8 Ways to Keep a Mechanic From Ripping You Off

In this dog-eat-dog world, it's hard to know who to trust. There are certain situations that give you the feeling that something suspicious is going on: everyone stops talking when you walk in a room, the car behind you follows you as you make four right turns, and of course, when the mechanic gives you an enormous bill for your car repairs. Mechanics have a bad reputation, and it's hard to feel like you're getting a good deal when your $100 tune-up ends up costing you $1,500. So how do you combat this feeling of helplessness most of us experience when we step into an auto shop? Just take these tips to heart and you can leave the mechanic with your dignity and your car intact.

  1. Buy a service/repair manual for your car

    You don't have to be a certified mechanic to know a lot about your car. Just buy a service or repair manual for your specific make and model, and you'll be well-versed in how to make repairs to your car, or at least have a resource to double-check against a mechanic's recommendations. Buying a manual from any one of a dozen websites is a good, relatively cheap investment if you're planning on having your car for a while. Manuals actually give you enough information that you could make repairs yourself, so you'll be more than prepared to understand what your mechanic is trying to do.

  2. Get a referral

    One of the most important parts of being smart at the auto repair shop is choosing the right mechanic in the first place. Once you find a mechanic you trust, the rest of the process becomes much easier and you'll know where to go whenever your car starts smoking or screeching. Chances are that you have some friends who have a mechanic they swear by and they'd likely be more than happy to pass on the shop's information. This will at least give you a starting point in your search for the perfect mechanic.

  3. Check with Better Business Bureau

    Once you have a potential mechanic in mind, it's a great idea to check with the Better Business Bureau (or BBB) to see if any complaints have been filed against them. Even if you got the name of the shop from a friend, you'll want to know if they treat all their customers so well, especially if your friend is a particularly buxom girl that seems to get discounts everywhere she goes. The BBB gives ratings and accreditation to businesses around the U.S. and Canada, so you'll probably be able to get some kind of report on the mechanic you're considering. Also, check with other online consumer review sites like Yelp or Angie's List. These will all give you a better overall feel for how the mechanics treat their customers.

  4. Ask for the written estimate before repairs are started

    The easiest way to start hating mechanics is to drop your car off with them and not talk prices until the repairs are already done. Most good mechanics will automatically give you an estimate before starting work, but you should make it clear that you want a written estimate before any repairs are done. Make sure it includes the labor costs. In addition, tell them you want them to call you for any additional repairs, especially if they're going to cost more than the estimate. In many states, you're allowed to refuse charges that go more than 10% over the written estimate if the mechanic didn't get approval first.

  5. Take the mechanic for a ride

    There's almost nothing more embarrassing (in your adult life, at least) than having to imitate the noises your broken car is making in order for the mechanic to diagnose the problem. Instead, be very specific and descriptive with your explanation of the troubles, such as if the problem occurs when you hit a certain speed or are turning one direction. Better yet, ask if a mechanic will go on a ride with you, so you can make sure he is experiencing your issue first-hand. This can help him more accurately diagnose the problem and could save you money. After the repairs, mechanics should perform test drives on the vehicles to make sure they've fixed the problem, but it's a good idea to drive the vehicle yourself, with the mechanic if possible, before paying for the service. You'll feel better shelling out a mound of cash if you know the auto shop did a good job.

  6. Consult your owner's manual

    Most of us only look at our owner's manual when we need to remember how to reset our clock radios or forget what our tire pressure should be. But this handy little book can save you a lot of unnecessary repairs at the auto shop. The owner's manual of your car will tell you how often and what kind of maintenance is needed. Mechanics often try to recommend many more parts or services than you originally came in for, so knowing what the owner's manual says can help you shut down anyone who's pushing you to commit to extra repairs. You'll be able to say with confidence, "No, I don't want that fluid flush, belt replacement, or new air filter. Just do what the manual says, please."

  7. Get a second (and third) opinion

    Whenever you're thinking of making a big purchase, you compare prices, right? And if a doctor tells you you're dying, you're going to get a second opinion before throwing away all your money in Vegas. With many car repairs coming in at thousands of dollars, you should call several auto shops to see what they would charge for repairs. If you get several similar prices, you can feel confident that it is the right one. Or, you might discover that you can get the repair for much cheaper somewhere else or that another auto shop recommends a different, less expensive fix altogether.

  8. Inspect your bill

    When you go to pick up your car after it's been repaired, don't leave without taking a good look at your invoice. It will list all the parts, repairs, and fees that were added up on your bill, and it should all look familiar to you since you've been approving the repairs throughout the process. If anything looks suspicious to you, though, ask your mechanic about it immediately. Whether it's a mistake, a scam, or something the mechanic was required to do, have the item in question taken off or explained to you so you can walk out the door knowing you were charged fairly. Mistakes do happen, so if you don't understand where a certain charge came from, don't hesitate to ask. A good mechanic will have no problem going through each item in your bill so you'll feel comfortable with it.

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