If you are one of those motorists with very little mechanical knowledge about cars which is the vast majority of car owners, a trip to the auto repair shop is no doubt one of your biggest fears. It’s inconvenient, it’s stressful, it’s expensive, and it’s always 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 so much 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. They are mechanical after all. Vehicle maintenance is one of the best ways to prevent costly repair bills. Servicing your car as recommended in the car owner’s manual will help prevent unnecessary expenses later.
Auto repair rip-offs are among the top consumer complaints. Auto repair shops are notorious for including additional services and costs to their customers’ bills that weren’t originally discussed. You might go to get your brakes done, all of a sudden you’re being told that something else is about to break, and the car is about to break down.
But, what is the best way to avoid getting ripped off? Education. It would be very easy for a mechanic to scam you if he knows you don’t know anything about cars or car parts. So, the best way to avoid being ripped-off is to have at least a basic understanding and knowledge of what your car requires. You don’t have to be an expert. You just need to know enough to let the mechanic know that you have a clue about what’s going on with your car.
Here are tips you should follow to help make that trip to the auto mechanic a less painful and stressful experience:
Read the owner’s manual.
The best way to avoid getting ripped-off is to have a good understanding and knowledge of your car, and the best way to learn more about your car is to read the owner’s manual. Most drivers, especially male drivers, never bother with reading the owner’s manual. However, there’s a lot of valuable information inside the manual about how to take care of your car, with details about all the fluids you’re going to use, spark plug sizes, etc.
Give it a once over and educate yourself on the services your car needs, and when they are recommended e.g. at 30,000 miles, 50,000 miles, etc.) If your mechanic recommends that your car needs to be serviced, check the manual to see if it is recommended by the manufacturer.
If it isn’t something that is recommended, show the owner’s manual to the mechanic and ask why it is needed. In addition, familiarize yourself with the components that are under the hood so you know exactly what you’re looking at.
Here are some steps you can take to reduce the odds of being scammed by an auto mechanic.
Educate yourself on your vehicle’s warranty.
If you have a warranty, start by understanding exactly what is covered under it. This will also tell you 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 that you’re paying for parts or labor that is already covered by the manufacturer’s warrantee.
Find an auto repair shop before you actually need one.
If you have a car, you will need to find the best auto repair shop preferably closest to you. This is not always possible. However, it is always best to choose an auto repair shop before you find out that you need one.
You’ll want to establish a relationship with the mechanic. You can even stop by to introduce yourself and let them know you plan on being a regular customer. 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.
The ASE symbol indicates a particular shop meets 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. Look for AAA approved signs. AAA approval means that the work must be guaranteed for 6,000 miles (9,700 km) or six months.
Get an online diagnosis before contacting a mechanic.
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. Take note of the symptoms.
For example, if your engine is making a strange noise, what speed does that noise start? Does it make the noise when the car is stationary, moving or both? Did a light come on? What were you doing, and what was the car doing when the light came on?
Sites like www.automd.com, popularmechanics.com or repairpal allow you to diagnose and troubleshoot your car problems quickly. This way, you have identified the reason you’re taking your car in before you actually take it in. So, 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 particularly sure, make a detailed outline of the specific problems, and find out exactly how the mechanic plans to deal with each problem. Make sure that you receive firm commitments about the work that is going to be done, and also make sure that you get these commitments in writing so that the desired outcomes are clear.
Be very detailed and specific and don’t agree to the mechanic simply doing whatever your car needs to get done without discussing it with you first.
Get an itemized written estimate for any additional work.
If the mechanic discovers any work that is required to be done but which exceeds the original estimate, ask for details and get estimates and price quotes in writing. Do not allow the mechanic to perform any repairs without first of all consulting you. Insist that the mechanic contacts you to let you know before the work is performed.
Request a detailed invoice that includes costs of labor and parts.
One of the most common auto repair scams is charging you for high-quality parts but actually installing cheaper ones on your vehicle. Before the parts are installed, ask to see the new parts the shop plans on installing in your car. Go through the bill diligently and if you notice any ambiguities or discrepancies, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. Study the estimate with care and ask questions if there is anything you don’t understand. Ask if the parts and work are guaranteed.
Ask to have the replaced parts before work begins.
Tell the mechanic your son loves to collect auto parts or something similar. If the mechanic knows you want the stuff that is going to be replaced, he is more likely to do the work only if it is required. So be sure to 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.