If you drive a Jeep and have a breakdown in the Richmond area, do not let Chrysler’s Roadside Assistance Program direct you to Haynes Chrysler-Jeep. Stand your ground. Refuse. Insist on something more pleasurable – like a root canal.

When the slave cylinder for the clutch on my 2000 Wrangler failed Saturday after the Virginia High School League Championship game at the Siegel Center on West Broad Street, the roadside assistance folks told the two truck driver to take the car to Haynes. They are, according to my dealer in Floyd, the largest in the region, a dealer that gets a “4-star” rating from Chrysler.

Largest doesn’t always mean the best and I can tell you now from personal experience that Haynes is far from the best but not far from the worst experience I’ve had with a Jeep dealer in the many years that we have owned the excellent four-wheel drive vehicles.

I have an extended warranty on the Jeep, bumper-to-bumper coverage good for 100,000 miles. The only things excluded from that warranty are brake pads and the manual clutch assembly (clutch and pressure plate). The hydraulic slave unit that failed and caused my clutch to go out is covered.

But Haynes didn’t even bother to contact Chrysler to see if they would cover my problem under warranty. Instead, they wrote up an estimate for $1300-$1500 to replace the clutch, pressure plate and hydraulic unit and called me Monday afternoon for authorization for the work.

To say the least, I wasn’t happy.

“What did Chrysler say about warranty coverage?”

“We didn’t call Chrysler. Clutches aren’t covered.”

“The slave unit is.”

“Not in our opinion.”

“Why don’t you let Chrysler make the decision on that?”

“Because we don’t bother Chrysler on items we deem not covered by warranty.”

I refused to authorize the work, told them to put the Jeep out on the lot and said I would be there to pick it up on Wednesday and tow it back to Floyd so my dealer could look at it.

“Won’t change anything,” the service tech said.

Maybe not, but Haynes charges $82 an hour for labor on repairs, which is a hell of a lot more than Turman-Yeatts Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep in Floyd. Haynes, like too many dealers, also marks up the cost of parts. Turman-Yeatts does not.

So I drove over to Advance Auto in Christiansburg Monday night and brought a Reese tow bar ($128.00) with a 5,000-lb capacity. Amy’s Liberty has a class III hitch on it and can tow up to 3,500 lbs. My Wrangler weighs about 2,000 lbs and, like most Jeeps, can be towed with four wheels on the ground because you can disengage the drive train through the 4WD selector from the driver’s seat.

Bernie Coveney joined me for the drive to Richmond Wednesday morning. We packed the Liberty with the tow bar, portable towing lights, chains and the tools to mount the bar on the front bumper of the Wrangler.

When we arrived, I found that Haynes wanted $82 (one hour’s labor) as a “diagnostic fee” for the clutch. I paid it and we spent the next hour-and-a-half drilling mounting holes in the Wrangler’s bumper and mounting the tow bar. At 2:30 p.m. we left Haynes with the Wrangler in tow.

I’ve never towed a car without a trailer or a dolly so I didn’t know what to expect with a ton of Jeep behind me as we turned west on I-64 to start the 229-mile drive back to Floyd.

The Wrangler tracked true without any wobble or shimmy as I set the cruise control on 55 miles-per-hour. I could feel it trying to push the Liberty on downhill stretches but the SUV pulled easily on the uphill part, including the long climb up Afton Mountain west of Charlottesville. We stopped at rest areas to check mountings and make sure everything was still snug. Nothing came loose or needed adjustment. We did notice something hanging down from under the Wrangler at the first rest stop. I crawled under it and discovered the mechanics at Haynes had neglected to reconnect the hydraulic slave cylinder line back to clutch housing. Sloppy work but not unexpected given what I had experienced so far at the hands of the “largest Jeep dealer in the region.”

I made sure the dangling line wouldn’t drag and we proceeded on, stopping for gas in Troutville and then heading up Christiansburg Mountain on I-81. The sun was setting as we turned off I-81 and onto Rte. 8 for the final leg, arriving at Turman-Yeatts at 7:30 p.m.

We unhooked the tow bar, put away the portable lights and headed into town so I could buy Bernie a well-deserved dinner at Oddfellas Cantina where owner Rob Neukirch listened to the tales of our journey and shook his head.

“Sounds like they (Haynes) thought they had a fish on the line,” Rob said.

Not this country boy. My mama drowned the dumb ones. Andrew and his crew at Turman-Yeatts will take a look at the Wrangler today and talk to Chrysler. When this is over, there will be a long letter to Chrysler about the behavior of one of their “4-star” dealers in Richmond.