Dear Car Talk:
I have a rusted-out heat shield on my 2003 Honda Accord. I took my car in to get an estimate, and initially was told it would cost $319. I agreed, and set a date to bring my car in when the parts arrived. The day I took my car in, the person at the counter said that their mechanic went home sick and that they think they gave me a wrong estimate. I told them to call me when they had the correct information.
The next morning they called and said they ordered the bottom part for the heat shield, and that was in the estimate, but they still needed to order the top part of the shield, which was not in the estimate. With the extra part and an additional half hour of labor, the new cost would be $490. Before I get it fixed, do I need to replace the heat shield? And is nearly $500 the right price? That's a lot more than the original estimate. -- Liz
We do recommend that you replace the heat shield, Liz. Just not with these guys.
The reason the heat shield is there is to keep your car from either catching fire or setting something else on fire if your catalytic converter overheats. Catalytic converters run very hot, even when they're working properly. But if, for instance, one of your fuel injectors failed and started pouring gasoline into a cylinder, some of that gasoline would combust in the converter, which would then get so hot that it would literally glow.
And it certainly could be hot enough to set your car's carpet on fire. Which might sound like a good thing, Liz, given the smell you probably have in this 15-year-old car. But the fire likely won't stop at the carpet. A red-hot converter could also set fire to something underneath the car, like some grass or leaves you park over. Or it could ignite a piece of cardboard in your garage and burn your house down. So we do recommend you replace it. But not at the shop that wants to charge you $490. That's way too much.
The parts, which are just pieces of sheet metal and a few bolts, should cost about $160 from a Honda parts department. And the job takes about an hour of labor. That means you should pay somewhere between $250 and $300 to have this done. So you might save half by shopping around, Liz.
I also don't like that your shop didn't call you to tell you their mechanic went home sick. That's not very considerate. What if you took time off work to bring your car in? Or missed Oprah?