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Do you use dealership repair shops for your service needs?  I often have but am reconsidering.

A Design Flaw In Our Rainier

I take pride in the fact that we have two older cars that are fully paid off.  In the long run, avoiding car payments has saved us tens of thousands of dollars over the time that we've owned the cars.  With my 2006 Pontiac and my wife's 2007 Buick, things work well, but there are costs involved with having older cars.

Most of the time, when an issue comes up, we wince and shake our heads at the cost, but go ahead and pay it knowing that we're still coming out ahead in the end.

But, there was one cost that we've had with my wife's car that we never liked, but until recently, we just put up with.

The car door handles.

Since we've owned the car, we've had three of the exterior door handles fail, and we recently had another failure, this time one that we've already repaired.  And it all became too much!

GM Engineers Failed This Design

The ultimate problem with the handles isn't in how we use them.  They were simply poorly designed.

Go outside and look at most door handles, and you'll notice two things.

First, most handles pull straight out from the door.  Second, the handles that you pull on have some thickness to them.

GM decided to abandon this design for the door handles on our Buick Rainier.

Instead, the door handle pulls upward, and it's a flimsy thin piece of plastic.

Combine this with the fact that all of the clips and such that attach it to the rods are plastic, and they simply don't last.  The first time we had one fail and I took it into the dealership, the guy showed it to me and explained the whole thing, and indicated that they replace handles like these all the time.

Yes, a GM employee admitted that their design…sucked.

I guess I sort of knew, based on this, that it would be an ongoing problem, and when another handle failed, then another, we grudgingly took it in and paid for the repair, but it irked us.

Finally, while on a recent camping trip, the driver door handle started failing for a second time, we had enough.

My wife exclaimed that there was no way we were paying to get that fixed again.  I think she was trying to will the thing to get back to working, but eventually realized that having to open the door from the inside was not going to work for her.

Still, her words set with me, and I started thinking about it.   While we couldn't get away with not paying for the repair, I started questioning the cost of the repair.

Dealer Cost To Get It Fixed

Everybody knows that dealerships overcharge.  I guess I just never realized how much.

I don't have the paperwork in hand, but I'm pretty sure that my memory is pretty close.  There are three elements to the repair:

  • The part – The genuine part replacement is around $60
  • Labor to uninstall and re-install – One hour, around $85
  • Labor to paint the trim to match the car – One hour, around $85

With taxes and everything else, it works out to around $240.

This repair, being the fourth, would put the total cost so far at nearly $1,000 on door handles.  This made my wife livid and me sick to my stomach.  See, I can handle spending money on the car for things that make sense.  We've replaced the tires twice because tires wear out.  Same with the battery.  One time the alternator failed because, hey, it happens.  We got all the brakes redone.  All of those costs together have totaled well over $1,000 but they never bothered me because the issues made sense.  (And for the record, I don't use the dealer for any of these tasks).

This doesn't and spending another $240 was something I just couldn't justify any longer.

Alternatives To The Dealer Repair Shop

So, I started looking around.

First, I looked up the part.  Turns out as it's a fairly common issue and it affected other cars that were built on the same model type (e.g. Chevy Trail Blazer), they can be found just about anywhere.  And, while it's not a genuine GM part, reviews on the OEM parts indicate they're just fine.  Cost: $18

Second, I looked up the install.  A YouTube video showed the entire process of removing the old handle and installing the new one.  My father-in-law is great with cars and offered to help.  At no charge.  Cost: $0

Third, I needed to look at getting it painted.  I called a body shop that I pass by on my way home from work every day and explained that I would be getting the part and could they paint it (thankfully, the color is easy: black).  They said they could and that it was not a big deal.  Cost: $25

Saving A Bundle

All told, if these costs hold, my total cost will be $43, as opposed to $240.  That is a savings of 82%.  Or another way, I can install this handle and have five more failures and it will come out to the cost of one replacement at the dealer.

So, next time you wonder just how much of a markup you might be paying at the dealer, think that it's not just a little bit.  Even adding in around $40 for labor costs would still put this at around a 300% mark up.

That's crazy.

So far, we have the part ordered.  I'll circle back on the actual cost, as it could be a bit more or a bit less once I take it in, as well as the install process.

Either way, I'm looking forward to having use of the door handle again, and having a couple hundred extra bucks in our pocket as well!

Readers, do you do any repairs at the dealer if they're out of pocket?