How to get a BMW serviced without getting swindled

I was driving my 2005 BMW X3 when suddenly the dreaded and almost meaningless “Check Engine” light came on.  Knowing little about the inner workings of cars, I was overcome with the fear of getting milked by a service shop.  It’s the feeling I loathe most — being taken.

European Auto House: Mequon, Wisconsin

Being in Milwaukee, I Googled “Milwaukee BMW service”, and the two closest shops were European Auto House and Kummrow.  European Auto House was closest so it was my first stop.  The owner, Nathaniel, was friendly, but told me he would charge a $150 diagnostic charge just to tell me what’s wrong, and we’d proceed from there.  I was aghast.  That much just to tell me what’s wrong?  “Yes, it’s more of an equipment charge.  It’s a $30,000 piece of equipment that diagnoses this.” he explained.  A $30,000 piece of equipment is needed to tell me what’s wrong with my $20,000 car?  He did read the codes for me for free and told it was a “lean fault,” an air leak somewhere along the miles of hose in the car.  Not wanting to pay a significant amount of money just to locate the leak, I opted to think about it and ventured to my next shop, Kummrow.  Before I left, however, I was of course warned that leaving the issue unaddressed could exacerbate the problem, especially with winter right around the corner.

Kummrow: Glendale, Wisonsin

Kummrow is run by a father-son duo.  The father handles the desk work while the son works on the cars.  He offered to run a diagnostic which would “tell you what’s wrong with the car” for $55.  Having already been anchored at $150 by Nathaniel at the previous shop, I found it far more palatable.  A few minutes later, he came back after running the codes and reported that he could visually see that it’s the Crankcase Vent Valve that had a tear in it and needed replacing.  It’s such a popular issue, he told me, that they keep the parts in stock.  Wow, in stock?!  I’m in luck!  I asked how much, and he said that the last one they did was between $650 and $750.  My oh my, how expensive.

Then I got smart.

Since I now knew what’s wrong, I decided to call European Auto House, and see what they’d charge if I told them exactly what to replace.  Ring ring…

Me: I know what’s wrong Nathaniel.  I just need you to replace the crankcase vent…vent…hang on, let me look at my Notes.  Crankcase vent valve.

Nathaniel: Who told you that’s what was wrong with it?

Me: I took it over to Kummrow.

Nathaniel: And how did they tell that’s what’s wrong?

Me: He said he read the codes and could see it visually.

Nathaniel: Yea, they don’t know what they’re talking about. The right way to do it is to run a smoke test.  I can replace the crankcase vent valve, but then I can’t accept any liability if that doesn’t fix the problem.

Me: Fair enough.

Nathaniel: It’ll be $880 parts and labor.  The crankcase itself has these four hoses attached to it.

Wow, those must be some fancy gold-lined hoses.  A combination of nervous laughter and a weak attempt to ingratiate myself with him ensued, as I sensed his frustration over taking it to Kummrow for a second opinion but wanted to keep him at bay in case I chose him for the repair.  I stalled and again told him I needed to think.

Having now been to two shops where the price just seemed too high for a car with a “check engine” light that otherwise was running smoothly, I was on guard.  Given that Kummrow was less expensive though, I relented and made an appointment for the next morning despite still feel uneasy about it.

Wizard Werks: Chicago

While contemplating how I let a simple “check engine” light consume hours of my time whilst still feeling like I hadn’t found a trustworthy shop, I remembered that I’m only 1.5 hours from Chicago.  Is it possible I’d get a better deal in Chicago?  Google led me to Wizard Werks, but their Yelp reviews looked suspicious.  Consistent 5-star reviews, and lots of them.  Classic Yelp manipulation?  I called, spoke to “Karim”, told him “I believe I need the crankcase vent valve replaced.”  “Okay, that’ll be $150 for the part, and about $200 for the labor.” he stated.  What?!  A measly $350?!  Made an appointment for that weekend.  At the same time though, I decided to do some due diligence and Google the mysterious four-hosed part to see how much it actually cost. Turns out there are after-market parts for $50 but the BMW manufactured part is indeed $150.  Given that I had already been anchored at $700-$800 by the Milwaukee shops, $350 seemed like a bargain.  That, plus the $20 Yelp discount sealed the deal.  It ended up being slightly more, because they found one more issue – a bad boot intake that also needed replacing.  However, I still spent less than half of what I would’ve had I chosen European Auto House, the first shop,

Final Thoughts:

More than saving money, the most important factor was trust, and at Wizard Werks, I FELT like I was in trusted hands, and I FELT like I wasn’t going swindled.  At both European Auto House and Kummrow in Milwaukee I smelled a rat — probably a result of their limited Yelp reviews and lack of customers present during my visit.  Wizard Werks, on the other hand, had European cars piled on top of one another in its garage.  Perhaps they have enough volume of business that they don’t NEED to rip customers off.  Whatever the case, it was worth it to shop the issue around until I found a shop that felt trustworthy and charged a reasonable price.

Resources:

My Yelp Review of Wizard Werks: http://www.yelp.com/biz/wizard-werks-chicago?hrid=ba5OOE8yHqw27NG1InneLw

List of Shops that Service BMW: http://www.bimmershops.com

Wizard Werks: http://www.wizardwerkschi.com

Kummrow Automotive: http://www.kummrowautomotive.com

European Auto House: https://www.facebook.com/pages/European-Auto-House-LLC/239393156126447

3 thoughts on “How to get a BMW serviced without getting swindled

  1. Very informative article, i’m regular reader of your site.
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  2. I am a dealer certified Master BMW technician and based off the comment the Kummrow place told you that they could “visually see the leak” would indicate to me that you probably just needed the intake boot that was torn. To tell if the crankcase vent valve is bad they would have to perform a smoke test or check crankcase pressure with a gauge. To replace the crankcase vent valve the intake boots are one of the first parts that must come off. It doesn’t seem like Wizard Werks did an honest repair

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  3. MIke – Wizard Werks did indeed perform a smoke test to confirm the issue. I just didn’t mention that in my blog post. Also, they didn’t charge me for the smoke test, whereas the two Milwaukee shops did want to charge for it.

    Like

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