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How to Avoid Car Repair Rip-Offs

Updated on January 7, 2013

In this economy, more and more people are sticking with their existing vehicle, rather than trading it in for a new one. The good news is that you avoid a car payment. The bad news is that you must navigate the exhausting process of car repairs.

In order to keep your car in good shape, you will have to familiarize yourself a bit with car maintenance and repair, so that you can avoid getting ripped off at your local mechanic. The following advice will get you started.

What kind of mechanic do you prefer?

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1. Talk to others for recommendations.
If you have never needed a car mechanic until now, call up friends and family for a recommendation. Try to find people who have a similar car and aren't the kind to cut corners. Ask them who they go to now. It might also be helpful to ask about any negative experiences in the past, so you can make a list of mechanics to avoid.

2. Do you want a backyard mechanic or a dealership mechanic?
Some people swear by their local neighbor who runs a shop downtown. Others feel more comfortable going to a dealership or a place like Monroe Mufflers, where they churn out repairs like hamburgers. The following table outlines the pros and cons of each type of mechanic.

Backyard Mechanics

Pros
Cons
Usually less expensive
Don't have to adhere to specific policies
Helpful and friendly
May try to cut corners to keep prices low
Willing to do a payment plan
Unable to take credit cards
They want to keep a good reputation in the community
If something goes wrong with your vehicle, there isn't much you can do
May have other used cars for sale when you are looking to buy
May not have a rental for you to use during the repair
Flexible schedule
May have limited hours

"Chain" or Car Dealership Mechanics

Pros
Cons
Quick (especially for repairs like tires and brake pads, etc)
More expensive
Quality assurance control
You may have a different mechanic each time
Lots of hours
May try to sell you on other "extraneous" repairs
Don't need to know much about the problem
Less personal service
Loaner car available
Only excellent with a particular car or type of repair
Source

3. Know the difference between a repair vs. maintenance.
Cars need both. Changing the oil, rotating tires, replacing the brake pads, and replacing the timing belt are all considered maintenance. Every car needs care regularly. Sometimes a quick stop to an instant oil change is fine, since you are not really getting a repair.

A repair on the other hand, has to do with something that has broken. Repairs fall into several categories.

  • Crucial repairs: These affect whether or not you can drive your car. Even if a brake light is out, that is considered a crucial repair because it affects your safety.
  • Minor repairs: Fixing the A/C may cost you a lot of money, but it is considered minor since you can drive the car while it is broken. Other things like a dented bumper or window that doesn't go down, fit into minor repairs as well.
  • Body damage: When you are in an accident, body damage repairs can be among the most costly to fix.

As you can see, some of these repairs don't take a brain surgeon to fix. Running to the nearest mechanic to fix a light won't be a big deal, though they may charge you more simply to make it worth their while.

4. Try to combine repairs to save money.
This sometimes works. If you have a window that doesn't work, don't run in to get it fixed immediately. Instead, wait until you have something else to do (brake pads, timing belt, oil leak, etc.). Ask them if they can fix the window while they are at it. Usually mechanics will charge less (if they are really nice, even wipe off the labor fee) because they are making money on the principal repair.

5. Watch out for scare tactics.
This is where knowing the difference between repairs and maintenance is helpful. When you go to get your oil changed at an instant oil place, they WILL find something else wrong with your car. They are trained to do this, so they can come to you and say, "Sir, we see that your air filters need changing. It only costs $30.00 and we can take care of it right away." Is it really a crucial repair or just routine maintenance recommendation?

They may or may not be right. Here is the trick. Write down what they said but DO NOT get it fixed then and there. You can go home, look online to see about how many miles your car model recommends and go back in if you wish. Or, you can mention it to your mechanic next time you take the car in for a repair. No matter how much they scare you, don't take the bait. Thinking about it for a day won't make any difference.

6. Pay close attention to your car.
The more detail you can give your mechanic, the less time they need to diagnosis the problem. Saying, "It made a funny noise" isn't descriptive enough. In your conversation, try to describe it so they can get an idea of where to look.

7. Hang around.
If you can, be there when they are doing the initial diagnosis. Mechanics are more likely to be honest and efficient when you are right there watching them.

My personal experience with an insurance adjuster

8. Get an estimate first.
Do not just drop your car off and tell them to fix it. Ask them for a written estimate before they begin repairs. If money is tight, you can sit down with them and ask to avoid certain parts that are less crucial and just stick to the main repair.

9. Get a second opinion.
If you are concerned that you are getting ripped off, take the car for a second opinion. This is especially important when your car is assessed for body damage after an accident.

10. Do some quick research.
When a mechanic gives you a price estimate, take a few minutes to look online at the price of the parts. Add the figures in your head (including the cost of labor) to see if the figure sounds right. Ask the mechanic to tell you what the protocol is if they find something else wrong with the car in the middle of the repair.

