Catherine Hiles

5 Tips to Avoid Being Ripped Off by a Mechanic

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What You Need to Do When Dropping Your Car Off for Service

mechanic looking under a lifted vehicle in garage

Most car service centers are above board and take pride in their values and work ethic. But unfortunately, there is always one bad apple that spoils the whole bunch and can leave a nasty taste in your mouth. If you’ve had a bad experience with a mechanic in the past, it’s easy to assume they are all like that. To make sure you’re getting a good deal and not getting ripped off when you take your car to a dealership service center or independent mechanic, here are some tips to help you.

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Buy your car’s service/repair manual

Typically available at major auto parts stores, this will help you to research and understand what your mechanic or service technician is talking about. If you have questions or need help understanding a specific aspect of the manual, ask a salesperson at the auto parts store if they can explain it to you in simple terms to make sure you have a good grasp of the concept.

The repair manual is different from the owner’s manual. The former has instructions on how to maintain and repair your car, while the latter has information on how to operate the car. The owner’s manual comes with your car when you buy it, but you have to buy the repair manual separately.

Check for recalls associated with your car

If the issue with your car is safety-related, or your car is still pretty new, you might find that there is a recall for that specific problem for which the manufacturer will pick up the bill. You should receive recall notices in the mail, but you can also periodically check the NHTSA site using your VIN to see any recalls for your exact car.

Most automakers require recall repairs to be performed at one of their franchise dealerships rather than by an independent mechanic. If you find that there is a recall on your car, call your local dealership to make an appointment and make sure to let them know that the issue is covered under the recall notice to avoid being inadvertently charged.

Check the Better Business Bureau

Check with your local BBB to see if any complaints have been filed against the dealership or repair shop you are considering for your car’s care. Bear in mind that even the best dealerships or mechanic shops deal with disgruntled customers, so if you see one or two complaints, check to see if they have been resolved. If the business has dozens of complaints, your best bet is to find another place to take your car.

Get a repair estimate in advance

When dropping your car off, let the service technician know that you’d like a quote before they begin working on the repairs and to call you for authorization before they do any additional work. If they do call you, ask them to explain the repair and the reason for it. You might find that it’s related to something you’d noticed (such as squeaky brakes requiring a replacement), but if it’s a new issue you’ve never heard of before, you can opt out and do your own independent research before committing to the repair (and the associated costs).

Check around

Once you have an estimate, take your car to another service center or dealership to get a second opinion, and make sure the price is similar. It certainly doesn’t hurt, and you’ll know quickly if something doesn’t seem right.

Education is the single most effective way for you to feel confident when dropping your car off for service. The more you know, the more easily you can avoid being ripped off by a mechanic during your next service visit.

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If you have had a bad experience with a service center or mechanic, it’s a good idea to reach out and inform the shop’s management. No business wants to get a reputation for taking advantage of its customers, so if you have a legitimate complaint they should do whatever it takes to resolve the issue and make you happy. If they blow off your complaint or are rude to you, report them to the BBB or write a review about your experience on a site like Google or Facebook to help warn other potential customers to take their car repairs elsewhere.