Germans would go back to making the cars I cared about, and my next keeper car would be a naturally aspirated, manually transmitted BMW that was faster and better looking than the Honda. Never happened. I’ve been without a car payment for almost twelve years. I recently replaced the driver side sun visor, which is the first part of the car to fail on its own. Unlike Jack, I have no heel holes in the mat under my pedals, as I don’t wear soles with heels. I spent much of my period of ownership with the Honda driving company cars and a truck, so it has fewer miles than Jack’s Honda. I have no use for a new Si, as they are now what I didn’t want in the first place. I don’t care how China feels about 1.5 liter turbocharged engines. They can have them. If I have any regret, it is that I didn’t buy one of the last 2.4 liter Civics. I prefer my car in a few ways, but it is almost twelve years old. Good cars aren’t coming back unless the electorate is magically deprogrammed from its war on the middle class, and my car is old. I should have bought the last Honda build without a built in expiration date, which may have actually been a V6, six-speed Accord Coupe.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Ah… I should have been clear. I was using Gorilla locks on OZ aftermarket wheels. It is possible that the dealer has a Gorilla master of course.

      Reply
  11. Disinterested-Observer

    They probably did have a master key, doesn’t mean they aren’t thieves. The worst part is they prey on little old ladies who turn around and give them glowing reviews for doing so. Especially when it comes to brakes.

    Reply
  12. safe as milk

    jack, use the car payment saving to pay down whatever consumer debt you are carrying. when i feel like doing an impulse purchase, i force myself to listen to dave ramsey to come to my senses. debt is the your soul sucking enemy.

    p.s. my independent mechanic talked me OUT of doing something i authorized yesterday. he also had parts for my ’93 vw van in stock. i pray he stays in business forever.

    Reply
    • danio

      ” i pray he stays in business forever.”

      Unfortunately all too many honest ones have a hard time paying their bills because of lower gross and the high cost of running such a business. Hopefully he has a long line of reliable customers and low overhead.

      Reply
      • Sobro

        Regarding the heater core replacement in my F-150 I mentioned in the Seville thread, I first asked my neighbor and independent shop owner for an estimate: $1200. Because I live in West Nashville I then talked to the Ford Dealer in the next county west: $950. I also got an estimate from the volume Ford Dealer in town: $575. Guess which one got my business?

        But I did have to troubleshoot and repair the intermittent ground problem because the tech didn’t tighten a grounding wire screw.

        Reply
        • Danio

          Good deal. Dealers can be competitive. Most just choose not to be, relying on their captive market business to lazily carry them through. It’s that reputation that has most customer’s not even calling the dealer after the warranty runs out.

          Reply
  13. Danio

    This is my wheelhouse, and I’m not sure the reputation of the dealer will ever change.

    F&I is really the profit engine of the dealer these days. Service can make money, but if they’re accounting correctly, fixed ops usually carries a much larger share of the overhead. It’s tough to find good managers who can reliably overcome that, and most General Managers and Dealer Principals don’t know anything about service/parts and nor do they want to.

    The issue with dealer service departments is that they try to run them like new-car sales departments, which is self defeating. Advisors are looked at as salespeople like any other and are pressured to “crack” customers for the equivalent of a 10k front-end gross on a new sedan. The easiest way to do this is throw everything they can think of at the wall, mixed with a little fear and guilt, much like a new car deal.

    Of course there’s plenty of money to be made doing factory recommended service, and fixing what’s broke. There are plenty of businesses that do well with this model based on trust. If a service manager at a dealer comes from that world, and works for a GM or DP that lets him run his business the way he wants, he’ll retain a much higher percentage of customers after the warranty than the average dealer.

    Reply
  14. bluebarchetta

    Did the guy with the Hyderabad accent actually work at Ge— er, um, I mean, the local Honda dealer – or did he work in a call center that handles follow-up calls for said Honda dealer? I’m curious if they’ve gotten to a point where they farm out basic service-advisor tasks.

    Can’t believe Honda still uses those stupid set screws on the rotors. They were a PITA on my then-GF’s ’83 Accord and I can’t imagine they’re less of a PITA now.

    Reply
    • danio

      They call them “Business Development Centers” or “BDCs”. Most larger dealers will have a group of a few BDC agents working in the dealer attic making calls all day. Today, there are quite a few service companies out there that will outsource these duties to their own call centers for a dealer for nominal savings. These call centers are typically still on this content from what I have seen, but could be several time zones over. You can imagine the confusion.

      Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      He was physically in the building. Since nobody in Ohio needs a job, our corporate masters have brought in a hundred thousand Indians to Columbus and they are working everywhere from the banks to the fast food restaurants. It is not uncommon for me to be the only white face in a restaurant at lunch around here.

      Reply
      • sgeffe

        It is absolutely galling to have to call damned near any toll-free number nowadays, because chances are good you’re going to have to attempt to communicate with someone who speaks barely passable English, working in a call center in some third-world shithole.

        Worst one is FedEx! After getting the runaround while trying to track down a computer shipment over the summer, after the second time having to call their toll-free, I practically screamed at the woman on the other end of the phone to connect me with someone in MY hemisphere whose English I could understand! The woman sounded offended, but at that point, I didn’t give two 💩💩! I did get some resolution to the problem, and I asked the guy to apologize on my behalf, but I did make it clear that I was rather pissed that FedEx couldn’t hire U.S.-based workers to be the first point of contact with the company.

        Christ on a bike, all the $$$ they make (have you seen the size of one of their regional sorting facilities—just incredible), and they can’t employ people here! There’s a bunch of newly (or about to be) unemployed right now who would gladly take those jobs!

        Reply
    • Harry

      To my knowledge, the set screws allow for reduced steps during the assembly of the vehicle at the factory.

      In northern NY, no amount of antiseize is a guarantee they will come off if you use them the second time around. After too many times using increasing force, PB Blaster, torches, ez out, drilling it ect., I now just break out an angle grinder if I can’t remove it in the first minute of trying. It isn’t like I’m going to save the rotor.

      Reply
  15. Cartime

    I just had my 2012 escape looked at for it’s yearly inspection. The ball joints/control arms were shot. The independent shop quoted me $210 for one control arm and $125 labour to install it. Now multiply that by 2 and add 15% tax for a total of $775. I went home and did my research. Found a detailed YouTube video and bought the parts off Amazon for $55 each. It took three hours with shitty tools in a garage with a jack. Total savings of $725.

    Reply
  16. George Denzinger

    I have no love lost for Honda dealers. My late mother had two Hondas, an Accord and later a Civic. The Honda dealer closest to her was family owned at the time she owned the Accord. They were not exactly the squeaky clean type, but if I showed up to have the car serviced, the shenanigans were kept to a minimum. After I moved away, my oldest brother who was anything but mechanically inclined, would by my surrogate on those visits.

    By the time she owned the Civic, the dealership had been taken over by a mega-dealer-group, and the hijinks had increased considerably. Thankfully, my brother was diligent about keeping up with my mother’s cars maintenance schedule. However, my mother had an independent streak about her (if you were to ask my late father, it was more of a defiant streak), and for one service my brother couldn’t change his schedule. She decided to take the car herself. Hilarity ensued. They wanted to change just about every consumable item on the car and she had to do it RIGHT NOW OR THE WORLD WOULD END IN HELLFIRE!

    Fortunately, she called me from the dealership and asked me if this was a good idea. From 800 miles away, I told her to hand her phone to the service writer. I essentially threatened to have his legs broken (I have friends in low places at home) if he didn’t perform exactly the service she requested. Apparently he didn’t want to find out if I could do what I threatened, and she was out of there with the requested oil change and tire rotation. Even the Toyota store I worked for back in the 90’s wasn’t as egregious as these clowns.

    After my mother passed, the Civic went to my one niece. There was something that was a dealer-only issue, like a recall. My niece made the mistake of showing up without a male escort (or sans penis-adjacent). They tried the same damned schtick on her as they did my mother. Some things never change…

    Reply
    • sgeffe

      I’ve got a good dealer service department, who only does what I want ‘em to do! As with anything in life, there’s always going to be rotten apples in the barrel! (Don’t have the time nor space to change my own oil, and my dealer charges the same as the quickie-lube, plus they have a good detailing shop, so it’s worth it.)

      Reply
  17. Duong Nguyen

    And this is why I lease….

    I’ll happily pay for the privilege of

    A) Only having to deal with these idiots on the manufacturers dime
    B) Not spending my time crawling around on the ground

    Biggest downside is that dealers can be real pricks about lease returns

    Reply
  18. AoLetsGo

    I like the green color, except the local trash hauler now has all their trucks painted in same color. Now every time I see a Dodge or Honda in this color I think “garbage truck”.

