Stop me if you heard this: A woman goes to an auto repair shop because she wants an oil change; the mechanic makes her a fair price for it, but finds all sorts of other problems and things that need major repairs when changing the oil. She ends up paying double or more than she expected and drives off, unsure of what was actually done and generally feeling ripped off. While not every service center tries to scam you, it actually happens – way too often.
The good news, however, is that it doesn’t have to happen; For one, there are many decent and reputable service centers and merchants who treat their customers fairly. The problem, of course, is that finding these locations isn’t always easy, and it takes some work – even just knowing if you actually need repairs to your vehicle takes some work. It’s not as bad as it seems, and a little research and effort beforehand can save you some money. Even better, once you find a good repair shop that you know will be fair to you and treat you well, you’ll be set for a while should you need repairs.
Common car repair scams
Although a double charge might sound like an easy thing to spot, shady service centers are pretty good at hiding it. They do a job that allows them to do two things at once and then charge you twice the time for it. For example, it can take you two hours to replace your spark plugs and coils while you’re at it. But they charge you two hours of labor to replace the plugs and two hours of labor to replace the coils, so a total of four hours when in fact it was two hours of labor.
One of the easiest scams for a repair shop is to convince you that they need to replace parts that are good. The cabin air filter is the most common part they do this to as it’s relatively cheap and so insignificant that many people will just agree. However, some shops don’t stop at the air filter and can offer all sorts of replacement parts that “need” to be done at a cumulative price.
Some stores will suggest not only unnecessary parts that need replacing, but also all kinds of additional services and repairs that your vehicle doesn’t need. This can include many different things from fluid flushes and changes to brake service and transmission. You’ll often find this hand in hand with unnecessary parts and when used together you can end up paying big bucks for things that don’t need to be done.
While some people might argue that some of these things aren’t “scams,” this is pretty clearly the case. It’s essentially a “bait and switch,” where a service center quotes you a price for the service and then charges you something much higher once the job is done. Sometimes they run this scam by coming up with all sorts of unnecessary things, but other times the price of labor or parts mysteriously increases. This is often done through an oral quote.
Overload for parts
Overcharging parts at service is a great way for a store to make extra money. In some cases, a store will discount parts and charge you a fair price while still making a profit. However, other times they will charge you an exorbitant fee for the part, or worse, they will charge you the original manufacturer part prices but use cheap, lower quality aftermarket parts when you make the repairs.
Do not replace parts
Perhaps the clearest scam a service center can pull off is charging you for work they don’t actually do on your vehicle. For example, you may be charged for new brake pads, but never actually get new ones fitted to your vehicle. Similarly, some shady gas stations charge for an oil change and don’t actually change the oil in your car. They could instead fit used parts into your vehicle, which ensures you will need service again and they rely on you to return to them so they can charge you again.
How to save money and get good work
Honestly, the best way to avoid getting scammed or ripped off when getting your car serviced is to do your own research. The more you know about your vehicle, the better equipped you will be to spot someone trying to scam you. Read your owner’s manual, do some research online and learn about the different parts and service your vehicle may need. When you know you have two or three years before you need a new timing belt, you know that you have to question that if a mechanic is trying to sell you the replacement. You should also look for information and reviews on any business you’re interested in, check with your local Better Business Bureau for complaints, and ask your family and friends which business they trust.
Get a written estimate
Some states require that any service expected to cost more than $100 must first include a written quote for the customer. Whether your state requires it or not, have each service center provide you with a written estimate for parts and labor before performing the work. An oral citation is essentially worthless and can always be rejected – a written citation can be used in a potential court case, although you’ll probably never need it. They should also insist that any changes of 10% or more must be discussed with you and approved by you before any further work is undertaken.
Get a second opinion
If you get a particularly high offer from a service center, or they try to tell you that you need work done that you are unsure about, take your vehicle elsewhere for a second (or third, or fourth) get an opinion. There’s nothing wrong with getting a quote from multiple sources or having another mechanic check what someone else told you. Not only can this save you money, but you can also determine which shops are reputable and which are not.
Test a shop before a serious problem occurs
The last thing you want to do is try a new garage when something really serious is going on, like a car crash. B. major engine damage. If you are in a tight situation, then they have all the power. If you want to try a new shop, go there with a small problem, like an oil change, and see how it goes. If they’re trying to sell you things you don’t need or discover new problems that you know don’t exist, then you can get out there and look elsewhere.
Check warranty coverage
When you have a new vehicle, you should have a manufacturer’s warranty on many different parts and services. Be sure to contact a certified service center that will take over your warranty coverage to pay less and keep your warranty intact. Dealers can be great for this, although quality can vary from one to another, just like anywhere else.
Be well informed
Research is great, but it’s just as important that everyone you deal with at a repair center knows you’re knowledgeable. For example, if you’ve determined that the work you need should cost around $400 in your area, then when you call and speak to someone, mention that you’ve seen similar work cost around $400. Research has shown that mechanics are more likely to make a fair and honest offer to someone who appears knowledgeable and knows what they are talking about. Otherwise, it’s common to get a higher offer just because they assume you don’t know any better and they’re trying to make as much money as possible.