11. Sometimes cheaper isn't always better.
If you find a mechanic that you like and trust, stick with them. Maybe you'd save money by getting an oil change at the instant oil place, but it also means you have other people working on your car. In the long run, you will save money and headache if you stick with a mechanic that you know is honest and trustworthy.

Source

About the author

Julie DeNeen is a freelance writer and mother of three. She has spent her whole life buying used cars, and is very familiar with the game of "repairs". She has avoided more than one rip-off by doing her research and shopping around.

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    • profile image

      Verlene Swisher 3 years ago

      Car repair tips are important to learn. If you know car maintenance tips you can’t be stuck down anywhere and can easily tackle any problems. You can even save money if you repair your car on your own and won’t have to pay anything to the mechanic. I can suggest you my personal favorite place for learning tips are http://www.iautobodyparts.com/guide_and_tips.html . Here you can learn so many tips!

    • adjkp25 profile image

      David 5 years ago from Northern California

      I can relate because I avoided a repair rip off many years ago just because something didn't feel right. Long story short the shop wanted to charge me to repair a part that my car didn't even have, the model didn't get the part until about two years later. My local/backyard guy showed me where it would have been when I took it to him afterwards, he did get a good laugh from it though.

      Great info, congrats on the HOTD, voted up and useful.

    • tony.abacab profile image

      Ant Richards 5 years ago from UK

      Great piece! I wholly agree with you on this topic, but appreciate the extra imput and advice you give. Top marks!

    • Moon Willow Lake profile image

      Moon Willow Lake 5 years ago

      I agree with sticking with those you trust. There's really only a few places I go, and I was fortunate enough to get recommendations from other people in the area. I personally avoid dealership repairs because I just tend to not trust they won't want to "find" something "wrong." Thanks for the article.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Way to go, Julie, on hub of the day!!

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 5 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Great information here, good job. I think I am so lost on car issues I would not have a clue as to who is right or wrong. I think I have been had a couple of times by all of them. I know this will help lots of folks out there!

    • Peter Geekie profile image

      Peter Geekie 5 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Dear Julie ,

      There are obviously differences between motor vehicles in the USA and the UK (EEC). Here the only vehicles that can be maintained by a small local garage are those post 2003 or thereabouts. The mechanics are now sealed and accessible only via computerised screens and controlled by ECU units (even mirrors or wipers). The most a local garage can do is change the oil and coolant and maybe check the tyre pressures (even those are computer controlled now with nitrogen instead of air)

      My current Land- Rover has over 35 different ECU units, all sealed and only repairable by replacement. Cars are no longer a pleasure to work on, which is why I have a couple of old 1960-1970s tucked away to play with, although the fact I am wheelchair bound does slow me down a little.

      Kind regards Peter

    • healthylife2 profile image

      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      oops...next big repair. Congrats on HOTD!

    • healthylife2 profile image

      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      I found these tips really useful. My husband has a used car so we deal with frequent repairs and my brake light has been out a few days so I will be fixing that tomorrow. Good idea to get more than one estimate on a major repair and to research online. I will do that for the next b

    • Arthur Fontes profile image

      Arthur Fontes 5 years ago from Fall River,MA

      It is much better to deal with a licensed mechanic, if not for the experience, if not for the availability of the proper tools, than it is better because a licensed mechanic should be insured and bonded. If you are dealing with a backyard mechanic that gets injured while working on YOUR car, who would be liable?

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      What an awesome Hub! I liked your video too! Congratulations on your well deserved Hub of the Day! Voted up and shared!

      JSMatthew~

    • profile image

      summerberrie 5 years ago

      Great hub. Chalked-full of useful info.

    • JP993 profile image

      JP993 5 years ago from England

      Great Hub.

      I started working on cars when I was 16. I don't trust any mechanic or garage. Overhear in the UK we have MOT tests every year, this is when dodgy garages add a few repairs that will be "needed" to get it through the MOT. Working on so many cars over the years its amazing at what you find. Knowing what to say when going in to a garage can make the difference between the work you need done and the work the suggest doing.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      In the past, I've had mechanics gladly show me the broken part(s) they've replaced on my car as is the law. I realized with my limited knowledge I had no idea what the part should look like, so they could have shown me anything from anyone's car. Now I look up what the part looks like so I know if they're trying to con me.

      Great hub; voted up and Shared.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Woohoo to you Julie! Well done HOTD! I did get ripped off a couple of times. I've learned my lesson quickly as did any mechanic I've dealt with since :)

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

      Congrats on your Hub of the Day award for providing really helpful information in a well done hub! Thanks for putting this together for us.