    I despise the dealership service departments and have been using a local shop for work on my older vehicles. However, they just went out of business so I have to start searching for a new shop. On a side note I have been trying to get my summer tires swapped out for my winters (same wheels) and the tire stores are unbelievably busy right now. In the past I have two sets of tires and wheels and did it myself but I am not doing that on this car. This whole issue of servicing a car is why my wife always leases, she has absolutely ZERO tolerance for the time, cost and BS from these people.

    I am sure a financial advisor would say keep the Accord and set aside half that $517 payment every month for a down payment on the next car. Not as much fun as a new motorcycle, but then as
    The Pursuit of Happiness says “I am an adult now”!

    Reply
  19. ZG

    Wait till you have to disconnect a sway bar end link. Assuming the Accord is like my (old) TSX, the bolts were a collaborative design between Satan, the ghost of General Tojo and an engineer who was unfamiliar with the concept of oxidation.

    Reply
  20. JustPassinThru

    That all sounds EXACTLY like the experience I had, 40 years ago, with a Chevrolet Chevette.

    EXACTLY.

    It sounds like Middle America has moved past Peak Honda. Business empires rise; the plateau, they fall. Chevrolet had its postwar peak in the 1960s; in ten years’ time, they were selling garbage, defective-by-design, by dealers with the ethics of grave robbers.

    When my Chevette threw a connecting rod at 40,000 miles…that was it. NEVER…AGAIN. I had my Pinto binge, three in succession; then an Escort; and then, I discovered what Toyota was doing while I wasn’t watching.

    Hondas were, first, rare – Civic madness, and the Accord waiting lists of the 1970s. Then we found out that they rusted faster than the payment-book wound down. They got better, but none had just come my way. Ten years ago, I rented a Civic four-door…new. It was a solid car but less than my Matrix.

    But, it seems, the lethargy and sloth that seems to come to all business enterprises cursed with long-term, inertial success, has hit at least a few Honda dealers. Back in the day, that dealer would have lost his franchise with such a customer experience.

    Now, with Honda Ohioized…I wonder if the middle layers of bureaucracy GAF.

    Reply
    • CJinSD

      I worked at a Honda dealer in 1989, over a college summer. Supply was catching up with demand, but treating customers like groupies was the norm. The sense was that there’d always be another one. We sold several brands; most of them terrible. Honda made by far the best cars, but seeing how their customers were treated kept me from buying one until I’d been through a couple of domestic auto makers and all of the German ones. Awful Honda dealers have been the norm since at least when getting allocation meant getting in bed with criminals at the national distribution level.

      Reply
  21. Daniel Sharpe

    For the most part our Mazda dealership is decent. They charge the same price for most things as the local small shops do. There has been only one time I had an issue with them. I’m just not mechanically inclined as some nor do I have the tools.

    Reply
    • -Nate

      @ Daniel ;

      Therein lies the rub :

      I was a Mechanic for many years before I realized how easy it was to cheat the Customers and also how many did so automatically .

      I used to believe all the tripe about “factory parts & service are best and save you money !” .

      Then I worked at a dealer and boy howdy was I amazed and hated for being honest .

      -Nate

      Reply
      • Daniel Sharpe

        Nate,

        I guess the way I look at it is our dealer charges 110 an hour for labor vs the local shops. I need new brakes on our CX5 and most shops are running about 160 per axle. The dealership is 180. I can make appointments with the dealership and most other shops I can’t.

        On that same Cx5 they wanted 190 for a battery but we’re out. I ended up at the parts store paying 170 and they installed it.

        The point I’m making is that our dealer, while more, isn’t that much more. Also since the car is under warranty I get the work done at the dealer. The dealer or warranty company can’t call foul claiming the work was performed by non *authorized* mechanics.

        I get that there is markup. I get that some jobs take less time than the book charge time.

        Reply
        • -Nate

          Understood and agreed .

          There are good and bad in all businesses .

          That being said, working at an auto dealer is an eye opening experience .

          -Nate

          Reply
  22. TJ

    Wow, it feels like just weeks ago you were writing about replacing the old TC with that little Honda on that old website. Crazy how time flies and we all get older

    Reply

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