It's the oldest trick in the book: an unscrupulous mechanic or auto-body shop takes advantage of your woeful lack of knowledge about the way your vehicle operates and charges you an exorbitant amount for an easy fix.
Or even worse, they never even do that easy fix, take your money, and your car is stuck with the same problem that's been plaguing you for the past few weeks. So you bring your car back and receive yet another charge for another problem.
You keep dumping money into the vehicle with nothing to show for it except an empty bank account and no reliable whip to drive around town. But thanks to the evolution of the internet, finding out what's wrong with your vehicle is a little easier than it was before. That doesn't mean mechanics still won't try to rip you off, but you can help stay ahead of the curve by listening to the advice in this handy-dandy AskReddit thread.
1. Print this out to keep in your car.
Get multiple quotes, make sure the diagnosis is correct. I replaced an O2 sensor for a friend ($25), Pep Boy's told her she needed a new catalytic convertor ($1,200) [rats]. Word of mouth is still critical on this subject, when you find a honest wrench, you tell other people about that individual. Nearly EVERY car has an enthusiast blog, even models you think wouldn't. If you register free and spend a little time there, you will find not only mechanics who give excellent advice but others like yourself who have corrected problems, posted photos and elaborated on what didn't work or was a misdiagnosis. The weak points of a car are unearthed on these free blogs and if you navigate them carefully you can glean a wealth of information. Lastly, these enthusiasts will tell you who is honest where you live and share their experiences in repair pursuits.
2. Ask to see the issue.
If they tell you something needs to be fixed/replaced, ask them to show you.
A reputable shop will have no problem showing you the issue.
A good mechanic will be able to explain in relatable terms why it’s a problem.
Any shop that can’t sit and explain what’s wrong and why to fix it is either full of $#!* or incompetent.
Also, you are legally allowed to ask for old broken parts back. Had your brake pads replaced? You can ask for the old ones. The only thing might be that a lot of parts have a core charge so asking to keeps the parts might raise the cost of your service.
A core charge is sort of like a deposit. For example, you buy a starter motor, it’s $100 and has a $10 core charge. If you bring back the old starter motor then the store will refund you $10. Then the store sends your old motor to the manufacturer so they can rebuild it or recycle some parts. Sort of like 5 cent deposits on aluminum cans in some states.
3. Beware of up-sellers.
Any shop that refuses to show you the part or issue on the car when they recommend doing some type of maintenance. Likewise, shops that advertise basic work for low prices (oil changes for $20, etc) plus a "100 point inspection). All they want is to get you in and up-sell that $20 oil change into a $500 brake job.
4. Check your air filter before an oil-change.
Take a picture of your air filter. Some unscrupulous Jiffy Lube employees will bring in a nasty air filter and claim it's yours, and that you need to spend some 5X markup for a new one.
5. Reviews aren't everything.
Not a mechanic, but in my area there are places that have about 100 reviews and they're ALL 5 stars. Surprise surprise, I go there for transmission work and my car starts leaking oil the next day. I go in and they basically say they don't have time. I leave a 2 star review, they threaten me in the review and I get a voicemail asking for them to call back. Makes me believe if anyone else left a low rating, they'd get bullied into removing it.
6. You can't trust anybody.
I was driving my wife’s Oldsmobile Alero...and it just died.
I’m not overly mechanically inclined, but I’m able to at least check the basics, and I couldn’t get it going again.
Had CAA, so we got it towed to dealership.
They told us that the fuel pump was gone. Was going to cost $600.
Wife’s coworker told us about a “backyard mechanic” who she used extensively for her vehicles. Called him up, he was a former dealership mechanic who was disgusted with his employer and decided to go out on his own.
Ok, good start. I liked the guy already without even meeting him.
Had the car towed out to him. Probably 30 minutes later, he called me in a completely incoherent rage.
Once he calmed down, he proceeded to tell us the $600 fuel pump we “needed” was in fact a $25 fuel filter.
He basically told us that either the mechanic working on our car was completely inept...OR we were likely going to be replacing the fuel pump on the mechanic’s buddy’s car...