    • Hui (蕙) profile image

      Hui (蕙) 5 years ago

      Smart! This is a great article, and it reminds people, or hubbers, at least me, that everybody can make achievement and get benefit and relief from fields in which they are really interested. Especially, car is really important in modern life, not only the sense of independence and freedom and car-worship, but the means of a necessary transportation.

      I hate it: it causes much trouble in human society and to the nature, but I need it: it causes much convenience in daily life; and appreciate it for the human intelligence, which is progress!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 5 years ago from California

      Yay!! Great hub!

    • profile image

      KDuBarry03 5 years ago

      Congrats on the HOTD, Julie! Definitely well deserved with great information!

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 5 years ago from New York, New York

      Just stopping by again to says congrats and very well deserved. Re-shared and re-tweeted for you :)

    • profile image

      SilverGenes 5 years ago

      Very helpful hub, Julie. I now take my car to a small, local business with a reputation for excellent work. When I took my car in for repairs recently, I was surprised to discover there was no 'extra' work that needed attention - that was a first! The chain companies always had a list of things that would need attention right away and going for a second opinion cleared that up nicely. Voted UP!

    • Michael Tully profile image

      Michael Tully 5 years ago

      Excellent and well-written advice. This is particularly good stuff for women to know, because the rip-off mechanics like to target women, on the assumption that they know nothing about auto mechanics and can more easily be frightened into authorizing unneccessary work. Voted up and very useful.

    • ercramer36 profile image

      Eric Cramer 5 years ago from Chicagoland

      Great informative hub! Very useful. Congradulations on the Hub of the Day!!!

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hi Julie, and what an informative and great hub this is. It's good how you pointed out the pros/cons of the automotive repair industry. Many years ago, I use to take my car to a shop just 3 blocks away from my house and they ripped me off like nothing! My experience with dealerships has been a bit more positive, but as you stated they can also try to rip you off as well.

      Great hub and congrats on winning HOTD!

      John

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Great job with this topic, Julie! This is a wonderful resource for all car owners who will inevitably need repairs at some point. Congrats on getting HOTD! Well deserved.

    • MelChi profile image

      Melanie Chisnall 5 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa

      It's scary how many mechanics and other "professionals" try to rip you off. When I had my car, my husband would try and do as much of the repairs himself before taking it to a mechanic. Of course it's a different story if it's a new car and you have a maintenance plan. Loved the video - very useful tips for any car owner! :)

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Congratulations on a well deserved Hub of the Day. Great tips!

    • ComfortB profile image

      Comfort Babatola 5 years ago from Bonaire, GA, USA

      I have found that some so-called backyard mechanics are very good at what they do. They build their business on quality and trust, and some do take credit cards.

      I have also been disappointed atimes by dealership mechanics who hold back on diagnostics so they can strain every dollar out of you.

      Great hub with great tips. Voted up and useful. And congrats on the HOTD award. :)

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Great hub! It really pays to know what to do in such cases. I already have a favorite mechanic. He was trained by a dealership and now runs his own shop.

    • catgypsy profile image

      catgypsy 5 years ago from the South

      Great tips Julie! It's always hard to know for sure if you need the repairs they tell you, especially if you don't know a thing about cars!

    • annerivendell profile image

      annerivendell 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Another great hub. Thank you. I used to always go the same dealership for service and repair that sold me my car because I figured they'd do the best job. But then one time they wanted to charge me €30 for a new windscreen wiper that I knew cost €10 in our local hardware store. Then, when I did go the the local hardware store, they took a look at the wiper and told me that it didn't need changing at all, even though it meant they lost that sale. I never went back to the main dealer again and use a local mechanic now who is great.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 5 years ago from New York, New York

      Julie, so very informative as usual. You really did your homework on this article and this topic. I have been fortunate enough that my dad has worked for General Motors Dealers for all of my life pretty much, so he has usually helped me by taking my car to where he has worked or gets me in somewhere he knows the person running the service department, but do agree if you are educated here, you could get taken very easily. Have voted, shared and tweeted as usual too!!

    • Phil Plasma profile image

      Phil Plasma 5 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

      Great hub; knowing the difference between repair and maintenance is definitely key. Voted up and useful.

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 5 years ago

      Very good analysis. The only point you missed, is whether there is any warranty left on the car or if your insurance provides any type of warranty service. This might send you to a place you are unfamiliar with, but it might save you some money.

      Now you can do a hub on the value of extended warranties. That is a world unto itself.

      Good job. Voted up.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Loved the video.....it was actually one of your home videos that gave me the idea to start doing my own videos, so thank you for that.

      Great information.....we do a lot of our own car repair and maintenance now. I have no faith in mechanics and most repairs are not that difficult to do.

      Good job Julie!