Automotive Shops

Over time, I have had a great many people to talk to me about services rendered at various mechanic shops. I think that we can all agree that none of us has been 100% satisfied 100% of the time at any shop. Mechanicing is an inexact “science”. This accounts for a lot of the problems—whether real or perceived. Also, parts’ quality varies constantly. That’s one thing that we CAN guarantee.

Mechanics make a profit by being able to diagnose a problem and solve it under time constraints. An experienced mechanic usually can tell how long a common job will take. If not, he may have a “book” that can tell him, at a glance, how much time a specific job will take. If he can do the job more quickly, he makes more money. If the job takes longer, he loses money (time is money). He has a set amount which he charges for each hour’s labor.

Mechanics also usually obtain parts at a discount from the warehouses and parts houses—especially from those with whom they do a lot of business. They do not pass this discount to the customer—they make a little on the deal.

This is a rough idea of what is going through a mechanic’s mind as you drive into a shop to ask the owner to diagnose your car—then to give an estimate of time and cost.

In the case of vintage cars, this diagnosing and estimating becomes quite tricky. Now, we are talking about “old”, which may involve great difficulty for removal of old parts, location of replacement parts, toying with replacement parts to get them to fit old cars, and on and on. I do not blame a mechanic for not giving an estimate of time and cost for some work—he just is not going to be able to discern that. Also, some cars are so old that there no longer are any written specs to tell a mechanic how long a specific job should take. He is going to have to work on a “cost-plus” basis (time plus parts and perhaps some other elements thrown in there). As a contractor for going on 30 years, I often found myself having to tell a customer that I could remove the wall covering at some similar rate (cost-plus on an hourly basis). I could not project the length of time nor the difficulty it was going to take. If I finished the work quickly, I felt good and the customer did too. If I could not do the work more quickly, the customer already had been made aware of the inherent problem involved in the work.

With vintage automobiles, this is more and more the case. We have to recognize this fact and make decisions based upon what we can stand in the way of time and money.

There is another facet to this formula (time equals money).

I have learned never to tell a service person to “take your time”. While this sounds noble and our hope is to get a better job by thinking that we are giving the workman more time in which to do the job, this cannot be true—when we sit to think about it.

As I have outlined above, a mechanic (since we are concerned here with auto maintenance) cannot make money by taking longer to do the job. Our telling him to take his time can only be perceived by him that we are not in a hurry to have the finished job. So, the job is going to be put off until such time as he deems. He then will begin the job and will do it at such a speed which will fulfill his formula—time equals money. He’s not going to try to take longer to do the job!

I recommend to everyone who is going to have work done to a vintage vehicle that he have a sit-down with the chosen shop owner to discuss the diagnosis, the cost and the time constraints. Be sure that both you and the mechanic understand and are in agreement about ALL of these points.

I do want to mention one other factor: in my case as a contractor, it was the weather-factor. When I started an outdoor job, I always notified the customer that if the weather turned bad, I would need to remove myself from the job and I would go to an indoor job. I could not afford to sit at home to await better weather. I also told the customer that I would finish that indoor job before returning to the outdoor job. I could not possibly leave an indoor job in an unfinished state— for example, a customer needing her kitchen while I went back to do the exterior job. There had to be a clear understanding of this at the outset of any exterior job which I started—before I began the job.

It is often the case in the automotive world, that although the mechanic may have begun my job, he may be called upon to do an emergency job, or a tune-up or some other smaller job which cannot be put off. One reason is that the customer will go elsewhere and he will lose work. The reasons can be varied and many. It happens. It causes great distress amongst customers, but it IS going to happen. It cannot be avoided. Get used to it! Especially if it is a one-person shop.

I know that a great deal more can be added here. I know that some mechanics seem to have great dexterity about putting off work. We are not going to change the way a person runs his business. If we cannot put up with such a situation, we have to weigh the alternatives and chose a better one, if it is available.

In the case of Volkswagen mechanics, we are hard-pressed to find good shops that “function” well. We probably are going to laugh some, cry some and stomp some. I haven’t a good answer to this situation.

