As I described in my last piece, Marjan the Toyota Land Cruiser started making horrible noises while climbing the Coronado Bridge.
For anyone who doesn’t know this bridge, it’s a horrific place to break down. Over 200 feet tall and 4 km long, with very little place to pull over in a break down. So I gritted my teeth and drove through the Armageddon noises coming from the front of the car.
So, we pulled over and waited for AAA to arrive. The AAA driver offered to take me to a friend’s garage, but it was 8 miles away from our hotel and we declined. We decided to go to “Griffin’s Auto Repair” which is located in Little Italy, mere blocks away from where we were staying.
I am usually the first guy to give businesses second chances and understand that people, even mechanics, make mistakes sometime. But what happened next passes from “mistake” to “criminal negligence” and may even constitute “fraud”.
First of all, the problem with Marjan was a Birfield Joint that exploded. While I’m tempted to get all “science-y” about it, you can Google it if you’d like. Basically Birfield Joints make it so Land Cruisers can both drive and steer with the front wheels as well as the back.
A Birfield joint usually costs about $700 in parts and $300-$500 in labor and 3-5 hours of time to replace. Griffin’s Auto Repair charged me $2400 for the job and took three days to do it.
I understand high property values, customers who are “stuck” and why some mechanics may charge a premium. And I would’ve gladly paid it to escape San Diego with a sound car. But 300 miles out of San Diego, Marjan gave up the ghost again. AAA again came to the rescue, and towed me to Chandler, Arizona, where I have friends and family I can stay with.
This was late Friday night, so Saturday morning I desperately started looking for a shop that was open. The Super Bowl is in Phoenix this weekend, for the few that were open were full of cars.
So, then, just when it looked darkest, the internet came to my rescue. A terrific group of Land Cruiser enthusiasts on an forum called IH8Mud responded to my plaintive calls for help and hooked me up with a wonderful pair of gentlemen, Kevin and John, who are also known as “Tools R Us” and “inkpot” on the forum. These guys gave up their Saturday to tear the botched repair job apart, and not only fixed it, but documented the negligence of the Griffin’s Auto Repair shop and taught me what “right” looked like.
The first thing we found was that many bolts were too small, and were merely put into the holes to make it look like there was a bolt in it. They came right out by pulling them.
Of course, some bolts were just missing completely and one was broken off inside the assembly.
The above picture shows broken off/missing stud. One of four that holds the front wheel on the car.
The above picture shows the part Griffin’s replaced. He charged me $1400, which is roughly twice the retail price of a premium part; what it is is a cheap, Chinese knockoff that I could buy on ebay for $200. This is also supposed to be full of grease. The only grease in it is the small, toothpaste sized dab you see near the hole in the hub. He charged me $32 for that dab of grease, which is apparently accidently placed there, since it doesn’t actually affect the joint. The bronze looking bit was supposed to be driven into the spindle. You’ll notice it’s just sitting there, since it was too small for the spindle.
This piece is supposed to be perfectly smooth. It’s not smooth because the “mechanic” at Griffin’s put it in a metal vice and destroyed it while working on it. The marks are 1/8″ deep and it destroyed the seal behind it while I drove it.
My next step was to dispute the charge on my credit card. After that, I shared a depressive Chianti and pizza with Janiece and then sat in the hot tub until it was all better.
Monday I’ll have Kevin and John check it out again, and order more parts so hopefully I can get heading back to Iowa by mid-week. I’d ask you to wish me luck, but after these guys help me out I doubt I’ll need luck. I’ll have a competent Land Cruiser, maintained correctly, instead.