Lamb's Tire and Automotive, Austin Texas

This is a rant about Lamb's Automotive trying to take advantage of me with ridiculous prices and insane recommended repairs. Just thinking about my experience sets off anger reflexes. Obviously, everyone's experience with every car mechanic varies--I know nothing about the experience of other people, or the competency of their mechanics, or etc. I just know about the treatment I got on one particular day in early May of 2005. This means that you probably shouldn't use my rant as the ONLY reason when making decisions about Lamb's Automotive--after all, I am obviously disgruntled. That said, with hundreds of car mechanics in Austin Texas, why take chances?

I am a girl. I have flowers decorating the interior of my cute blue Honda Civic named Chloe. I am terrified of my car, and I apologize to it when I mildly abuse it with my mediocre driving skills. I really have no clue what's being said when people start talking about repositioning the differential of the load bearing ball bearing on the rack and pinion piston WHATEVER. Luckily, my boyfriend likes cars v. much. He has about a bazillion car magazine subscriptions, and can describe in detail what does what why and how.

My brakes had been squeeking for quite a while, and obviously needed some work. Being a girl who is stupid about cars, yet not completely stupid, I had a long conversation with my boyfriend. What can I expect? Worst case, how much should it cost? How much should replacing the pads cost?

A friend had recommended Lamb's Tire and Automotive as being a good mechanic shop. I thought about going to a chain like Brake Check, but in traditional South Austin fashion I usually prefer businesses which aren't chains, or are at least small local chains. So I made an appointment and stopped by Lamb's. They asked me what I needed done, and I said, "I have no clue! Something with my brakes. They've been squeeky for a year and they're getting mushy."

Daymon looked at my car (this was the Round Rock location), and came back in with a quote. Pushing for the upsell, he include a number of completely unrelated repairs he wanted to do as well. Off-turner number 1: The proposed quote was more than I had paid for the entire car a year earlier, and my car really isn't in bad shape.

Unfortunately, I can't just list the completely ridiculous prices Lamb's Automotive quoted me, because the mechanic was very careful not to let me keep a written record of them. After he showed me the prices, I thought something was fishy, but for all I knew I'd go home and my boyfriend would be like "yeah, he's right, you need to get that stuff done" and I'd be back at Lamb's the next day to sign over my life's savings--so I wanted a copy of the prices to talk to aforementioned boyfriend about. He wouldn't let me hold the paper, and took it with him behind the counter. While he was distracted by other customers, I reached over the counter and grabbed the quote, and started copying down the prices. I only got through two of them before he took it away from me, insisting that he was entering that all into the computer and he'd make me a nice itemized quote to take home. The computerized quote he gave me (of course) had no prices on it, and was also changed from what he had told me he wanted to do. For example, he talked about cleaning and adjusting my brakes (as if he wanted to do it to all four), then the quote just said clean rears. He talked about resurfacing my rotors, but that wasn't on the computerized quote at all.

For my brakes, he wanted to flush the fluid lines for 79.00 and to deglaze the front brakes for 102.70 (these are the two prices I managed to get written down). From here on out, all prices are from my memory, so could be off by a bit, and I know the first thing I do when I look at a price is round it. Also for the brakes he wanted to clean and adjust them for about 50.00, and resurface the rotors for like 150.00. For reference, let me mention that Brake Check later flushed my fluid lines for 25.00, cleaned my rear drums for 18.80, resurfaced my rotors for 50.00 and replaced both of my front brake pads for 90.00.

Right now you might be wondering... Wtf is deglazing? Everyone else I've told this story has. After a little research my boyfriend discovered it's the practice of shaving some of your brake pad off, to remove heat damage, and it's sometimes done on race cars where the brake pads cost 300$ per and the brakes need to be in perfect condition before every race. It's not practical for the average car, because it's thinning the brake pad and significantly reduces the life left on that pad. So, for more than it would cost me to completely replace the pads, he wanted to shorten the life of my existing pads?

The rest of the quote just got even more ridiculous. I had a minor power steering fluid leak--I knew this because they would have to add a bit everytime I got my oil changed. I never saw any fluid on the ground where I parked, and the difference in my steering after 3 months was pretty minor. Daymon at Lamb's told me I had a power steering fluid leak, and that I would HAVE to get that fixed or I wouldn't be able to pass state inspections. He wanted to fix that by flushing the power steering system and replacing the entire rack and pinion, for about 700.00$. Rack and pinion is steering, but not power steering fluid. My pocket expert says that replacing the entire rack and pinion system couldn't be necessary if I'm noticing no steering problems, and should only become necessary after being in an accident or possibly taking out an army of picket fences and lawn gnomes. I've also been told that there's no way I'd have a problem passing state inspections over my power steering fluid leak--he was just making that part up to get 700.00$ out of me.

