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Okay, I'll join in.

 > We should all vow to limit what chain stores do for
 > our cars so that we can avoid years of frustration:
 >     Allow only the following:
 >         - tires: mount, balance, rotate, and check the
 >                  pressure.
 >         - exhaust: replace 

That's expecting too much from chain stores :). Potential 
big-profit/low-quality job here. Well, maybe asking them to do 
some "directed" welding would be okay. 

 >         - inspection stickers
 >         - pump gas
 >         - wash
 >         - vacuum (unless you have change in your car)

Most want an opportunity to rip you off big-time, so I'm not sure 
about this.

 > Anything else, either do it yourself, or take it to 
 > a qualified mechanic....
 > TVL 

I asked a mechanic (he claimed to be one, at least) to confirm that 
he'll put in an original cat (with flanges) for the price- he said 
yes. But the !*&^*# did a cut-and-weld job on my downpipe and I was naive 
enough to not include my requirements in writing.

Of the few times I didn't work on the car myself, I only once got decent 
results- after I got credit for a half-shaft assembly that was claimed
to be brand new, but wasn't.

-- Eddi