How To Avoid Getting Ripped Off By Your Local Mechanic Part 3
Some shops go so far as to replace the exhaust system's costliest item, the catalytic converter. That can add $700 or more to your repair bill. But don't jump to pay it: Under federal law, all catalytic converters have a mandatory warranty of a minimum 80,000 miles or eight years.
Because it's hard to know the full extent of the exhaust work your car will need before it's in the shop, it's best to go in for an estimate and then shop for the best price. You'll likely find it at a specialty shop or chain store. Huge chain stores buy mufflers in such huge quantities that they can install a muffler for what it costs an independent to just buy one.
Here's a switch: When it comes to batteries, instead of selling you too much, unscrupulous shops try to sell too little. Weak or dead batteries often are only a symptom of some other, deeper electrical problem, such as a faulty alternator or a hard-to-detect short-circuit of electrical current. But since most people don't know that, they assume the battery's at fault and rush out for a new one. Lots of shops will oblige, especially those with low-paid help who would have trouble tracking down an electrical problem. Their interest is more in racking up another $100 sale in 15 minutes.
Unless you're certain the battery is to blame, invest the 30 minutes and $25 or so that a reputable garage will charge to perform what's called an AVR (alternator and voltage regulator) test. This will tell you whether your charging system is working. If it is, then check the battery.
Major Engine Work
Don't get suckered by the low-ball bid, a common scam used by unscrupulous shops to get your car disassembled so they can bargain with you at your maximum disadvantage. Because engine problems often are interrelated and difficult to diagnose, getting major mechanical work done at a discount isn't usually a good idea. Finding and paying for an independent technician is your best bet. Dealers are almost always more expensive and may subcontract the work anyway.
Pick a shop that has several mechanics. Cars are too complex now for any one person to be an expert at more than three or four kinds. You should also ask the service manager about his diagnostic equipment. Has he got a modern, PC-based system made by companies such as Sun Electric or Bear Test Equipment, or does he have an old analog analyzer? If it's the latter, you should think about going elsewhere. Also remember that in many cases, independent shops simply cannot service the newest engines as they are fully computerized and will only “talk” to the extremely expensive specialized equipment which only the authorized dealer possesses! Without those computer interface analyzers which can cost well into five figures (out of range of your average local corner mechanic), they can no better diagnose and fix a problem in your car’s as they could on the thrusters on the International Space Station.
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