Mechanic A: $1200. Mechanic B: $166.

Here in New England, cars require annual safety inspections. An inspection gives a mechanic a chance to look at your car, find something wrong with it, and tell you it’s not legal to drive until it’s fixed. My tactic is to get the inspection at a convenient chain store, then take the car to a real mechanic if it “needs” anything.

I took it to a chain store recently, and the mechanic told me I needed to spend $1200 to replace my catalytic converter, because the “bracket” (he actually meant “flange”) at the end of the tube had rusted out. I left in a good mood, confident that I wouldn’t really be spending $1200 to fix a rusty bracket.

I’m fortunate to know a good, independent mechanic, who’s less convenient but isn’t afraid to fix parts instead of just replacing them. He got a new flange (it’s a good thing he didn’t order a “bracket”), welded it onto the existing catalytic converter, and charged me $166.

In any kind of shop, independent or chain, you can find good mechanics and bad mechanics. But in a chain store, they’re limited to doing what every mechanic at a hundred other locations can do, and that doesn’t mean getting out a MIG welder and wielding it competently. A good mechanic in an independent shop, or a bold amateur at home, can do things the chain people don’t think are possible.

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