Beware the Ides of March: Automobile Edition

23 Ways Your Car Can Stab You in the Back

Friendships are weird. Of the 7 billion people on planet earth, we tend to spend 95% of our free time that isn’t work or sleep with like 4 of them. Friendships are great. It gives you people to go on road trips with, help you move, rip on other people, have inside jokes with, and go to baseball games. However, sometimes friendships aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Things like jealousy, treachery, neglect, and personality flaws will drive wedges between people in ways that are often difficult or painful to fix. One of the most famous examples of this lead a guy by the name of Julius Caesar to getting stabbed a whopping 23 times by at least 50% of the people he hung out with most — and a whole bunch of his coworkers. According to Shakespeare, his last words was calling out one of these friends, because let’s be real, we would all do this.

However, what about other instances where things you care about let you down, screw you over, or make your life a lot harder than it is supposed to be? Ex: when your dog eats your new boots, and then throws it up on your dry cleaning- half an hour before prom (I’m looking at you Oliver) As we have proven, people can really love their cars — and much like the dog and your friends, you car is totally able to let you down, screw you over at inopportune times, and stab you in the back. Whether it’s from neglect, terrible design, or just the relentless advance of time, here are some of the major reasons that your car might make you say, “Et Tu, Beamer?”

transmission job
Ithaca may be Gorges, but not to the mechanisms that have to move several tons of metal up those hills all day long

Odds are, you don’t know what a transmission does. You just know if you’re at the shop and they say that it is broken, it’s going to hurt. More often than not, when someone needs a transmission replaced or transmission work done on their car, it means the end of that car’s product life cycle.

The transmission is used to transfer power from the engine to the wheels that are driving through a variety of gear ratios.

Symptoms: Higher RPM’s than usual,”stalling” out at certain speeds, not being able to go in reverse.
Costs (Dealer): $9000
Costs (Surfwrench): Lowest one we have seen is $700
What else it could be: Solenoids, flex plate, torque converter, clutch

If you have a car, it has some form of transmission — otherwise it’s a go-kart. All makes and models have different relationships with their transmissions. The car that we have seen most on Surfwrench with transmission related problems are Buick Centurys.

Fuel Pump
fuel pump wrench request
Fuel pump problems are hard to diagnose for the layman, even if they go to UB.

The fuel pump does exactly what its name says it does: pump fuel. With the key on it provides a steady stream of explosive and carcinogenic benzene that only your engine and OPEC could love.

Symptoms: Car not starting, and when it does start, it won’t stay running.
Costs (Dealer): $800
Costs (Surfwrench): $200-$250
What else it could be: Fuel lines, fuel tank, some sort of blockage.

The high pressure fuel pumps on turbocharged 2000’s BMW’s are notoriously prone to premature failure, but much like many other components, no one make and model can claim the crown on this type of repair.

Water Pump
adding water to car radiator
Note: Do not put water in your radiator in the winter. Ask Erik about it sometime.

For pumping water (officially an anti-freeze/coolant water mixture) to help dissipate the excess heat energy your engine creates, through the radiator and keep the engine and other components cool.

Symptoms: Leaking coolant, possible seizing of engine parts that are supposed to rotate.
Costs (Dealer): $900
Costs (Surfwrench): $300
What else it could be: Hoses, all of the hoses. Also it could be the radiator, expansion tank.

Head Gasket
Head gasket blow BMW
Head Gasket problems make for some serious carnage. Thankfully this SUNY Brockport student is Uncle Jimmy’s niece.

This gasket seals the combustion chambers from: A: the cooling system (important); B. the outside world (more important).

Symptoms: Lots of funky smelling white smoke, the explosion of any cooling system expansion tank.
Costs (Dealer): $1800
Costs (Surfwrench): $500
What else it could be: By the point this happens, it really usually is the head gasket.

This is a repair that is more often than not caused by neglect. When a car overheats, the head gasket goes. If you overheat it badly enough, it can warp the head and be significantly more expensive, needing an entire engine replacement.


The alternator creates voltage necessary to charge your phone, run your radar detector, and your iPod. Also, and a little bit more importantly: the engine computer, the ignition coils, and charging the battery. Pro-tip: when someone doesn’t know what they are talking about this is the part that they are most likely to say is the reason why your car won’t start. Sometimes they’re right, but more often than not, they are not.

Symptoms: Dead phone, speeding tickets, and no music. Also running car, no start, or even a dead battery. Often times components won’t work properly when not fully energized.
Costs (Dealer): $1000
Costs (Surfwrench): $300
What else it could be: Battery

When there is a problem with a car’s electrical system, the most common course of action that our technicians take is to replace the battery with one that they know is working properly, and then rescanning the car. When a battery is not being charged properly any number of codes can be triggered and they can manifest themselves in thousands of ways, as cars have become more and more reliant on sensors, modules, and electricity.


