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I need help! I read about AskPatty.com in the NY Times, and I thought, what a great idea! I think I may have been fleeced more times than a Merino ewe. I just have had many, many bad experiences with auto mechanics, and though I'm a journalist typically more than comfortable with confronting injustice, I'm shy about doing it without solid information backing me up, and I've never had anyone who could teach me much about cars(my husband and father are both scientists who THINK they know a lot about cars, but they don't!). Anyway, I have a 99 Honda Civic that never gave me a moment's problem until I took it in for a routine engine tune-up three months ago. It was a first-time mechanic recommended by my sister - who knows nothing about cars. Anyway, the car only had about 38,000 miles on it, as I used a work vehicle for most of my driving for many years. Again, I've never had a problem with it, and the engine starts in a millisecond once I turn the key in the ignition. I got the car back, with a receipt saying I'd paid the $277.26 for replacement of the air filter, fuel filter, spark plugs, distributor cap, rotor, wires, and received an oil, lube and filter job. That figure also included rotating the tires and balancing the front tires. I did notice when I got the car back that it didn't start up the same. A couple times, including the first time I tried to start it, the engine caught and then died. And routinely, it seemed to take a bit longer, just a millisecond, for the engine to catch now. But like an idiot with a busy life, I did nothing, since the car was getting me from A to B. Then last week, once again, I started the car, and it caught, but the engine died. After that, there would just be a whining noise when I turned the key in the ignition. The engine wouldn't turn over. It wasn't the battery as we tried to jump it. So I had the car towed back to this auto shop. After several days, what the mechanic said was this: When he went out to start the car at the shop, it started right up. He did it several times. He decided to check out the car anyway, so he had it moved into the garage, and then it wouldn't start. He couldn't get a spark. So he said he replaced the distributor, and he's charging me $166. He said this is "a common problem with Honda Civics." And I said what - that the distributor is defective? And he said no, after a few years it gives out and functions only intermittently - like mine was doing. I have not yet gone to pick up the car, but I'm feeling a bit confused and possibly miffed. Perhaps the only way to solve this is to make him to show me what he did, but it seems to me if the receipt I have says he replaced the distributor cap and rotor, isn't that essentially replacing the distributor? And do they even have rotors any more? I thought the distributors have transistorized parts, but no longer have rotor arms. Would a routine engine tune-up include replacement of the distributor? Anyway, before launching out onto the Internet to do more research on this, I thought I'd try AskPatty.com. Sorry for the long email! Anguished Alicia

Answers from the Automotive Experts

Patty Streeter,  at AskPatty.com Alicia, The price you paid for the service you received seems in line, but the distributor failure bothers me. This vehicle does not have a history of distributor failure and the distributor generally costs about 450.00 plus installation. Something sounds fishy although with ut inspecting the vehicle it is difficult to discern what happened and what was repaired. The correct action to take would be to ask for the old parts to be returned to you when you pick up the vehile and have them inspected at another ASE certified repair shop. You shoudl only go to an ASE certifiedshop. You can locate an ASE certified shop by going here: http://www.ase.com/bluesealsearch/locator.php

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