Driving home the other day in my not-nearly-new car, the exhaust suddenly began to leak. In less than a heartbeat I went from driving a very quiet car to driving what sounded like a super-modified stock car – so loud that I couldn’t hear what my passenger was saying. I pulled over to see if I could locate the leak and half-expected to see the muffler hanging on by a rusty thread. Instead what I found was a short piece of flexible pipe that connected the catalytic converter to the exhaust pipe. This little “flex pipe”, barely over one foot long and three inches around, had rusted completely around one end thereby detaching itself just ahead of the muffler. There was no risk of it falling off as the other end was still securely attached, so I continued my 100-decibel drive home figuring that I would call the local muffler shop and receive an estimate that couldn’t breach the $100 mark. But, oh, it could – and it would.
The first place I called quoted me $185 for the part alone – then another hundred for them to install it for me (claiming it would take nearly two hours). The second place quoted me $200 for the pipe and another $50 to install it (evidently they could do it in a half hour). The third place (a dealership) was charging $242 for the part – I hung up on them before they could insult me further. I decided not to call any more shops for fear that the price would eventually surpass the value of the vehicle.
I want to know how it is that a 12 inch steel tube can cost $200. It’s just a twelve-inch tube, for Pete’s sake! Sure, it’s got a flange on one end and it’s “flexible”, but come on, it’s just a foot-long piece of metal! How is this justified? If this little part cost more than $30 to manufacture, I’ll eat my hat. So where is it that the price gets inflated over six hundred percent? If the manufacturer charges double, then the retailer charges double that, it’s still only $120. For a tube!
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Furious at the blatant disregard these thieves have for consumers, I decided to fix the problem myself with some flexible steel tubing that I bought at Home Depot – $10 for a three-foot length the proper diameter. After purchasing two clamps to hold it in place ($4.00 for both) I cut the remaining end of the rusty pipe, sized and cut the new piece and clamped it into place. Total cost, $14.00 and 45 minutes.
As a society dependent on our vehicles for everything, we get raped by the corporate greed of car manufacturers all the way down to auto parts stores. If there is no price regulation in place, there certainly should be. There are enough regulations in place dictating what you must have on your vehicle, charging outrageous prices for simple items should be regulated as well. In fact, I’m half-expecting to be told at my vehicle’s inspection next month that what I did “does not conform to government regulations” and must be replaced with “proper equipment”. I swear, if they do I’ll just leave the car there, move to Mexico and ride a donkey. Their emissions might be bad, but parts are cheap.