Broken Fuel Pump Costs Us $600!?

I was extremely embarrassed this morning when, just a mile from my workplace, my 2003 Grand Am GT died at a red light in the middle of a busy four-lane avenue. One minute, I was chugging along, and the next, the engine started to choke. Pressure on the gas pedal didn’t give the car any ‘get up and go’ — and after about a 1/4 mile, it decided to take a nap instead.

The upshots:

1. I stalled out across from the local mechanic shop used by a lot of my co-workers.

2. The car died while I was at a red light, so no one crashed into me.

3. I wasn’t on the highway anymore — the bulk of my commute comprises 20-plus miles on local and interstate highways.

After pumping the gas (does that even work in newer cars?) and trying to get the engine to turn over (it tried, so it wasn’t the battery/alternator/transmission), I rolled down my window and gesticulated frantically at one of the auto shop attendants. I got his attention after a minute and he and a co-worker carefully crossed the street. They decided to push my car into the shop’s driveway, which they were able to safely do during a break in traffic.

The shop owner’s quick inspection of the car narrowed down the problem to fuel: the car wasn’t getting any. He guessed it was either a clogged fuel filter (a $20 part) or a dead fuel pump (a $200-plus part). But because of all the other cars he had to work on, he wouldn’t get to mine for a few hours. I left my car there and walked the mile or so to work.

I finally got a call around 4 p.m. and was told it wasn’t the fuel filter — it must be the fuel pump. The job is estimated to cost $600 total — that’s $20 for the filter (may as well replace it now) and $383 for the fuel pump. I thought I heard him wrong, but no. I asked if he coudln’t get a better price on it, and he said it was the cheaper of two parts places he called.

Well, I call bullshit. I had priced out the part on the good ol’ interwebs, and I was finding the same fuel pump for $150-$200. Even with a reasonable markup, that part shouldn’t cost me $383. That’s almost a 100% increase on the part. But since I had no way of getting the part myself and bringing it to the guy, I was stuck with the cost of the job. Another reason I think the pricing on the fuel pump was higher was because it happened in a town right over the border from NYC — the city inflates the prices of EVERYTHING in that area of New Jersey.

The work wasn’t done by the time work got out, so I had to leave the car there overnight (which I hate doing at a strange mechanic shop). A co-worker who lives the next town over (and who I’ve been friends with for a decade) was kind enough to drive me home and took me back to work in the morning.

I suppose it could have been worse — the car could have died in the middle of the 5-lane interstate I take to work. But thank goodness that didn’t happen. Although I could have had AAA tow the car back to my own neighborhood, where the mechanic is a friend of my father’s, and I know I would have paid less.