Our 2005 Ford Focus didn’t look like this until Xavier in San Juan Cosalá took care of the bumps and bruises that four years of Lakeside driving inflicted on the body and bumpers.
When we were preparing to move to Mexico, all kinds of questions crossed our minds — from the existence of coffee shops, manicures, pedicures and hair salons shops, to the cost of printer cartridges and car repairs. I’m pleased to reassure those of you just now doing your planning or about the make the leap — put your minds at ease — it’s all here, and with lots of benefits to you.
Let’s start with a look at our 2005 Ford Focus that made the trip four years ago from Virginia to Lakeside with our dog and a whole lot of belongings on board. After four years of cobblestone street driving and a few learning-curve dents, scrapes, and bumper cave-ins along the way, she was fully restored at Xavier’s Reparación y Pintura shop in San Juan Cosalá.
Xavier’s handshake estimate was $6,000 pesos and that’s exactly what I paid a week later when I picked up the totally restored and repainted car. After some additional suspension work in Guadalajara — more about that later — my wife swears she’s driving a brand new car for under $1,000 US in total repair costs.
Nothing strikes fear in the hearts of drivers and auto enthusiasts so much as the sudden appearance of that glowing yellow square on the dashboard that reads, “Check Engine.” This is true both north and south of the Mexican border. Before moving to the Lake Chapala area this event would trigger a chain of events probably familiar in all of its consternating details to automobile owners everywhere.
It begins with heart palpitations — because inevitably we notice the light on a Sunday when service garages are closed, or while underway to Aunt Tillie’s for the dreaded Thanksgiving dinner. It invariably ends a few days later with the emptying of one’s wallet, an event which northern dealerships and specialty auto shops seem to perform with style, grace and regularity.
If the frightening episode occurs after you have made the move to Ajijic, you might gasp and utter expletives to your spouse just for the sake of getting it off your chest along with a series of added scary thoughts. “Oh no! I never thought about what to do about getting my car fixed in Mexico! Oh sh#t, now what?”
Zarra doesn’t reveal her 20 years, and has proven to be a trusty Mexican steed.
Don’t panic, friends. In Guadalajara it’s even easy to get reasonably priced engine, air conditioning and chassis adjustment work if you need it. The experience here is not nearly as painful as what we were used to back north of the border.
First of all, the “Check Engine” light in my experience is mostly a preplanned ruse on the part of car manufacturers to get you back into the dealership service bay. Here in Mexico I bought a 20-year-old Ford Taurus. I named her Zarra. I have lovingly nursed her back to complete health with a little (ok, a lot) of help from auto mechanics in Guadalajara.
There are several complete auto parts centers in Guadalajara as well, for do-it-yourselfers. I’ve purchased everything from radiator hoses to spark plugs. AutoZone on Ave. Revolution in Tlaquepaque is easy to find and has a computerized parts system so it was very simple for me to find the parts I need.
If you like auto parts stores, you are going love AutoZone in Tlaquepaque. They even have a computerized parts system.
When we were still living in the Washington, D.C. Metro area, I had a Ford that was 10 years old. It ended up costing me upwards of $3,000 US in repairs during the one year I owned her.
When her “Check Engine” light came on back in Virginia, I dutifully took the Ford into a local well-known service franchise.
So the efficient Sales Manager with the pressed white shirt and logo of—(I am not naming names but you can fill in any name you are familiar with) told me that after inspection, the oxygen sensors had to be replaced; that was what the engine “Data Read” was telling them.
I grimaced and said, “OK, how much?”
“The sensors are $400 US each, but if you do them all now we can to it for a total of $850 US (keep in mind that in pesos, that comes to less than $8,500 pesos, using round numbers).
Being a good and gullible auto repair consumer at the time, I agreed, figuring that if it wasn’t done immediately the engine would fall out. Sometime later on I found out that the actual retail cost of oxygen sensors is around $50 bucks, and only two are required, and I could have done it myself. But that’s for another story about how the mind gets twisted up north and eventually unbends after moving to Mexico.
The biggest hurdle to overcome about auto repair for Lakesiders is the I can’t possibly deal with going to Guadalajara syndrome. If you’ve ever driven, like I have, on FDR Drive or the Georgetown Pike, or navigated the streets of New York City, Washington, D.C. or Los Angeles, you can actually drive in Guadalajara.
When the “Check Engine” light came on in my trusty Mexican Taurus and turned out to be a radiator fan problem, she was repaired at a shop in Guadalajara for only $395 pesos. I’m convinced the same repair in the US would have cost $395 US, just for them to get started.
The good news is the repair shops mostly require only one or two turns once you get off the highway in the Tlaquepaque-Tonalá area. But if you absolutely insist on having all the work done at garages in Lakeside, even considering the premium in pricing over Guadalajara prices, you will be overjoyed to know that it’s still much less — even a fraction of US costs.
