10 Tips to Avoid Auto Repair Rip-Offs
How to fix your car fast without hassles, surprises or added expense.
While the majority of auto mechanics are reputable, at one time or another many consumers have wondered if the mechanic is being straight with them, or just looking for an opportunity to make a few bucks.
Your car dies, it’s out of warranty and you need to get it fixed ASAP. So you have it towed to a shop close to your home and bum a ride to work. Later the mechanic calls to tell you that you need a new timing belt and how much the repair will cost. And since you’re having that done, he says that you might as well replace the water pump since it’s starting to leak, and you should really think about having the brakes done too. Plus you’re due for an oil change.
Once you have an estimate — and you get over the sticker shock — you tell him to go ahead and do the work, since you’ve already gone through the trouble of having the car towed in. But you can’t help but wonder if the mechanic is being straight with you or if he’s just looking for an opportunity to make a few bucks off your vulnerability and lack of knowledge about cars.
It doesn’t help that most people typically need their car repaired right away, and getting other estimates can be a hassle — or maybe impossible if you can’t drive around to different shops. But there are easy ways you can protect yourself from being taken advantage of and even save yourself some time, trouble and money. And while the majority of mechanics out there are reputable, there are always a few bad apples in the bunch. As with almost any business transaction, it’s your responsibility to make sure you get the best deal and service.
Here are 10 tips to help you from getting ripped off when getting your car repaired:
Get It in Writing
Before a shop begins work on your car, make sure you understand exactly what’s being done, what’s included and how much it will cost. While the shop may want some wiggle room in an estimate in case something unexpected comes up, for many repairs (especially routine maintenance), the shop should know what it will cost and be able to put it in writing. And make sure the quote includes everything needed for the job, says Austin Davis, author of the e-book What Your Mechanic Doesn’t Want You to Know. “If you need a new water pump and you get a quote of $250, ask if that includes filling the radiator with antifreeze afterwards,” he says. “Always ask how much it’s going to be for the complete job, including any extras.”
Don’t Be Oversold
Most shops will tell you if you need other work done on your vehicle — it’s their job. The best ones will give you options rather than pressuring you into doing it all at once and hitting you with a huge bill. Also beware of shops that give you a long list of repairs when you brought the car in for only one thing, says John Neilson, director of AAA’s Approved Auto Repair Network. “Anytime you feel they’re trying to sell you something you don’t need,” Neilson says, “you’ll want to get a second opinion.”
Get on a Schedule
One way to avoid being oversold on service — and perhaps avoiding costly repairs in the first place — is to stick with the car manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule. “It helps if you plan your maintenance rather than waiting to fix something when it breaks,” Neilson says. “It’s usually cheaper and less traumatic.”
Speaking of scheduled maintenance, while the old rule of thumb was to change the engine oil every 3,000 miles, in many cars today it can be 5,000, or even 10,000 miles between oil changes “If anybody recommends you do anything other than what the manufacturer recommends, I’d be concerned,” Neilson notes. “That holds true for any number of fluids in the car, whether it’s the rear end, transmission fluid or coolant. What I would do is bring out the owner’s manual and say, ‘Here’s what the manufacturer says. Why are you telling me differently?’ I can think of a couple of cases where there might be an explanation, but by and large it’s going to be an indication that they are trying to sell you more than you really need.”
Davis says many misunderstandings between car owners and mechanics come down to miscommunication. “I tell people there are a lot of really good mechanics out there,” he says. “But they may not communicate well or be the best businessmen.” According to Davis, “the number-one reason people feel they got scammed is because the mechanic fixed the wrong problem, and not the problem they came in for.” So make sure the mechanic understands what you need done, and that he explains what he will be doing on your car.