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How To Avoid Getting Ripped Off By Your Local Mechanic Part 4

Updated on May 31, 2010


Saying “I Want A Tuneup” is like giving the repair shop carte blanche to run up your bill. And you probably don't need a tuneup anyway. In the old days a tuneup included replacement of spark plugs, breaker points and condensers, along with the resetting of carburetor adjustments (such as the idle speed), and ignition-system adjustments (such as the timing and dwell angle).

Don't get a tuneup until your car runs ragged: if it lacks its normal acceleration, its fuel economy suffers or it's hard to start. These days, cars don't have carburetors (fuel-injection systems see to that) and they don't have points and condensers (computerized electronic-ignition systems do that). That pretty much leaves replacement of spark plugs, which can last a good 30,000 miles now, and visual inspection of things like spark-plug wires, which can easily last 50,000 miles.

None of this has stopped the proliferation of quickie tuneup shops. Nor has it stopped dealers and independent garages from selling tuneups to any customer who walks in the door. A well-running car usually doesn't need to have any settings changed, but it should have its spark plugs replaced now and then. Six common spark plugs cost about $25. The usual charge for a tuneup on a six-cylinder engine is about $100.

The moral of the story: Don't get a tuneup until your car runs ragged. By that we mean if your car lacks its normal acceleration, its fuel economy begins to suffer or it is hard to start. Then head to a trusty mechanic—not a quickie shop—and avoid using the term "tuneup." Describe the symptoms and let them figure out the proper repairs.

Body Work

Good auto-body work is hard to find because it costs so much and there's lots of room for rip-offs. That's why the insurance industry effectively dictates labor rates by refusing to pay for higher-priced labor. In many states, for instance, rates range around $35 an hour.

So where do the crooked operators get you? If they don't pad the bill with "funny time" (industry jargon for inflated labor hours) they'll get you on the parts. Shops may straighten out a part they say they'll replace. They may use poor-quality new ones. They may even recycle stuff from the junkyard. And, hey, did you ever wonder where all those parts from chop shops wind up?

Protect yourself by demanding to see your old parts, as well as the packaging and documentation that come with new ones. Telling the body-shop manager up front that you'll want to see such verification should keep him honest.

Watch Out, Watch Out & Then Watch Out Some More

I once took my car in for new tires to a mechanic who not only had been a close friend of the family for years, but had a sterling reputation in the area. I got a great deal and happily motored away. As I got up to speed on the freeway on my way home, my rear left wheel passed me. It hadn’t been bolted on! So no matter how much you can trust your mechanic, always keep your eyes open!

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