Friday, July 11, 2008

Where do stolen car parts go?

When a car is stolen "for its parts", where do those parts go?

I need new CV joints in my Honda Accord. I know this because they are clicking up a storm. I called a Honda dealership/service center and asked what I thought was a simple question: "How much would you charge to change my front CV joints?" The service receptionist answered that they would need to see the car to diagnose it and they'd give me a quote at that time. Of course that would involve my making a trip out there and waiting for an hour or more for someone to look at it.

I tried harder: "Here's the deal. I know I need new CV joints and I'm price shopping. I'm going to call around, and if you don't give me the cost for replacing the joints, then I won't be having you do the work." She said she'd talk to a service person and call me back. A few minutes later she called back and cheerfully said that a new boot would cost $37, not including labor. Sigh. I reiterated that I know I need new joints, and I want the price for that, including labor, that the labor and the joints were the big ticket items, not the $37 boots, so the boot info wasn't really useful. She again tried to claim that they couldn't give me a number without seeing my car and I said "OK; I guess I won't be having your shop do the work." She said, "well, I'll have someone from service give you a call."

Fifteen minutes later, someone from service called and I AGAIN explained what I was trying to find out. He was reluctant to give a price without seeing the car because it might be something other than the CV joints. I defined the problem more specifically for him: "Let's just pretend it does need CV joints, how much would that be?" He said $1100, but I should know that the whole axle might need to be replaced and that would be more. Fine. Now I have a number and can compare to other garages.

I called a garage near the office. It's an independently-owned garage that's been there forever. I've never given them much to do, but the couple things I've had them do turned out fine. And they let dogs hang out in the lobby while you're waiting. When I asked for a quote on CV joints, I got an immediate clear unequivocal answer: "Oh, we wouldn't bother with just doing the joints. We'd recommend new axles and that would be $275 per side."

So now I have this choice to make (soon, before a wheel falls off, an experience I have had and would prefer not to have a second time): 1.) go the Honda dealership, where I know the parts are not only new, but provided by Honda and pay $1100 for just joints (or still more if they recommend new axles) or 2) go to the independent garage and get whole axles for $550, but where I have to wonder about the source of the parts because they're just so cheap and I doubt they have enough volume (compared to the mega-garages) to warrant much of a discount.

This brings me to the original question: when stolen cars are broken down for their parts, are the parts sold to places like these independent garages? or is there somewhere else that these parts go? Or is it a myth that cars are stolen for parts?

One final thought about the costs at these two garages. The Honda dealership just moved into a gargantuan new facility that sports a luxuriously appointed lobby with marble floors. They provide pitchers of ice water with cucumbers floating therein (surprisingly tasty), and offer headsets for listening/watching any of many TV monitors hanging from the ceiling. None of the people you interface with there have ever had any grease on their hands; they wear ties or nylons and probably have communications degrees rather than anything dealing with cars and the place is crawling with them; they make sure you have what you need and report to you periodically about what's going on with your car. It really is more like being at a spa than a garage. So it's easy to see why they'd need to charge a lot to cover their costs, in spite of the fact that I would think a) they buy in volume and b) I imagine they get the best price from Honda on their parts.

The independent garage bears no resemblance to a spa. The mortgage on the building was probably paid off a couple decades ago and they haven't extracted a dime's worth of equity to remodel. The floor was last tiled in about 1950 and last cleaned well sometime in the 70s. There's a very old Pepsi machine that dispenses 12-oz cans for $0.50. A handful of very old, raggedy car magazines are provided for customers' entertainment. It seems like their overhead is about as low as they can get it. That all makes it sound quaint, and it kind of is, but there's also an edginess to it that I'm having trouble describing. Let's just say, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that an employee or two has done some time.


love johnson said...

I think that stolen parts go to the type of place you describe. But, perhaps, one should adopt an Army type "don't ask, don't tell" policy when using a garage.

I've always heard that if you can find a mechanic/garage that you like or trust, it's like gold (recall a Seinfeld episode along that line).

Guess the bottom line is - do you trust the garage or not. My personal opinion is that the more serious the issue, the more inclined I am to go to the dealership. The extra cost gives me the sense (wrongly maybe)that the work will be done right, with new parts and with a better warranty if something should go wrong.

I had a co-worker at my last place of employment that was going to a garage to get her a/c fixed and what a horrow story that was.

Stephanie said...

Thanks, LJ. Maybe I have to get over my annoyance at paying for marble and cucumbers.