The battery of your car stores energy so you can start your car without one of those old fashion cranks. Also allows you to listen to the radio without the engine running, and all of the other electrical systems in the car for the most part.

Symptoms: No start, no radio, and no fun of any kind.
Costs (Dealer): $150
Costs (Surfwrench): $50-150
What else it could be: See above example for more info on the battery/alternator debate.

Engine Computer
2000 Buick Century Service Vehicle Light
Oh look…another Buick.

The engine computer takes inputs from multiple sensors on or in your engine tell your engine computer(nicknamed PCM) what’s going on. Using these inputs the PCM can direct specific outputs to engine controls.

Symptoms: How much time do you have? There could be upwards of 3-5 thousand possible concerns, some devastating, some not so much.
Costs (Dealer): $1800
Costs (Surfwrench): $800
What else it could be: any of the million sensors that the engine computer is attached to.

This is a repair where the cost of the part is typically 90% of the cost of the repair itself. When possible, it is a lot cheaper to find them in junkyards, used parts outlets, or online. This is an example where the dealer will mark up the parts significantly.


Tires are your car’s shoes. Only they weight 100 times more and go 100 times faster than you do. Keep in mind, this is the only part of your car that is supposed to touch the road, so any problem that you have can get out of hand in a hurry.

Symptoms: Flats, blow outs, loss of traction, poor handling, and terrible mileage.
Costs (Dealer): $500
Costs (Surfwrench):$500
What else it could be: Alignment — this can cause more problems with your tires.

Tires are important —  do not skimp out on them. You’re not going to save a ton of money getting tire work done on Surfwrench, but odds are our techs and independent shops can get you back on the road faster.

car brake system
L: “Brakes aren’t complicated…”
R: “Actually, yes brakes are extremely complicated!”

Brakes function is simple: to make your car stop moving. There are many components to the braking system in a car and when your brakes don’t work it could be any number of things. Not limited to: master cylinder, brake lines, brake pads, rotors, shoes, calipers, etc.

Symptoms: Not making your car stop, possible noises: squeaking and/or grinding. Takes longer than usual for your car to come to a full stop.
Costs (Dealer): $1200
Costs (Surfwrench): $150
What else it could be: It’s the brakes, do you really need to stop? The answer is yes. However, sometimes when you think a sound is coming from the brakes, it is actually coming from the wheel hub or the wheel bearing.

This is a job that dealers love because they know that they can charge exorbitant prices based on the name brand of your car. We routinely hear about price gouging on this job, and when people use an independent shop or technician it is not unheard of for them to save $1000.


The exhaust removes nastiness from your engine after combustion. It then routes the carbon monoxide through the catalytic converter so it can pickup an oxygen molecule and become carbon dioxide. And last, but not least, to muffle the excessive noise of exhaust.

Symptoms: Your car being significantly louder than it normally would be. Fumes in the cabin. Dragging noises, and often sparks.
Costs (Dealer): $1100
Costs (Surfwrench): $50-400
What else it could be: Catalytic converters, exhaust manifold, muffler.

This is a job that sees large discrepancies in the total cost. Sometimes all an exhaust system needs is to be rewelded, which is fast and inexpensive. Sometimes however, especially in New York, an exhaust system will be rotten and need to be replaced. This is a bit more expensive.

saab radiator problems
SAAB, yea has to be U of R, I think that’s what they give you when you get accepted there.

The radiator takes really hot coolant/anti-freeze mix from the engine and cools it and sends it back for more.

Symptoms: Nasty smelling green (optional) fluid spraying or leaking from vehicle. Temperature gauge calling monster island
Costs (Dealer): $2000
Costs (Surfwrench): $900
What else it could be: Water pump, hoses

The radiator is an important part of your car, so when it goes wrong, it is a fairly expensive part, unless you can find one secondhand or recycled.

Windshield Wipers

Function: Really, wiping the windshield

Symptoms: Not wiping the windshield, or doing it poorly.
Costs (Dealer): $50
Costs (Surfwrench): $20
What else it could be: Windshield

This is one of the most important parts of a car in Rochester, considering there is almost always something falling from the sky.

Body Work
Oldsmobile Cutlass Bodywork
Built in Detroit, painstakingly rebuilt in Hilton

The body of your car protects you and all of the components of the car from the outside world. Usually performing this function in the most attractive manner possible.

Symptoms: Mostly visual, but structural when talking about unibody cars.
Costs (Dealer): Varies
Costs (Surfwrench): Varies
What else it could be: Paint

This is one of those jobs that depends entirely on what you need or want. If you want high end customization work, it costs a lot more than just putting panels back onto a car that has had a small collision.


Transfers heat from inside the car to the outside.

Symptoms: Sweat, lots of it.
Costs (Dealer): $1900
Costs (Surfwrench): $400
What else it could be: Leaks

The air conditioning system is one of the creature comforts that we have come to enjoy in the 20th century. While problems with them are fairly rare, when there is a significant problem it is often very expensive.