Next, the mechanic wanted to flush the radiator and replace the hoses, for about 300.00. He said my hoses were OEM and very brittle. Jiffy Lube will flush the radiator for 60.00, and the nice people at the one near me said they'd need to take a look at it but if I brought in my own hoses they could probably replace the hose for about 50.00$ (give or take 30.00$ since it's such a rough estimate).

After that, he told me I have an oil leak. Keep in mind that I've never had a problem with low oil between oil changes, and never seen oil left somewhere I parked. He was going to need to seal a hole in the oil pan for about 300.00$. Pocket expert boyfriend says that if I really had a hole in my oil pan, I'd have no oil (and a nice trail everywhere I went).

He also mentioned that I need to replace the rear struts (which I already knew from the guy who sold me the car telling me so). Unfortunately I completely don't remember the price he gave me for this, but it was definitely closer to $1,000 than to $0.

I did contact the costumer service email at Lamb's Automotive about the incident, expressing my displeasure and describing my experience with their mechanic, and I was pleasantly surprised to get a message left on my voicemail from a representative there "wanting to make it right". I tried to return his call about 4 times before I gave up. The number was for a receptionist, and she'd say he'd call me back sometime soon, then he'd never call back.

Update: My Trip to Jiffy Lube

A few weeks after my experience at Lamb's, I went to Jiffy Lube to get my oil changed, etc., before a big trip. I was still very concerned by some of the stuff Lamb's had said I needed done on my car, so I asked the guy at Jiffy Lube what he thought about the oil leak, the power steering fluid leak, and the radiator hoses. He saw no signs of an oil or power steering fluid leak, and my radiator hose was in great shape. He thought it had probably been replaced in the last year. I gave my hose a squeeze, and it wasn't at all brittle.

But here's the kicker on it all: at Jiffy Lube they discovered my oil dipstick was missing. It definitely wasn't lost at Jiffy Lube. I hadn't lost it, because I hadn't checked my oil. I had gone to Brake Check, and it might have been their fault (and Brake Check did offer to pay me for replacing it in case it was their fault). When I went back to Brake Check to ask if they had checked the oil, the manager said yes they checked all oil.. but the worker standing behind him started to shake his head no then looked completely confused. I also didn't see them check my oil while I watched through the window when they worked. I don't think the Brake Check employees realized they were supposed to be checking oil. Possibly, a strange dipstick thief who gets jollies from this type of thing stole the stick as my car sat outside my apartment. Most likely, though, Lamb's Tire and Automotive lost it (or stole it in a petty act of revenge for not paying their prices).

So, in summary, my opinion of Lamb's Tire and Automotive in Austin, Texas: A bad idea and possibly con artists.

Note from a Reader

I received this email from Pat after she read about my experience. She wanted to throw in her own experience at Lamb's Automotive. Here's what happened, in her words:

April, I read your blog and had the same experience (almost) with Lamb's. First off lmy car is a 2003 Outback with right at 50K miles. My car had some problems starting. I took it to Lamb's on 620 and 2222 as it was the closest garage. I had to have a jump start and went straight over there. They *tested* my system (alternator, etc.) to make sure they were addressing the correct problem. Anyway, tested it and said Yep - need a new battery. So, new Interstate battery was installed - 103.00. A week later I'm driving home and on the hill on 2222, I lost powersteering all of a sudden, the brake light came on and battery light. So, again I was right down the street from Lambs. I went in there - told them I bought a battery a week before and now battery light and brake lights were on and I lost power steering. The guy lifts the hood of the car and my serpentine belt is shredded. So he said "here's your problem". We went inside and the other guy at the counter said wher! e is your car, I want to look at something. So he goes out and looks at the car and says "your water pump is all seized up, your radiator is leaking from the upper left corner and the belts ALL need to be replaced." So as this was the week before Christmas, I'm trying not to have a cow then I remember that I have an extended warranty that I bought from Subaru. Well, a quick phone call to them the next morning and I find out that work has to be done by Subaru. In the meantime I get a call at work with an estimate of the repairs by Lamb and it is 1500.00!!!!!!

Anyway, Subaru sent out a wrecker to tow my car to their shop. They look at it and the only thing wrong is the Serpentine belt, which they can't figure out as the car is barely at 50K. Serpentine belt replaced (only had to pay 102.00 parts and labor) and the car is good as new. I'm still trying to figure out why they said the radiator was leaking in the upper left corner?? The car wasn't even overheating! Lambs took me for sure on the battery. If I did not have the ext. warranty, more than likely, I would have let Lambs do the 1500.00 repairs as I had a flight to catch in Houston on the 17th and needed my car to drive out there.