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A woman's prevention guide to car mechanic rip-off!

Updated on August 29, 2012

You can win the battle!

You can win the battle!
You can win the battle!

How not to get ripped off!

“Ma’am, your shocks are worn, your CV boots are torn, you need new valve cover gaskets, your wear-bars are showing on your tires, your transmission is slipping, and your coolant replacement is overdue.”

“But…….all I wanted was an oil change!”

You have heard the above cliché comically displayed in movies and skits, and you may have (uh-oh!) experienced it yourself. It is no secret people get ripped off by auto mechanics everyday. As unfeasible as it may sound, the mechanic is not always trying to get your hard-earned cash. A word to all the home-grown yard-mechanic husbands out there: Solely changing the oil will not make Lucille purr like that young kitty forever! But how much TLC does Lucille really need to survive?

As hard as it may be to swallow, maybe your gaskets are leaking and maybe your tires are worn. These are things that unquestionably need attention in a car’s life. But how will you know that the mechanic is telling the truth (with or without the yard-mechanic’s remarkable insight)? AND how will you know the work was actually performed upon your receipt of the $5,237.84 VIP guest check? Read on for some helpful tips on how to tell if Honest Bob’s Bargain Brakes lives up to the name.

Asking questions is the key to unlocking Honest Bob’s hidden agenda. Do not be shy; let them out! Make them up if you have to! It is your adored automobile and your cherished cash. Don’t worry about sounding like a pro. If you were a pro, you would not need to be there in the first place. So go for it: Ask a dumb question! Toss his exhaustive lingo back at him and sound sterner than you would naturally feel comfortable. “What exactly does the exhaust gas recirculation valve do?” “Why would I ever need to change my rear brake shoes?” Just stay clear of the, “My mechanic husband at home was messing with the car in the yard and ever since…….” You may as well give Honest Bob the wallet along with the cash. At the least Honest Bob will know you’re concerned and it may put off some of his well-crafted wooing lines.

It is wise to decline the gently-offered services at first, do some Google research, and then decide if you need/want the work done. *If there is a true safety hazard, do not drive the car. Call a cab, friend, or tow truck and decide later if you have to.*

I know you would never steal a page from a magazine, so here is my F.A.A.S.Q. (Frequently-Asked Auto Shop Questions) (Can you patent an acronym?):

  • Is it dangerous or a safety hazard if these problems are not taken care-of?
  • May I please see your A.S.E. certification and your business license?
  • What exactly is the function of (part/liquid) and what benefits will doing the service award me?
  • Can you physically show me the problem? (This is important so that you may look at the part after the service and see if it looks different. (Digital pix covered below.)
  • How often does this typically need done on a vehicle like mine?
  • What would happen if I neglected to take care-of this problem?
  • Can you put the negative effects and price in writing?
  • What is the warranty like on these parts/services?
  • How would the vehicle perform differently with these alleged problems?
  • Is it possible to get this part used rather than new? (If you want to sound sassy and sharp, ask which brand of parts they use.)
  • How difficult would this be if I (or my yard-mechanic) attempted to do it myself?
  • How much will this cost me?

As with a doctor, a second and possibly third opinion on the diagnosis can save you cash and time, and can save your wallet that shaming feeling of raw violation. Take Lucille Jr. to another as-trustworthy-as-you-can-find shop and let Truthful Joe tell you the problems he notices, if any, unless Lucille Jr. has a palpable problem you need to mention. Go to as many necessary until you are given similar jargon at more than one shop. NEVER walk in & say, “Honest Bob said A, B, C…….Z are wrong. Here is my estimate. Can you beat the price?” All Truthful Joe hears is, “Can you please beat my wallet to death with a price $10.00 under Honest Bob’s? I am requesting you do work that may or may not need done but since I am requesting it, Truthful Joe, you aren’t liable for the rip-off! CHA-CHING to you!” Allow the shops to tell you what they see, not what you or any other shop sees. Also, take advantage of Google's mega-fast search results. Try something like "'ABC Garage' reviews Boston, MA".

Once they have their vision, you can blame your taking digital pictures at their shop like an insurance adjuster on your hubby. Pull the excuse, “Oh, you know men, always need to compare parts!” If the humor doesn’t sway them, just tell them you are doing a documentary on the life of an alternator. Whatever you do, do not tell Truthful Joe you are taking pix to later compare with his work. Fresh-cut brake line, anyone?

If the shops’ diagnoses match (high-five if they do!), price the services and do your best to pick the most worthwhile shop. Also ask your girlfriends where they’ve taken their cars and request a copy of their bank statement. You may also want to ask mechanically-inclined friends (preferably away from the yard) for their expertise.

Checking your car after the service before payment is mandatory! Honest Bob should expect it anyway since you’ve already had him stuttering (and you have your digital pix on hand, right?!). If a doctor performs surgery on you and there are no stitches, you would be concerned, right? Here is a guide on how to be a peeping-Tina:

  • Fluid replacement: make sure the fluid is more attractive than it was when you looked at it before.
  • Any unusual noises: make sure they are gone!
  • Shocks/struts/springs: make sure the ride is smoother/quieter and look to see if the new parts are shiny and new.
  • Any gaskets: if visible, make sure they are no longer wet.
  • Tire replacement: to ensure they are new and not used, look at the tires and make sure there are little rubber ‘hairs’ sticking out and that the tread is good and deep.

Now that you have a knack for menacing super-mechanics like Honest Bob, you may assist in conventional rip-off procedures coming to an all time low, as this article is projected to have one of the largest snowball-effects in online history. While this article may appear with a Sharpie’d red ‘X’ on Honest Bob’s bulletin board, good luck! (And tell your home-grown hubby not to fret; he can always contribute via low-APR Visa.)

Safety Tips:

If you pull into a shop because the brakes suddenly don’t feel so wonderful, you needn’t be as skeptical. This can be extremely dangerous. If you sprung a leak or another braking problem arose, do not travel from shop to shop. If you opt not to get it repaired on-the-spot, you can always call a tow truck.

If the ‘AIRBAG’ light or symbol comes on, make sure you take it to a shop or dealer certified to do airbag work.

If you notice a weird symbol appear on your dash, pull over, shut off the car and check the Owner’s Manual. It may or may not be something serious. If the ‘CHECK/SERVICE ENGINE’ light comes on and the vehicle is still on good behavior, drive more cautiously to your destination(s).

If the car is obviously acting up, drive it as little as possible. You don’t want to be stranded. This includes steering problems, shaking, smoke, liquid leaks, odd smells, overheating and anything else that is obviously abnormal.

Keep a cell phone charger in your car at all times at the chance the car dies en route. Waving your arms at truckers for assistance isn’t always the best option.


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