He called the dealership and tore them a new one for us. They ended up refunding both towing fees and the diagnostics fees we paid.
We promptly switched over to the new mechanic and used him exclusively until we moved away from the area. He always got a Christmas bonus from us (and many other customers)...I’d say he was better stocked than most of the bars were.
Good, honest mechanics are incredibly hard to find. Find them, hold on to them. Treat them nice. They save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
7. Test a mechanic first.
Take your car in and ask for something to be fixed that you know doesn’t need it. An honest mechanic will tell you it doesn’t need it.
8. Insurance person coming in clutch.
I was an adjuster for a major insurance company and handled mechanical and body damages. I can actually write for this for body repairs. If you get into an accident, look for these things....
There are a list of things people need to watch out for when they go to find a body shop.
First, what attracts you to this body shop? If it was a commercial, you need to $#!*ing leave. Body shops worth a $#!* do not advertise themselves because the good ones are so $#!*ing swamped they can literally turn away one of three people who walk in the door and still be too busy. Besides, they should be spending most of their money on tools and upgrades.
Did you read the reviews? This baffles me that people will look up reviews for a Gyros restaurant they'll spend 15 USD at, but not a shop that will be doing 6K USD repairs on their $#!*ing car. Really? Look at the reviews. If there are dozens of bad ones, go away.
If a body shop says they can get you in today, that's typically a bad sign. If an estimate is not written yet, the car will sit for a few days before somebody gets to it. You should expect to wait for good repairs, just like you would expect to make reservations at a nice restaurant.
If they advertise that they fight the "big, bad" insurance companies, use only OEM parts, or anything that pits you against your insurance company. That means your shop is not on good terms with insurance companies (who effectively subsidize most of the collision repair industry) because the owners know you will come to them because "you're on their side and they hate those damned insurance companies too, just like me." In reality, your repairs will $#!*ing stall constantly for additional repair costs, of which will occur 90% of the time, so every time a new part needs to be ordered, the shop will move your car to the back while they "fight" which means they call once a day to discuss the merits of the repairs or the parts used in the repairs, instead of ordering them and getting it done like a normal shop typically will. Your 1 week bumper job could end up taking 65 days. I have actually seen this happen. And then the shop decides they want 70 bucks a day in storage.
If they pay your deductible or your rental. Guess what? Somebody has to pay that, and typically, it isn't going to be shop doing it out of the kindness of their hearts. It's usually the technician, who is now on a race against time to get the work done faster.
Use your instincts. If you get a bad vibe, walk away. Nobody makes you go to a shop. Not the insurance company, not the shop. You make a repair decision. Now, you may be asked to go to a shop by the insurance company because they have a rep there, and you should do that just to get an estimate in their system.
9. If you own a car, then these basics will help.
I think a strong start for most people is understanding the maintenance that needs to be done at each mileage interval as well as learning how to diagnose issues. Things like this:
- Know how to tell if you have adequate tread on tires.
- Learn how to tell if you have pad life left. Learn what bad brakes sound like (they chirp when you brake).
- Learn how to replace your air filter. It costs $10 and is usually in a plastic box easily accessible under the hood.
- For other things, learn to understand what sounds mean. Clicking when turning? Probably a CV shaft. Grinding while driving and wobbly tires when you get the car jacked up? Wheel bearing.
If you understand what the issue is, you can appreciate what the cost should be as well.
At a minimum, I would know how to do the following on your own car:
- Jack up your car and replace your tire with the spare. Also, pump up your spare from time to time. Everyone’s spare tire is flat because no one worries about it until you need it.
- Check and know how to top off things like coolant, oil, power steering fluid. For coolant, use either 50/50 mix or if you have straight coolant, add equal parts distilled water when topping off.
- Know how to jump a car.
- Know how to remove your battery and install a new battery (say your battery completely dies and you can’t jump the car. This way you can pop your battery out, go get a new one with a friend, and come back and install it yourself.
I recommend investing in a jumper box that has a tire pump built in. Probably costs about $50 but you’ll never have to worry about low tire pressure or a dead battery on a cold morning again. Costco and Walmart sell good ones, as does Amazon.
