Empower yourself by taking the necessary steps to avoid getting ripped off by your local car mechanic.
With so many amazing auto technicians out there, it is quite unfortunate to witness the auto repair fraud that strikes so many unsuspecting consumers. Like many of us, we’ve seen those undercover news reports, or even heard of someone we know, where a dishonest auto mechanic performed unnecessary and exorbitant repairs. But after hearing these stories, why does it still happen today and what can you do to stop it?
When our car breaks down, we become vulnerable and entrust our vehicle’s care to the professionals–in this case, our local auto mechanic. As such, we rely on their expertise and expect to be treated fairly to receive the correct parts and labor at a fair price. But crooked mechanics use our susceptible state to prey on our lack of knowledge and our urgent need to get back on the road. They also employ fear tactics to up-sell parts and services that our vehicle doesn’t need; hoping that we will agree just because we’re there. Don’t be misled by these malicious schemes! The reality is that you can dominate the situation by simply following some rational recommendations.
Ask for Reputable Referrals
A good place to start is to ask a friend, colleague, or family member for a solid auto repair referral. Online reviews are fine, but trust more a recommendation from someone you know. Especially if the person you know has been taking their vehicle there for years. Also, look for someone who specializes in your vehicle’s make as well. This way you can be assured that they have the right equipment, experience, and knowledge to properly service your vehicle. Another thing to look for is a technician that is ASE Certified, which basically translates to saying that they know their stuff!
Request An Up-Front Estimate
When at the repair shop, the first and foremost step is to get everything in writing. As stated before, mechanics can sound convincing by trying to present their case with terminology we don’t understand. Stop there and ask lots of questions until you feel comfortable with their explanation. Then, have them put all of it in writing with an itemized list of all the parts and associated labor costs. If they refuse, it is time to take your car elsewhere. Once you are ready to sign, make sure to review it and continue to ask questions until you feel satisfied with the proposed repairs.
You may also wish to ask if the parts they are using are “OEM” (original parts - parts made and approved by your vehicle’s manufacturer) or “aftermarket” (parts that are made by another brand / manufacturer). Typically, OEM parts will be priced higher than aftermarket, so keep that in mind when reviewing the estimate. And don’t be dissuaded if they use aftermarket parts because they may even be higher quality than OEM parts. Furthermore, request that they must receive your written approval for any additional repairs. Having all this in place will avoid you being overcharged or being charged for something you never approved.
Another detail to search for is the warranty that’s offered with your repair. If it is not there, ask for it. The purpose is to make sure that they will guarantee their parts and labor in case something goes wrong after you drive away.
Double Check the Price of New Auto Parts and Labor
Do a bit of homework by double checking their written itemized estimate. If they list and quote OEM parts, call your local dealership and ask them to give you a quote on the parts you need. If they are using aftermarket parts, contact your local major auto parts store–AutoZone
, NAPA Auto
, O’Reilly Auto
, Advance Auto
, etc.–to get a quote. The reality is that most independent repair shops will likely source the parts they use from one of those. And finally, call other repair shops in the area to see how much they would charge for that same repair. Having this information will help you renegotiate the estimate, or even take it elsewhere, if you spot major discrepancies.
Take Inventory of the Parts That Were Replaced
As part of your initial negotiations, let them know that you will want to see the parts being replaced when you pick up the car. A respectable and trustworthy shop will gladly comply and even go further by explaining why the part needed to be replaced. As you look at the parts, don’t forget to use the knowledge you gained by researching for costs – particularly if you saw pictures. Just having this bit of information can give you the confidence you need to approve the repairs.
Do the Repair Yourself
If you love to fix stuff like us, then you can always opt to do the repairs yourself. The truth is that most car repairs
are quite easy to perform, and you end up saving a ton of money. If you think about it, all it takes is a bit of time, knowledge, and a few tools to perform the job. In today’s world, knowledge is readily accessible through how-to videos
, expert blogs, and other digital and printed resources. As for automotive diagnostic tools
, there’s a wide assortment with all the features the pros use but are easy enough for everyone to use.
If you own a 1996 and newer vehicle, you may wish to explore an OBD2 Code Reader
. These devices make it easy for anyone to learn why their check engine, ABS or SRS light turned on. Plus, these tools have the knowledge and experience built in to help you make informed decisions about your vehicle’s health
. However, if you own a vehicle older than a 1996, you can still diagnose these vehicles with an OBD1 Code Reader
It’s impossible to predict when a vehicle’s mechanical parts will wear out or fail. Nevertheless, we do know that they will fail prematurely if we don’t keep up with our vehicle's maintenance
. Start by only using the engine oil and fluids specific to your vehicle, and closely follow your manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule. Doing so extends the life of your vehicle and lessens unexpected (and costly) repairs.
As they say, knowledge is power, and we hope we’ve given you the empowering knowhow on how to avoid mechanic scams.
And kindly share this knowledge with loved ones. Stay safe and happy driving!