I used to drive a 1991 Geo Metro. It was a great little car - had over 200,000 miles, but just wouldn't die. About once a year, I'd take it up to my regular mechanic (Z Sport) in Everett and have it checked over and fix anything that needed fixing. Usually there would be about $500 in repairs. Not bad, compared to a car payment. I found this mechanic years ago, when I lived in Bellingham - my old Volvo had broken down on the freeway between college and parent's house, and they were close. For more than seven years, I had continued to take my car(s) to them, since they were always so nice and professional. I really trusted these guys, and the owner, Gary, treated me like his own kid. They knew that I drove up from Seattle (and now south of Seattle) to go to their shop (more than an hour each way), and appreciated it. It was common for me to drive up on a Friday evening, drop the car off, and have a friend drive me back home, then pick up the car on Saturday or Sunday, giving my credit card number and approval over the phone.
Here's the narrative I wrote up when things started looking bad, and I thought we might have to go to court: (I've bolded a few salient points.)
I noticed that the hood latch was not functioning properly in late February 2005, and that the car squealed on startup. I checked the hood latch myself, and saw that the bottom part (the latch mechanism) was stuck, and was unable to fix it. I checked the upper portion (attached to the hood) and it was solidly attached, not bent or misshapen, and seemed to be fine. I then called Z Sport to schedule a Saturday morning appointment for these two repairs.
On 3/12/05, I arrived at Z Sport at 8:10 am. The mechanic working on my vehicle suggested they do a full 50-point inspection, which I agreed to. When he asked if there were any other problems with the vehicle, I told him that the vehicle had been leaking oil slowly.
The mechanic reported back to me at about 11am that the car needed a tune-up, and had oil leaks in five locations that they would not be able to fix that day. Also, he told me that I needed a new timing belt, and that the squealing noise was due to an old alternator belt, which needed to be replaced. I agreed to the tune-up, asked for an oil change as well, and left the shop (on foot) as they had ordered parts which would take two to three hours to arrive.
I arrived back at the shop just before 3pm. The tune-up was finished, and I paid for that repair, along with the oil change and the drive belts they replaced, for a total of $301.05. I asked if the hood latch was fixed, and was told that they would either need to weld it, or replace the hood, but that it was "no worse now than when you brought it in", and said that they could fix it when I brought the car back in two weeks to get the oil leaks fixed. No effort was made to tie down or secure the hood. I left Z Sport for Seattle at about 3pm.
About 15 minutes after leaving Z Sport, on I-5 just south of Exit 181B in Lynnwood, the hood latch failed, and the hood flipped up suddenly, smashing the windshield, and damaging the hood itself. Luckily, there was not much traffic, and I was able to merge to the shoulder without incident, despite having no forward visibility.
I called AAA and had the car towed back to Z Sport, where Gary Watt (the shop owner) told me that, "I should have sent you home with no car" - meaning, they should not have allowed me to leave the shop with a faulty hood latch. He also said, "we'll make this right", and assured me that the car would be ready for me to pick up on Monday. Kevin Black drove to Everett to pick me up. We left Z Sport at about 5:00 pm.
On Monday, 3/14/05, I spoke with one of the mechanics at Z Sport, who let me know that they had ordered a replacement hood, but that it would not arrive until Tuesday. I let him know that if the car was unavailable to pick up that day (Monday), I would not be available to pick the car up until Friday. On Tuesday, 3/15/05, I spoke with Charles (the shop manager) at Z Sport, who informed me that they would be charging me for the replacement hood, but not the labor to install it. I told Charles that I was very disappointed to hear this, since I considered the damage to be their responsibility. He let me know that he would not "store your vehicle indefinitely" and that a decision needed to be made on what to do about this car right away. There was a brief discussion about what was actually faulty with the hood latch. We agreed we should discuss this with Gary the next morning.
On Wednesday morning, 3/16, I spoke with Gary, who told me that "you don't know what you're talking about", to remove my car from his property right away, and to sue him if I didn't agree with him. He then hung up on me. I had to then call Gary again, to ask if the car was accessible, and if they would release it should I send a tow truck. Gary said that it would be, and hung up on me again. I arranged for a tow truck to remove the car that same day, since it was not road-worthy in it's current condition, to my home in Des Moines, WA, at a cost of about $250. I have since also fixed the windshield and had an estimate made for replacement of the hood.
That's the end of the narrative.
The rest of the story:
I had the windshield replaced ($250) and the hood (my brother likes to tinker with cars, and he found me a hood and had it painted, and installed it for me). We (my attorney fiancee, our lawyer, and I) sent a demand letter, stating our position, and that we would sue if we didn't get paid. We filed in small claims court, and Gary didn't show, so we got a default judgment for about $1,200.00 (The towing receipt, windshield receipt, estimate from a body shop for the hood, court fees.) We sent two demand letters that were ignored, and eventually ended up garnishing his bank accounts for about $1,800. Because you're allowed to add any fees associated with collecting to the bill.
All's well that ends well - I didn't die on the freeway that day, and we were eventually compensated for the money and time and grief involved. But I still have to scratch my head and wonder *what* this guy was thinking when he didn't just replace the hood and fix the windshield, and be glad he wasn't getting sued for my wrongful death or injury.