Saturday, December 22, 2012

Monte's Auto Takes Care of "Old Reliable"

Post and photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

I drive a seventeen-year-old car that is affectionately named "Old Reliable" on the grounds that at least one of those descriptors is always true.  My reason for driving an old, if not entirely reliable, vehicle have been centered around home ownership.  I picked this car up almost two years ago with the plan that no car payment and minimal insurance would get me into a home that much faster.  Since mortgage payments on the northside are far cheaper than rent, once this car kicks the bucket I'll use that extra cash flow towards New Reliable.

Just before closing on my house, Old Reliable wouldn't start and she was leaking engine coolant like a sieve.  So the car sat there until after I closed, and I spent the summer biking.  Based on a trusted referral, O.R. limped down to south Minneapolis to Frenz Auto to get back up and running.  Battery connections were tightened, some new fuses were put in, and a water pump was replaced.  Frenz did great work at reasonable prices, but I felt guilty that I wasn't taking my car to a northside shop.

So when it came time for more work on Old Reliable, I took her down the street to...

...Monte's Auto at 26th and Broadway.  Now my car doesn't just let anyone work on her.  So for her first date with Monte's it was just an oil change, air filter, and headlight--enough that the shop knew she was interested, while still making it clear she was to be treated with respect.

Then came the kicker.  I was taking Old Reliable down Central Avenue NE when the lights flickered and the engine cut out on me.  I pulled over and parked, and the car wouldn't start.  The battery connections apparently weren't the only problem.  Old Reliable needed a new alternator.  While I was waiting for the tow, I priced that work out with Frenz.  Their quote was certainly reasonable, and about $50 lower than what I was hoping would be the cost.  I had some time to kill, so I looked around for the oil change receipt and gave Monte's Auto a call.

Monte had me on hold while he was pricing out the part, and just then the tow truck driver showed up.  It was a race against the clock.  If Monte could give me a lower price, that's where Old Reliable would go.  If not, we'd be back at Frenz.  The car was fully hooked up for the tow.  I was still on hold.  "Where to, pal?"  The driver wanted to know.  Tow truck drivers are not known for their patience, so I had only seconds to answer.  I had a reputable, reasonably-priced location in mind, but could Monte come through in the clutch?

Yes, he did.  The quote he gave me was over a hundred dollars cheaper than that of Frenz.  As much as I trust Frenz, the price differential was too great to pass up, especially around Christmas.  We were off to Monte's.  With the new (to me) alternator installed, Old Reliable runs far more smoothly.  Since then, O.R. has been back for a new tire and an alignment checkup, with some minor brake work scheduled for the new year.

Probably after another summer of biking, I'll get around to picking up a car that is more reliable for me than for my mechanic.  Until then, I'll take this one to Monte's Auto.


  1. One very important thing to consider is where they get their parts. Granted in a 17yo vehicle that you just need for a winter beater, you may not want to invest in quality. But since I don't bike, and also drive an older car in very good physical condition (as in not a winter beater), I want to make sure my mechanic doesn't use crap parts. I had a mechanic who charged really great prices and got my car running. But almost every year my alternator fried out and had to be replaced. Last time I was at a state park in northern Minnesota when it wouldn't charge. A neighboring camper in a motorhome (I like to tent camp) helped me remove the part and took me into Hibbing to buy a new part. The guy at NAPA told me that the alternator my mechanic put in was the cheapest rebuilt around. I bought a good alternator, and it hasn't crapped out yet, going on 6 years.
    I keep detailed records of the work on my car, and my new mechanic has conformed that my old "cheap" guy had put several poor quality parts into my car that were the cause of problems. The sputtering every time I hit a bump was caused by a very poor quality fuel pump relay.
    My "cheap" guy told me I needed a new fuel pump for $900, the second opinion proved it to be the cheap relay was the problem. Cost: $15.95.

    Lesson - you guessed it - you get what you pay for. And, when you think you have found an honest mechanic - think again.

    1. Monte did disclose to me that the alternator he was putting in was used, and openly admitted that the Frenz quote was probably for a new one. For a newer car, I might want to go with a higher quality part. At that point, I'd have to go back and compare apples to apples. But yes, for a 17-year-old beater I probably don't care all that much.

      But I do want to stress that he was honest about the condition of the part he was using in my car.

      I also have some other emails about Monte and his shop that are positive and that I plan on publishing soon.

  2. I posted about two other northside auto repair places as well - Vina's on 26th and Emerson and Nghia's on 42nd and Thomas. I don't go to Vina's for much anymore because they only take cash - no checks or even credit cards. Not only does that raise some red flags, it's just not safe or convenient to carry cash around to pay for large repairs.

    My last time at Nghia's, my driver's side window wasn't going back up. He said it was a problem with the motor, and the car sat there for two weeks while he supposedly waited for the part. The problem didn't affect whether the car was drivable, but he never called me to say I could pick my car up and he'd contact me when the part came in. (And since when does it take two weeks to track down a part for an Oldsmobile?)

    Finally, I took my car back, paid him a nominal fee for the investigative labor, and had Frenz take a look. It was there that they diagnosed it as a blown fuse. Once replaced, the window worked just fine. I've heard glowing things about Nghia's, but suffice to say that after an experience where I paid $50 for them to misdiagnose a blown fuse over the course of two weeks, I won't be taking my car back there again.

  3. I don't trust Nghia's. I've heard mixed reviews. I think they are one of those places that tells you the car needs a new part, when it only needs a squirt of oil.


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