With the economy still struggling, it’s no surprise that people are keeping their cars longer. Even if you follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule to the letter, your older car will eventually need to be repaired. While the majority of mechanics are honest, there are far too many who will try to rip you off by tricking you into replacing parts that aren’t broken and paying for unneeded services.
Occasionally, you will come across a mechanic who will find big problems that don’t really exist. If that hasn’t happened to you, you surely know someone who has been the victim of a dishonest mechanic’s fishing expedition.
Although the odds are in your favor that the Shop you bring your car to is a reputable business, just knowing that your car needs to be repaired can raise your anxiety level. A March 2013 survey by the San Francisco auto repair website, RepairPal.com, indicated that 72% of respondents who lease or own a car said that how much they will have to pay for repairs makes them anxious. 38% of consumers surveyed worried that they would have no trust in the mechanic.
Most people know little about their cars. That lack of knowledge can make you vulnerable. So, put in some effort to learn about your car and you won’t have to worry quite so much.
You can avoid paying too much for car repairs if you follow these suggestions:
1. Read your owner’s manual
Most visits to repair shops are for maintenance. Even if your car is not very old, it will need an occasional oil change and a new air filter. Since you will have to bring in your car periodically, your first defense against being ripped off is to read your car owner’s manual.
Knowing when scheduled services are required makes you a more informed consumer. If your vehicle has just hit the 10,000–mile mark, its tires don’t need to be rotated and its brake pads should still be in good shape.
If you’re not used to reading about your car’s inner workings, going through the manual can be daunting. But auto experts recommend that every owner take advantage of this free tool that can help you spot when a mechanic is trying to sell you things your car doesn’t need.
There are some gray areas when it comes to maintenance and repairs. For example, if you live in an extremely cold location where winter temperatures often hover around zero, your battery might not last as long as one that is in a car in San Diego. If you live in the desert or by the beach, your air filter can get clogged with sand way before the manual says it should be replaced.
2. Be ready to explain possible problems
If you are having a problem with your car, be prepared to give the mechanic precise information. If you hear a noise, do some research online to try to identify what it causing it. Tell the mechanic exactly when you hear the noise and how and if it affects the car’s performance.
Don’t just walk up to the mechanic and say you haven’t got a clue to what’s wrong. If you do that, you’re asking for trouble. Be ready to describe what you see, hear, feel and smell that seems abnormal. If you can properly explain the problem and have some idea of what could be wrong, you won’t be in such a vulnerable position.
3. Check prices on the Internet
In the days before the Internet, we were totally at the mercy of mechanics. The auto repair industry was quite secretive about how much repairs would cost. Today, there are lots of websites that allow consumers to compare car repair costs. Before you even bring your car in to a shop, you can now get a good idea of what a reasonable rate should be and what a repair should cost.
AutoMD is one of the most helpful sites for consumers. It allows you to check the prices multiple shops would charge for replacing the same parts. Unfortunately, not all mechanics use the exact same parts to fix a problem. So it might be best to bring in your car to a place that is part of a large chain that uses the same part in all of their shops. The more informed you are about the range of reasonable charges, the less likely you are to be ripped off.
Most of us can’t function without our car. So if you go to a shop and are told your car needs a major repair and the mechanic promises to have it done by tomorrow, you might feel pressured into paying whatever it costs to get that car back in one day. It is better to take the time to check online to make sure the cost that was quoted is reasonable before you give your okay.
4. Get a second opinion
If you need a new furnace or roof, you are likely to talk to two or three contractors and compare their estimates before you decide to have any work done. You should follow that same policy when you need the services of a car mechanic. If you don’t shop around, you could be paying twice as much as the competition is charging. This is especially important if your car needs major work.
You should get multiple estimates from repair shops and a dealership. Also get an estimate from a place that specializes in brakes or transmissions, if that’s the problem. You should also compare the quality of the parts and the warranties.
Of course, you can’t compare repair costs if you don’t know what’s wrong. You may have to pay a diagnostic fee to pinpoint the problem. If your problem is that the check engine light is always on, you could pay $50 or more for a diagnostic code reader, a device that plugs into your car. That way you will have a good idea of what your car needs.
5. Ask to see the old parts
Although asking the mechanic to show you the old parts doesn’t guarantee that everything is legit, it’s better than nothing. At least if you make the mechanic put the broken part in the box that the new part came in, you will have some confidence that the part was actually replaced. Unless the mechanic is so shady that he/she keeps lots of empty boxes around just so customers can be tricked, asking for the old part and new box lowers the chances that the mechanic will rip you off.
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