(Left:) Here’s Car City. It’s located on the careterra (highway) in Riberas del Pilar. (Right:) A typical Guadalajara mechanic’s garage can have a very different look.
A typical tune-up in the US runs about $500 – 800 US. At Lakeside’s Car City (I like a place that actually has lift equipment) I was quoted $1,650 pesos including spark plugs, oil, fluids, and filters for my wife’s 2005 Ford Focus. I like that idea and not having to drive into Gaud for basic service, although it will be almost half the price in the city.
But now we get to the good stuff. The Focus was rattling quite a bit after four years traversing cobblestones in the villages. Don’t worry, the main roads are all paved and the major highways are excellent, many recently repaved and with multiple wide lanes. Anyway, after a basic tune-up at another Lakeside garage, the owner suggested a major overhaul of the undercarriage work for an estimated price of $8,000 pesos.Remember the $850 US for oxygen sensors in the US? That got me thinking…there must be a better way, and there is.
I’ve been really happy with the work I’ve had done at Baeza Suspension in Guadalajara.
I ended up finding the Baeza Suspension Garage in Tlaquepaque at a friend’s suggestion. Boy was it worth it. I actually took the 20-year-old Taurus to Baeza first, as I had by now become familiar with her every rattle and shaking roll. After a thorough inspection, Carlos recommended new shocks, engine mounts, miscellaneous linkage work and so forth. I figured that this would be an astronomical estimate, and instantly flashed on the cold-sweat feeling so familiar to car owners back north of the border when it’s estimate time.
“We do everything for $5,850 pesos, Señor,” said the smiling owner. Wow, under $850 US for a new suspension, I was thrilled. That was $300 US less than the useless oxygen sensors on the other Ford at the place in the States.
“It is ready at 5 p.m. today,” Carlos continued. “The price includes full guarantee parts and labor.” I shook his hand, decided to take a $40-pesos cab ride to the main Guadalajara bus terminal, take the bus home and bring the other car in the morning to get it fixed, too. So half an hour later I was ensconced in a comfortable seat in the air-conditioned Chapala Directo (express) bus after purchasing my $48 peso ticket in the terminal. I was home in San Antonio before lunch and felt very good about how things were going with auto repair in Mexico.
The following morning I drove the Focus back to Baeza, paid my bill for the Taurus and felt like I was driving a Masseratti back to Lakeside. No rattles, no rolls, no worries. When Carlos looked over the Focus (remember the Lakeside garage had quoted $8,500 pesos for the chassis work) he determined the extent of the problems and handed me an estimate for $2,085 pesos. I liked that idea very much, and you can wave to my wife as she drives her real estate clients around Lakeside these days without so much as a clink or rattle.
Lakeside Auto Repair Shop Examples
(Prices are in pesos — divide by 12.5 for dollar equivalent.)
Car City — in Riberas Del Pilar on the Chapala-Ajijic highway
The garage has full complement of lifts and equipment and some English is spoken.
Oil and filter change $290
Batteries starting at $550
Tune up with oil filters and plugs $1,650
Xavier’s Auto Body — in San Juan Cosalá on the Ajijic-Jocotepec highway
Xavier the owner speaks English.
Ford Focus needed complete body work; it was multi-coated, repainted in metallic with sealer.
Priced as per estimate; work completed in one week at $6,000.
Auto Repair Shop Examples in Guadalajara
(Prices in pesos — divide by 12.5 for dollar equivalent.)
Alineciones Baeza Chassis and Suspension
Complete suspension and steering service with lifts and bays.
Carlos and son speak English.
Ave. Chamizal & Ave. San Rafael off Ave. Revolution
1991 Ford Taurus
Complete suspension: new shocks, motor mounts, misc. parts $5800
Power Steering reservoir replacement and fluid 900
Prices posted at the shop include:
Alignment and balance package $160
Computer balance (each) 30
Change Strut 260
Labor on suspension complete 580
Note: Carlos will first perform a thorough inspection with his team and provide a written estimate including all parts. His work has a 6 month warrantee. Also he is the go-to guy for other referral work in the area — he drove me personally to the radiator and muffler specialty shop.
Servicio Integrales “Pega” — Radiators and Mufflers
Owner speaks some English
Ing. José de Jesús Pérez García
Ave Jose Ma. Verea # 2676 in Guadalajara
1991 Ford Taurus — repair of circulation system $390
Other prices will be quoted and I am convinced they are very reasonable with expert results.
These guys are good!
Bruno Joachim is a retired professional photographer who now lives in San Antonio Tlayacapan with his wife, Elliott, who is a Lakeside real estate agent with Absolut Fenix.