One of the best answers is—to learn to do most of the work ourselves. We CAN do most of the work ourselves. If Salser can do it, I know that the rest of us can. Fortunately, there is a growing body of helps available. We also have one another within the VW Community with whom to discuss problems. That will be in our favor—we have good interaction with VW friends while we are learning neat skills and enjoying the fruits of our labors. If you have any doubts—ask Eric Shoemaker…or Richard Lee…or Dick Diaz…or Robin Snook…or Beth Leverman…or…any one of the many Readers of!

Posted by Jay Salser

My wife, Neva, and I have been driving and working on VWs since 1976. In fact, we raised our family in these cars. Now, we are retired and enjoy VWs as a hobby. The ’67 Beetle always has been our favorite year. We own a '67 Beetle and a '68 Karmann Ghia.

  1. Great info as always, Jay. You’re amazing.

  2. Exactly, Jay! So often we’ve learned (and not just with VW work) that we’re better off doing it ourselves. And, by “ourselves”, I really mean Gary! In fact, right now – at this very moment – he’s learning about the relationship between the turn signals and the cigarette lighter; a job we paid a “vintage VW shop” to solve. No doubt Wally2 will have functional blinkers and be able to charge a cell phone at the same time before Gary breaks for lunch!

    1. There’s also this……. No one cares about your ’67 the way you do, and no one will do the job as good as YOU can…. I’ve learned this first hand years ago. VW shops that didn’t put my fuel hose clamps back on, etc. No thanks… Never again.

    2. Hi, Donna…Yes…no doubt but that Gary will have Wally2 up and running, charging cell phones and blinking his turn signals! I have to confess that although I have done most of my mechanic work over the years, my body groans and complains a lot more than my pocketbook these days. So there are some jobs that I turn over to my trusted VW mechanic and adviser. It’s an inconvenience which I have come to accept. jay

      1. Yes, Gentlemen — I agree 100% with all you’ve both said. Turn signals and lighter done; new headlight rims installed, wipers working all before lunch! Now he’s installing new emergency brake lines from Wolfsbürg West and Wally2 will be back on the road by dinner!

        1. Donna…I hope that you let Gary drive Wally2 at least once in a while–given all of the work he is doing! Ha, ha! Have I asked you folks if you’ve found a VW group with which to associate? jay

          1. Hahahaha, Jay! Yes and not yet!

  3. Great article /info! I find that my time is worth money as well so sometimes it is cost effective to go do my job and pay someone you trust to do the work for you. I would prefer to do it myself but sometimes the job gets started and then sits so I can take care of work, family, etc. If only Eric lived closer (hint hint). I have found a great shop and trust them with the bigger stuff that takes time. I know everyone will have issues with any shop you recommend but I have had great success with Paradise Motorsport in San Marcos CA (formerly VW Paradise). My VW is a Resto Custom so I am speaking for this crowd but if you are building an OG stock, I would have a talk with them about the parts used so you can insure that you are keeping it German. Thanks Jay and Eric!

    1. I hear you, Timm…sometimes it’s a balance which must be achieved. I used to do that with what I called “my big car mechanic”: while I was away working, he was repairing my American-made car.. For my VWs, and we always had several in our “stable”–I was the mechanic of choice. jay

    2. Love you too, Timm. #BroHug

  4. Well written Jay, Many times as Eric said, no one cares or does it as good as doing it yourself. When choosing a mechanic, selecting an honest one should be first concern. Many unforeseen issues may come up when they start working on a vintage car, Trusting the person will do the additional work and the client understanding they need to pay extra for this type of service is what will make a good relationship between mechanic and client.

    1. Good points all, Ken! There needs to be that mutual trust. If there’s no trust–a person needs to move on to find a different shop! Thanks for the input. jay

  5. Richard "Dick" Diaz May 22, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    Excellent article Jay and comments from readers! I have two “Professional” VW people, Larry of Larry’s Foreign Car Repair and Rodney Cooper of Airhead Parts I go too when necessary! Both are located in Ventura, CA near my home. I go to them when I need to have a professional do the work, and I am glad to pay them my hard earned money for their expertise!

