MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Some mechanics charge $100. Others charge nothing. So when that check engine light comes on, what will you pay to get it fixed?
FOX6's Contact 6 took a hidden camera into six car shops, and found the one device they use that could save you a lot of money!
Pipes, parts, belts, fluids - vehicles are a mechanical maze to most of us.
Expert mechanic, Dennis Girard, helps Contact 6 craft this test. He puts the hood up on Contact 6's vehicle and finds the Intake Air Temperature Sensor plug. The car will still drive, but the "check engine" light will be triggered.
"Undo the safety lock, ok? Then just pull the clip back, unplug and we're done" Girard said as he showed FOX6's Contact 6 how to safely remove the plug.
As he did, a code popped up on his computer that describes the problem: P-0113. This code accurately describes the problem and can be used by mechanics to find the area where the trouble is occurring. Depending on the code and problem it can be an easy fix.
"Real simple fix. Just a matter of plugging the sensor back in," Girard said.
Then, FOX6's Contact 6 set out to six randomly selected auto repair shops to see who would charge what to look at the "check engine" light in this vehicle. The code describes the trouble and any qualified mechanic should know where to look to fix it.
A mechanic at River Crest Tire and Auto Service in Mukwonago found the problem within 12 minutes, and plugged the sensor back in. Even though the standard charge at River Crest is $69.99 for a "full diagnostic" test, this mechanic gave Contact 6 a big break.
"The sensor was unplugged," he says. Contact 6's producer asked whether there would be a charge, and the mechanic replied, "No... don't worry about it."
Pro Auto Care in Hartland found the problem in 17 minutes. They charged just $15.
"[Another mechanic] had it unplugged and plugged it back in, and on the scanner everything's working great," a shop manager told Contact 6.
Contact 6 was told a scan would be about $50 at Apple Automotive in Pewaukee, but in just 16 minutes there was a diagnosis.
"This is the sensor right here," the mechanic explained. "It's just the plug was down there."
This mechanic provided a discount, charging just $39.07 - about $10 off the original price.
Strangely, days after Contact 6 visited the shop, Apple Automotive closed its doors after 25 years of service to the Pewaukee community.
Fazio Automotive, Inc. on Milwaukee's East Side charged a little more for its diagnostic.
"The testing for something like that's $98. It's an hour in labor," Contact 6 was told.
However, the manager hinted at possibly giving us a break on the price.
"I mean if it's something simple... I'll knock (inaudible) to the testing off for you in order to help you out a little bit," the manager said.
48 minutes later, Contact 6 was charged the full amount. With tax, the total was $103.96. On the receipt, it showed they found the code: P0113. Mechanics also found a clamp that needed to be replaced, which was not part of this test. But here Contafct 6 was charged more than $100, where other shops charged much less to find the same code.
The manager later said they charge more because "we go more in-depth with a diagnosis." He also apologized for not providing a discount.
"Sorry about that," he admitted during a phone call with our producer.
The Quiet Zone on Milwaukee's South Side wanted $49.99 for its scan, and the manager said he actually found a problem.
"You got a faulty intake air temperature sensor," he said.
Remember, Contact 6 created the problem. There's nothing actually wrong with the part, even though the manager wanted to replace it for $108.93.
When Contact 6 called the shop and told them about this story, the manager said his mechanic "missed" the diagnosis. He also admitted that what Contact 6 found is a "wake-up call," and his shop will "use this as a learning experience."
What Contact 6 learned through this test is that some places like Auto Zone will do the scan and give you the code for free. When Contact 6 took the vehicle to the Auto Zone on 76th Street in Milwaukee, the attendant handed us a piece of paper with the code and the exact problem on it.
"So that's it? Just a loose connection," the Contact 6 producer asked. "That's exactly what that's telling you," the employee replied.
Auto Zone used what most shops used on Contact 6's car - an engine code scanner. You can buy one online for about $20 or in stores for around $50. Just plug it in under the dash and you've got the code. Type that code into your favorite search engine and it'll tell you what's wrong.
If you can't fix the problem yourself, or if the problem is not immediately clear, you now have information to take to a trusted mechanic. Just be sure to call ahead and find out how much they charge to fix it. Make sure you won't end up like your car - broke!