How to Avoid Car Repair Rip-Offs
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?
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.
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
May have limited hours
"Chain" or Car Dealership Mechanics
Quick (especially for repairs like tires and brake pads, etc)
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
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.
Used Car Tips
- How to Get a Deal on a Used Car- How to Negotiate a Used Car
Tips on buying a car from a private dealer. Where to do your research and how to drive a hard bargain.
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.
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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