    Then I have three others, who I like to refer to as “professional in knowledge and experience,” but, like me, just love VW’s. Two are Eric and Jay of, who, other than their pictures I have never personally met! Although I have never met Eric and Jay I feel like they are friends, and yes confidants who have yet to openly judge me by my questions, or problems I have put myself in keeping my ’67 running! Emails and an occasional phone call to either has proven to be invaluable to me! The third person is a friend, and former coworker, Ron, who actually lays hands on my car and helps me learn my way around the car to solve problems! I really appreciate them and their willingness to help me out!

    So, as you can tell, I truly believe, “It takes a village” to keep a vintage VW alive and rolling! Thanks Eric and Jay for and the encouragement you have given to me to tackle most any mechanical problem that comes up! And, that does include paying a professional!-Dick

    1. Dick–I can tell that you have been vaccinated with a “metric needle”! LOL From what I am seeing, you have taken hold of your Beetle and tackled all sorts of mechanic issues in a very short time. And crossed the goal line every time! Here’s rooting for you and Ron as you tackle the carburetor rebuilt shortly. jay

  6. Robert Yancey May 22, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    I will toss in another recommendation, Never tell the mechanic what you think the problem is. I have had a shop replace what i told them i thought the problem was. In turn it was not the problem and their reply was “you said to replace ***** item” “so that is what we did”

    Boy you talk about being upset. Through the years i have always found that the best thing to do is to do it my self. The internet has made life in the garage so much better!!!!!!

    1. All hail to the internets!

    2. Also, I’d like to add that I’ve been through this. I won’t name names, but…. I’ll end by saying the same. Do the work yourself. I built this site for all ’67 owners around the world to learn from each other and have a community. I’ll keep doing it, too!

    3. Hello, Robert…I still am laughing over this one! We all have to fall into this pit at least once in our lifetimes! The customer is always right–right? Ha, ha, ha! Well…that little incident motivated you in the right direction. Thanks for saying what we all wanted to say but were too ashamed to say! jay

  7. Great job, Jay. Interesting comments from everybody. is my daily newspaper!!!! Keep up the great work !!!!

    1. I second that. I visit daily. You guys are doing an awesome job building our ’67 community.

  8. Hello, Sam and Mark…I know that the Shoemakers’ hearts are gladdened to hear that they are helping to improve the lives of all of us in the ’67 Beetle Community. Who knew that this “trickle” would turn into a “gully washer” of usable information. Pass the word along. I do–every time I meet another ’67 Beetle owner, I jump at the chance to spread the word. Thanks for coming forward to comment! jay

  9. Every word TRUE. As well as all tips in this long line of thoughts…lol
    Alberta is where I’m at, and over the years iv still never found a reputable shop, or parts distributer in my area to take a beetle to. Even VW shops no longer seem to recognize the beetle as something worth looking at for proper parts, or service. Other small shops are not sure where to even start on them, and beetle lovers iv met can make them run beautifully, but without knowing anything of the heat systems, cooling functioning ect… More like a dune buggy tuning than a people carrier repair and maintanence.
    I’m am sure there is a place, iv just never found it… Lol
    One notable mention… As iv worked in the auto repair most of my life iv myself noticed, and witnessed. IF YOU CAR IS LOVED, AND SHOWS IT. Meaning clean, serviced, and not full of garbage and duct tape… We as mechanics take more time and pride in the job at hand.
    Example…. I had a older fox body mustang come in needing a heater core. NASTY JOB. Drop steering column, remove the dash, remove parts from under the hood.. Ect…. There are short cuts we learn over the years to help with all this…. But this car was as new for clean, and showing it was lover. normal high milage wear and tear, but with With my face laying on the old carpet under the dash, it became quite the nice place to be. It was CLEAN, and smelled nice. No garbage… No cigaret buts…no 1 inch of street mung….lol
    Now this little car, even being one I can’t personally stand thinking of… (I’m am all about Mopar, and VW, and imports) became almost a passion to do the repairs as though they were never needed. Correct procedure, correct screws, torque, extra care, and sealing materials. Quick vacuum after re assembly, exact coolant mix, and a quick clean of the windows for finger prints, and smudges or dust I may have left. A customer for life after that, and a respected customer for life….. And I kinda like that lill mustang now… Just a little…lol
    Point being…. If you care, and respect your car, there is a WAY bigger chance the repair shop, or tech you take it too will as well.
    No saying it must look like new… But Clean engine, even if it leaks, and all the more reason. 2… Wash the car before bringing it in if possible, and especially the area to be repaired…..3. Take the old lunches, and garbage out….4. If you smoke, dump the ash tray, and a spritz of air fresher can’t hurt either.

