If you are one of those motorists with very little mechanical knowledge about cars, a trip to the auto repair shop is probably one of your biggest fears. It’s inconvenient, it’s stressful, it’s expensive, and it’s downright scary because of the fear of being taken advantage of or ripped off by unscrupulous mechanics.
Unfortunately, auto repairs and maintenance come with the territory. They are unavoidable facts of car ownership. Much as we’d like to drive our vehicles forever without ever having to spend a single penny on maintenance or repairs, all vehicles require a certain amount of preventive maintenance. And sometimes, in spite of everything we do to keep our vehicles in tip-top shape, things do wear out, break or even fail. Essentially, vehicle maintenance is one of the best ways to prevent costly repair bills. Service your car on schedule to help prevent unnecessary expenses later.
Auto repair rip-offs are among the top consumer complaints. But, what is the best way to avoid getting ripped off? Education. The best way to avoid being ripped-off by an auto repair shop is to have a basic understanding and knowledge of what your car requires.
Here are tips you should follow to help make that trip to the auto mechanic a less stressful experience:
Educate yourself on your vehicle’s warranty.
If you have a warranty, start by finding out what is covered under it. That way you’ll know whether or not you need to pay for the parts and labor that is quoted. If you aren’t educated about your warranty, you may not even realize you’re paying for parts or labor that is already covered.
Find an auto repair shop before you actually need one.
It is always best to choose an auto repair shop before you find out that you need one. Be sure to do your online research. Check out online reviews on sites such as GoodGarageScheme.com, Yelp and Trust Pilot. Find out what customers are saying about auto repair shops closest to you so you know what shops to avoid if you ever have a problem. If you’re not prepared ahead of time, you may just find yourself at the garage closest to where your car died.
Look for shops with an ASE symbol on the sign, which indicates the shop met the criteria for Automotive Service Excellence.
The symbol should be not only on the sign, but on a certificate on the wall and usually on the mechanic’s uniform. Shops approved by AAA (American Automobile Association) are also a good bet. AAA approval means that the work must be guaranteed for 6,000 miles (9,700 km) or six months.
Get an online diagnosis.
If you have a problem, instead of immediately searching for a repair shop, try to get some understanding of your vehicle’s repair needs by doing an online diagnosis of the problem. Enter all of the relevant details and describe the problem with as much detail as you can. If you know you have a blown gasket and they tell you your car needs an engine overhaul, you know exactly what to say and do.
Make a checklist of what work your vehicle needs.
If you aren’t sure, outline the problems very clearly and find out exactly how the mechanic plans to deal with each problem. Get commitments before authorizing the work to be done. Get these commitments in writing so that the desired outcomes are clear. Be specific and never give a mechanic free reign to do whatever your car needs without discussing it with you first.
Get an itemized written estimate for any additional work.
If the mechanic discovers any that exceeds the original estimate, ask for details and get estimates and price quotes in writing. Be sure the mechanic contacts you before doing any work.
Request a detailed invoice that includes costs of labor and parts.
A typical auto repair scam is charging you for high-quality parts but actually installing cheaper ones on your vehicle. Ask to see the new parts the shop plans to install. Check the bill carefully and ask for clarification on any discrepancies. Read estimate carefully and ask questions if something seems odd or isn’t clear. Ask if the parts and work are guaranteed.
Ask for the replaced parts.
If you have any concerns ask for the parts back. When you are sold a service, tell the salesman that you want to have the replaced parts back to demonstrate that the parts have actually been replaced.
Make sure the shop you pick offers a warranty for their work.
Some shops offer a 30-day, 90-day or 6-month warranty. If the shop does offer a warranty, make sure you get confirmation in writing, and always read the small print. If there is anything that is ambiguous or unclear, ask for an explanation so you know exactly what it covers.
Take a test drive.
Once the job is done, take a test drive with the mechanic to ensure that the problem has been fixed. Confirm the problem has actually been fixed.
Examine your invoice.
When you receive your invoice, ensure that any warranty information is explicitly stated on the invoice or provided as a separate document. All repairs, parts and labor should be itemized on the invoice. Review this document carefully. Feel free to ask questions about anything you don’t understand.