10. Even more evidence to find a good local shop.
I go to a local garage, independently run, and speaking as a woman, part of the reason I go there is that they just speak to me as a person with a car. No over-explaining, I don't get charged any more or less than men do. They're just a lot more interested in my car than they are in me, which is how it should be.
The other thing I appreciate is that if they think your car is past all help, they'll tell you so. They could have easily charged me hundreds in labour to try and track down a wiring fault in my Clio, but instead told me that it had been fixed so much and so haphazardly in the past, it was pretty much a lost cause -- and they'd offer me a half price service on whatever cheap piece of $#!* I brought in next time.
11. National chains are usually the devil.
Stay away from national chains, small independent shops have no advertising, just their reputation. Talk to friends and relatives to find who they trust and have a relationship with.
12. The Dad approach.
Not exactly a red flag but I've always noticed that as a girl, when I'm at a shop to bring my car in for appointments my dad had set up, they try to sell me a bunch of extra stuff that needs to be done. But when I'm with my dad, it's in and out and oh sir check on this thing we can't replace it but it seems a bit off (older car, this place was mostly oil, tires, and basic needs but they don't do electronics in the cars). Why do they always do this. My go-to answer is just "I'll have my dad look at it" and they back off, even though I check crap and it's fine. I'm by no means an expert, but I know enough to know that what this person is saying is likely a scam. Geez, we only use them for tires and the occasional oil change if we don't have time to change it ourselves, everything else goes to Larry, our awesome mechanic.
13. Check your fluid levels.
Know your car. Before taking it in for anything, check for stains under it. Put it up on a jack and run a rag over your axles. A common hustle is to put a little bit of power steering fluid or oil on your axles and tell you you have a leak. I check all of my fluids before taking my car in for anything. One shop I took my car to brought me into the shop where my car was up on the lift and showed me the place where my power steering fluid was leaking, then showed me the reservoir that was almost empty. Odd. Thirty minutes ago it was full, full from the last time I filled it even. Do you honestly expect me to believe that on the way over here, I lost all of my power steering fluid? Hard no. I never went back.
Alternatively if you find a place that's honest, stay with them. My car was actually leaking oil once. Took it to a place expecting a hefty repair. Nope, the drain plug was stripped. 5 bucks. Didn't even charge me anything for labor or to look at it. They got all of my business until I moved away.
14. Alarmism isn't a good sign.
If they're using fear in any way, telling you something must be fixed right now or it could be dangerous. They might be right (especially if it's about your brakes) but if they are being alarmist about it, that would be a red flag. Plus in general, trying to get you to commit, right now, without giving the chance to get another estimate or opinion.
Take a look at the shop. If it's a mess, disorganized, parts and tools left laying around, the outside is not up kept at all, a lot of "dead" cars sitting outside and a less-than-professional appearance, (both the facility and the people) that could be a red flag also.
15. Just like a good barber, find yourself a good technician.
First of allm you shouldn't be looking for a shop. Look for a technician. You could have completely different experiences at a shop just because you got a different tech. This can be deceiving because you see the same faces up front. The service advisors' recommendations come from the tech. Most of the time, the service advisor doesn't even look at the car.
If you have a good experience at a shop, ask for the tech's name. Go back for another service and request he works on the car. Ask to meet him or get contact info.
Ideally do this with small repairs. Then when a big one hits, you have your guy. If he switches shops, go with him. That's the ideal scenario in my mind.
16. Little tip from a Dodge and Toyota tech.
Worked at a Dodge dealer and a Toyota dealer, double check your air filters, they may still be cleaned even if they are marked as dirty.
30+ for an air filter is ridiculous.
Also, mark your tires when asking for a rotation, some techs get lazy and ignore the rotation if the tire tread is even on all tires. Don't pay for something they didn't do.
17. Google weird lingo...
If they tell you you need new muffler bearings, run away as fast as you can!
Chances are, if a part sounds made up, then it probably is. A quick search will prove whether or not they're lying to you.