Function: Regulating the flow of coolant/antifreeze mix to the radiator. Allows certain things that need heat to get heat when they need to. Things like o2 sensors, and you, the driver

Symptoms: Cold driver and passengers, possible o2 sensor faults
Costs (Dealer): $1100
Costs (Surfwrench): $400
What else it could be: Heater core, radiator, hoses.

A problem with your thermostat can cause major problems with many other components.

Blower Motor

The Blower Motor is a motor that turns a fan that blow air across a heater core(for heat) or an evaporator core(for ac cooling)

Symptoms: Sweating, freezing, and fogged up windows
Costs (Dealer): $400
Costs (Surfwrench): $150
What else it could be: Heater Core, condenser, and possibly radiator.

Window Regulator
bmw broken window regulator
There are 3 certainties in life: Death, Taxes, and E46 window regulators not working.

The window regulator raises and lowers the windows.

Symptoms: Refuses to raise and lower the windows
Costs (Dealer): $600
Costs (Surfwrench): $200
What else it could be: Window (glass), switch

If you own an E46 BMW 3 Series, you are going to have to replace these. The aftermarket ones are typically as problematic as the OEM ones.

Fluid Leaks

All of the fluids in your car have job. If they leak out they can no longer do their jobs.

Symptoms: If the following fluids leak out, here is the consequence: coolant (engine not getting cooled), engine oil (no longer having engine lubed), transmission fluid (vehicle stops moving), brake fluid (vehicle won’t stop moving), and gear oil (gears will lock up)
Costs (Dealer): Various
Costs (Surfwrench): Various
What else it could be: It can be problems with gaskets, hoses, or the components themselves. Costs varies based on what damage has been caused due to a lack of fluids, and can run from $10-$10,000

If your car is leaking fluid, check out what color it is and put it on Surfwrench before something really bad happens.

Wheel Bearing
wheel bearing in 03 buick century
One of our techs changed this in the parking lot of MCC, between classes

Allows vehicle wheels to turn with a minimal amount of friction.

Symptoms: Noise, lots of noise, grinding and grating noise. It will lock up the wheel if left untreated long enough.
Costs (Dealer): $800
Costs (Surfwrench): $250
What else it could be: Wheel hub, brakes, calipers, rotors.

Catalytic Converter

Function: To make carbon dioxide out of carbon monoxide (both are deadly gases, one way more than the other).

Symptoms: None, only a really expensive check engine lamp repair.
Costs (Dealer): $3000
Costs (Surfwrench): $2000
What else it could be: O2 sensors, engine computer, and anything else emissions related.

Catalytic converters are so expensive because they contain a sizable amount of Rare Earth Elements — see why there might be a war in the South China Sea in the next 10 years or so — these Rare Earths are an important part in making cars create less pollution, They are only required in states that go by the California emissions standards, such as New York. However, despite their high cost, they have been a major factor is cutting down the smog produced by cars.


Function: Turns the engine over, so it will start

Symptoms: Does not start. Just a clicking sound.
Costs (Dealer): $800
Costs (Surfwrench): $250
What else it could be: Ignition system, spark plugs

Check Engine Light

Function: To tell you that your car is not operating at peak efficiency. Usually it is tied to one of the aforementioned problems regarding emissions controls, the transmission working properly, misfires, air/fuel mixture, and a million other things.

Symptoms: A light in the dash that looks like an engine, says “Service Engine Soon”- Doubly bad if it’s blinking at you
Costs (Dealer): Varies
Costs (Surfwrench): Varies

As previously stated, a check engine light is just telling you that not everything is right with the car and the emissions that it is creating. You can drive your car with a check engine light indefinitely (and we do) if the problem is not serious. However, you will not pass a New York State inspection with your check engine light on, so best practice is to get it checked at least before your inspection, and definitely get it checked if you notice that things aren’t quite right.

When You Mass Produce a Car, You Mass Produce Its Problems

The biggest way your car can stab you in the back, is also, well unavoidable. Because as we’ve said once, and we’ll say forever:

Rule #1: If you own a car, it will break.

Rule #2: There is nothing you can do about Rule #1.

Luckily, you’ve got Surfwrench.


Need Your Car Fixed? We’ve Got You Covered.

We hope that this list has helped you with some of your questions regarding the problems that you car may be having. We compiled the costs of Dealer Repairs by asking our technicians who work for dealers currently, but do side work for you via Yes, dealer trained technicians work for themselves as well, picking out jobs that save you thousands of dollars over their day-job bosses. You get the same work, with more convenience, at a better price.

As always, if there is a problem with you car, save yourself the time, money, and headache over going to a dealer and go to a Surfwrench Independent Shop or Technician. Big or small, our technicians are there to get you back on the road, with more money in your pocket.

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