    1. Hello, Richard…

      You make such an excellent point! I had not thought of this and could not agree more with you! I sure am going to keep that foremost in my mind when I counsel people regarding repair work at a shop.

      I hope that the weather in Alberta has turned decidedly better so that you and Amanda can enjoy your cars!

      Thanks for chiming in, Richard!


    2. Well said!
      Yes, I remember years ago when I got my ’67 from Grandpa. I pulled in a shop for an oil change. (I didn’t know how at the time) I remember the owner coming out saying. “yeah, um no. We don’t work on these things anymore.” It seems that VW of old had died off long ago for most. This is why (I feel) the ’67 community we’re building is so important. Who knows, one day there might even be a forum.

  10. Shameless plug here for my VW mechanic, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing for 15+ years. Norm takes care of any issues with my ’67 Beetle convertible, always does right by me and at fair rates. Look up Teutonix Automotive in Tillman, SC. If he ever retires I may consider selling my Beetle!

  11. (Note: Robert had a problem with “pulsating brakes”. When his usual mechanic failed to be able to diagnose and repair the problem, Robert took his ’67 Beetle to a dealership (name omitted here) where a trained specialist diagnosed the problem as 2 bent rear axles. The job dragged on and on. When the dust settled, Robert had a huge bill and the problem had not been resolved.

    He retrieved the car and took it to yet another shop where a “complete” brake job, including shock absorbers, was accomplished to the tune of over $1400.)
    On 07/19/14, Robert A, Macali wrote:

    Hi Jay, Thought I use your latest post to update you involving your “topic”, and my nightmarish ongoing saga. They do so much go “hand-in-hand.

    Admittedly, there’s always the good and bad to relate. Allow me to start with the “bad” first, since I’ve always been considered by most to be a negative person. (And frankly, I’m content with that. I consider it an advantageous quality).

    The Bad:

    I got the car back this past Monday, after taking it back TWICE before. There hasn’t been any improvement with the pedal pulsations. It drives exactly like before when a complete brake job was performed, and note, those prior brakes had less than 6,000 miles wear. After replacing all shocks, installing original VW drums, brakes, and complete service, the bill came to $1473.00.

    My mechanic’s new theories are: my brand new tires are not round (absolute nonsense), or the wheels may be damaged. (he told me) “If so, I’ll have to wait to test the theory whenever I get an old VW with 5-lug wheels in the shop”. Inevitably, the waiting game continues. I’ve always enjoyed Merry-go-rounds.

    I’ve resigned myself to accept the plight of replacing drums and brakes every 6,000 mi. Apparently, the “experts” are stumped, so unique must be my mystery problem. It’s like winning the lotto!

    The Good:

    Filing a complaint with the Bureau of Auto Repair was the only good move I made involving this whole scenario. An agent contacted me by phone just two days after I filed! The agent contacted me several times in the two months of this fiasco.

    (shop name) had a bill for me. $2500.00. They claimed a complete brake job, and replacing axles. My agent was most skillful in negotiating for me. (shop name) dropped the charges.

    My VW is home. (Tentatively)

    Now, Jay, you’re right up-to-date. Thanks for your continued interest and support.
    Hello, Robert…

    I am sorry for the on-going problems.

    Shocks have nothing to do with pulsating brakes–someone just saw a way to make some money there.

    Tires, also, have nothing to do with pulsating brakes. If a tire is out of round, you would feel it even when NOT braking.

    The solution is simple, however. You just have not found anyone who wants to sit and think for about 30 seconds!

