Broken Door Fixed - 1996 Lexus ES 300 Long-Term Road Test
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1996 Lexus ES 300 Long Term Road Test

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Broken Door Fixed

January 17, 2013

2013 Infiniti JX35

If you're going to own an old car like our 1996 Lexus ES 300 you better have a reliable network of repair experts. We have met some great mechanics while handling our ES problems, such as the broken driver's side door handle.

To recap, on a recent trip to Death Valley, where we took the ES off road, the driver's side door wouldn't open from the outside and there was a nasty rattle inside the door panel. My first response was to nuke the latch mechanism with WD-40. When this produced no result, I shifted gears, so to speak, and watched YouTube videos of other people fixing their doors. It looked really complicated. So I took the car to Burke's Auto Body, in Long Beach, Calif.

At Burke's I met Manuel who frowned at the door and said, "Give me 30 minutes."

I said, "I work for Edmunds.com, an automotive web site. Can I take pictures while you fix it?"

He said, "Take pictures." You see, Manuel is a man of action.

In less time than it takes to write this, Manuel had the door panel off and he was performing all kinds of machinations with the door glass and interior mechanism. He reached inside the door panel and took out a small, yellow, plastic clip.

2013 Infiniti JX35

"It broke," he said holding it out.

"Can you fix it?" I asked.

"No problem," he said.

I can't think of any situation where "no problem" would be a bad answer. But after a brief phone call by the office manager, Gloria, she had a worried look on her face.

"It will be $100, parts and labor," she said, and cringed as if I might yell at her.

"That's very reasonable," I said. But inside I was jumping for joy. From all the work Manuel was doing, it should have been way more. Or, just for fun, think of what a dealer would charge. Better yet, don't think of that.

When I went back a few hours later to pick up the car, Gloria was busy with another customer. So I followed the sound of an air wrench and found Manuel back in the shop under a '65 VW Bug.

"Hey Manuel," I said.

He rolled out and squinted at me.

"Thanks for fixing the door handle."

He squinted some more. I don't think he remembered our long conversation from the morning.

"The door handle on the Lexus. Thanks."

"No problem." He went back to work.

When I got home I told my wife about the whole deal.

"How much did it cost?" she asked.

"A hundred bucks," I said.

"Beats a car payment."

I didn't respond. But I was thinking that that was such a cool thing to say.

If you've read this far, make sure you read the next part too. Because here is my sage advice. If you find someone who is willing to fix your old car, and they are honest and reliable, treat them like the most important person in the whole world. Pay without complaint and thank them profusely. Frequently ask them if they've lost weight. Laugh at their jokes. This is all because of this one sad fact: You need them much more than they need you. They already have plenty of customers.

Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor, @ 152,793 miles


Comments

  • stovt001_ stovt001_ Posts:

    "Beats a car payment" is something we say frequently with all the little repairs to our Taurus wagon. I know the feeling well and it is wonderful.

  • texases texases Posts:

    Yep, same clip that broke on mine. Real pain to get to, lots of time for a tiny little part. Took quite a while, but I saved $95 or so, it seems.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    When you told this guy you were from Edmunds, an automotive website, if he thought about it at all, he probably wondered why in hell you didn't just fix it yourself. It seems the LT strategy with the Lexus is to simulate having an owner who can't do anything other than maybe replace the wipers, check tires and fluid levels. That kind of owner usually does better with a cheap new-car lease. Someone who is willing and able to twist a wrench here and there will do better with a car like your '96 ES300.

  • duck87 duck87 Posts:

    Great story! From the awesome narrative I thought I was back on Insideline for a second ;)

  • ryster ryster Posts:

    " If you find someone who is willing to fix your old car, and they are honest and reliable, treat them like the most important person in the whole world. Pay without complaint and thank them profusely. Frequently ask them if they've lost weight. Laugh at their jokes. This is all because of this one sad fact: You need them much more than they need you. They already have plenty of customers." This is the antithesis of customer service. A company's goal is to delight their customer and retain them. By returning to them, you are demonstrating approval. Any company that believes they can afford to lose customers in reality has serious problems.

  • minere minere Posts:

    Maybe Manuel is a man of few words in English? Yes, owning a car which is 17 years old you need to be handy or know someone who is. I still think you could have avoided much of your initial trouble by having a competent person loooking over it, or by buying an ES that had not been neglected for a while, as I suspect this one had been. But good cheap used cars are rare and they often get sold privately or are kept in the family. You don't normally find them in a dusty car lot.

  • darthbimmer darthbimmer Posts:

    Driving an old car to save money requires keeping maintenance costs low. There are two valid ways to do that: 1) Treat it as a beater by skimping on repairs and drive it into the ground. Buy another cheapo car when it's dead. 2) Minimize trips to the shop by taking care of some of the maintenance and minor repairs in your driveway. If you're not mechanically inclined enough to do that yourself, you've got to have a close relative or friend who is and will do it for you. The approach that does not work for saving money is to drive an old car and take it to a shop every time something minor breaks. Even with a trustworthy, inexpensive mechanic the costs add up quickly. Pretty soon you're in the same ballpark as making loan payments on an inexpensive new car.

  • vvk vvk Posts:

    Don't you just love competent people?

  • The other big plus with a shop like that is you actually got to talk to the mechanic. It didn't require 10 minutes of someone typing into a computer, trying to describe on a work order exactly what the problem was. Then having another person pull your car around (but not into the shop yet) and then having a person you never met or talked to read what the problem was off a work order hours later and try to fix it and then park the car again in some mysterious area. Finally when you pick up the car you only talk to a cashier who takes your money and hands you the key, having no idea what was done to your car or who you are. It is much more personal at the small shop. But in all fairness we don't know what the dealer would have charged for it. They would have had the part right there so they could have fixed as soon as they had the door open. Ironically the dealer probably paid someone to drop the part off at this shop for you. Probably an hour job for either of them and the dealers rate is definitely higher so you probably saved $30-$40 but it is hard to guess.

  • The other big plus with a shop like that is you actually got to talk to the mechanic. It didn't require 10 minutes of someone typing into a computer, trying to describe on a work order exactly what the problem was. Then having another person pull your car around (but not into the shop yet) and then having a person you never met or talked to read what the problem was off a work order hours later and try to fix it and then park the car again in some mysterious area. Finally when you pick up the car you only talk to a cashier who takes your money and hands you the key, having no idea what was done to your car or who you are. It is much more personal at the small shop. But in all fairness we don't know what the dealer would have charged for it. They would have had the part right there so they could have fixed as soon as they had the door open. Ironically the dealer probably paid someone to drop the part off at this shop for you. Probably an hour job for either of them and the dealers rate is definitely higher so you probably saved $30-$40 but it is hard to guess.

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