Wednesday 22 October 2014

"Your clutch is going to explode into your gearbox and we'll have to rebuild the engine" - Why I hate being a girl with a car

Published 04/09/2014 | 14:23

Blonde and broken car
Blonde and broken car

I may have saved money on fuel by buying a 1.9 diesel Golf for the long trek to Mayo and back, but a cost I didn't factor in was the "mechanic's opportunity cost".

The "mechanic's opportunity cost", as I refer to it, is the cost incurred by some mechanics who see a 5"0 girl hop out of a 1.9 diesel Volkswagen Golf and think "cha-ching!"

It all started when 'Belle the Beasht' (pronounced with a 'h') failed her NCT. Brakes got a score of 92%, shocks were fine, everything perfect - just a "small tear" in the CV boot. I was informed this would be a quick €70 fix and I'd be back in and passed no problem. 

I'll admit I put off the repair - for too long. I had some time left before the NCT was out and money was really tight so I put it off until the next week... then the week after that. My car is a second hand car but I've had it for one year and bought it in pristine condition so I was (admittedly too) relaxed.

Around 10 weeks later (I'm a disgrace, I know!) I finally booked a service. I got a voucher for it, thinking I'd get a service while I was getting the CV boot done. I saved €100 on the service and I thought I was great - not for long! The quote for a CV boot here was €150 - double the first quote - and the accompanying list of things that 'needed' to be fixed came to over €1,000 and included four new shocks, four brake hoses, brake fluid change, four new tyres and a "special" part that had be ordered directly from Volkswagen. "That will be expensive", I was told.

I had known I needed new back tyres but the front ones were less than four months old, and my brakes had gotten a very high score in the NCT less than three months before.

Obviously, I didn't question it until later. First, I had to go home and cry and then try to ignore the situation for another week.

A flat (back) tyre changed in the city center later and I realised I had to do something. I dropped Belle into another garage and got two new tyres. I made an appointment for a CV boot and new shocks while I was in there - sure, while I'm at it.

Upon shelling out over €300 for two shocks and a CV boot, the mechanic walked in, looked at me and said 'Do you own the Golf'? When I replied that I did, he said "You know your clutch is gone, yeah?" He had taken it for a test drive (during which he ran over a nail and punctured a tyre, which they repaired two days later) and had 'discovered' that my clutch was "about to explode".

My face dropped - No, I did not know this. I was beginning to understand, however, that when a mechanic says something needs to be fixed the next sentence normally involves my bank account being pummelled.

Two workers then proceeded to explain to me "When a clutch goes, it blows out sideways. It has nowhere to go but into your gearbox. If you leave it, it will blow into your gearbox and wreck your engine". I left and that evening, and - after taking some time to shed a few tears - called out the 'family mechanic', the person I probably should have called in the first place. He told me my clutch was fine - that it didn't need replacing. He warned me about going to unfamiliar "fitters" - garages that just "replace as much as they can get away with". He quoted me €700 plus labour for a new clutch but told me I didn't need it, so refused to fit it.

The next day, I received a call with the quote for the clutch and flywheel for over €1,200. "I might be able to do it for you for €1,100". I told him I'd think about it and he reminded me of the seriousness of the 'exploding clutch'. "As I said before, it's something you want to do pretty quickly - we don't want to have to do an entire engine rebuild".

I called my brother who told me "I've never heard of anyone's clutch exploding".

My biggest problem is I don't know who is right and who is wrong. I, knowing nothing about cars other than how to drive them, can't tell if anyone is wrong. Maybe the first place is right, with their four tyres, four shocks, four brake hoses and no clutch quote. Maybe the second place is right with their two tyres, two shocks, no brake hoses and clutch and flywheel quote. Maybe they're both right and I have absolutely wrecked a perfect car in the space of a year, or maybe our family mechanic is right.

Or maybe my clutch will explode when I'm driving.

From now on I think I'll just have to take my brother's car advice - "Put it through the NCT. Whatever it fails on, get that fixed, and if they try to tell you to fix anything else, tell them to f**k off".

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