    But, I want to ask you a question first. Do you keep your foot on the brake pedal when driving? Even a little pressure will heat the shoes and drums and eventually will warp the drums. If you don’t keep your foot on the brake pedal when driving…go to the next paragraph, please.

    Especially the non-German drums, must be turned even when brand new! If the new drums were not turned before installation, they should have been. I’m betting on out-of-round drums.

    Next–for new brake shoes…IF you can find someone to do it…can be “arced”. Each set of shoes (a set is the two shoes of one wheel) can be arced to match their specific drum. In other words, a drum is taken to the shop with its pair of shoes. The shoes are cut (arced) to match the inner diameter of the drum. This makes them brake smoothly when the pedal is applied. If all four wheels are done this way, you’ll have a smooth braking vehicle.

    But…it is difficult to find a shop that will be willing to arc the shoes–because years ago the Federal Gov’t outlawed the practice when there was asbestos in the shoe lining. Well–there is no asbestos in the linings now. But, some shops still are afraid of the Gov’t and won’t do it.

    But…we still can have good braking without arcing the shoes.

    I’d find a new mechanic. I’d sit with him and lay the cards on the table. If after a diagnosis (including driving the vehicle at differing speeds and braking) he doesn’t think that he can do the job, then I’d move to the next shop. There has to be either a VW mechanic or a brake shop (NOT one of the quick-brake places) that can do the job.

    There is absolutely no reason to change brakes “every 6K miles”. They might need to be adjusted now and then, but certainly not re-worked every 6K miles!

    Keep us posted please.

    Note to Readers–have you had a similar experiece? What was the solution?


  12. I thank you again for your caring and suggestions regarding the cause of the eternal pulsating pedal. Be assured, I have NEVER ridden my brakes while driving. I believe this problem may be structural in nature. The car had been slammed at the right rear wheel before I purchased it in 1995. I had the bent wheel trued. Three different repair shops were notified of the damage, and all three shops supposedly checked them and reported the wheel was ok and not any problem. I still had my doubts, after having two complete brake jobs including turning/replacing the drums. The pulsating steadily grew worse after each of these complete brake jobs. The third and latest attempt resulted in failure also. I have spent an estimated $4000.00 to correct the mysterious pulsating pedal over time, and this last nightmare was the final straw. You suggest that I find another mechanic. No way! I have 0 confidence with VW experts at this point. I have resigned myself to living with the Great Pulsating Brake Problem and refuse to spend any more $ trying to figure it out. Perhaps if I could revive Ferdinand Porsche he might solve this problem, but only him. I’m through dealing with it. I certainly appreciate your and Eric’s efforts assisting me, and this website is a great place for older VW owners who may also need assistance. Keep up the great work, and thanks once again.

    1. You’re welcome! We are here to help.

    2. Robert…If the problem were a bent rim…the pulsating would happen all of the time while driving–not just while braking. The same is true of a bent axle.

      The problem has to be out of round drums.

      That’s why I suggest a brake shop (but not one of the quick brake shops). it has to be a shop which specializes in brakes. Apparently you do not have a VW mechanic with brake knowledge (I say this only because none seems to have helped you so far).


  13. Jay…. Is 100% right in every way. They ONLY way you get a brake pulse (with new brakes) is out of round drums. Un even, and over torque car warp drums. Long periods of sitting with a tightly pulled park brake can to some extent oval the rear drums. Believe it or not. AND all new drums should be run on the lathe. I once had a brake lathe lesson, with VW drums, and I was told to properly torque the wheel, and then put the wheel with the drum on the lathe for a perfect job, as the wide 5 wheel torqued can pull the drum to some amount , and creat a warp.

    Just my input… Richard Lee

    1. Hello, Richard…Good thought there about over-torqueing! Given your experienced automotive background I appreciate your input. I had not considered torque. Shops do tend to use power tools rather than to hand-torque those drums! And, yes–I discovered long ago that even the best of drums come to us not quite round. Slapping them onto the car right out of the box is not a good thing. Thank you for chiming in, Richard! jay

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