Updated on: May 13, 2020

How Not to Get Ripped off by Your Mechanic

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If you’re a mechanic, we have some bad news for you. Only 29% of Americans have a high level of trust in your profession.

And while we’re sure that you’re totally trustworthy, we hope you won’t mind if we give all the non-mechanics out there some tips to make sure they’re really getting their money’s worth!

Don’t get tricked into paying for services your car doesn’t need!

Mechanics may try to get you to purchase services more frequently than you need them. It’s tough to blame them—we all have to eat, after all—but you’d probably rather spend the money on say, food for yourself, than unnecessary tune-ups.

Richard Reina, product training director at CARiD.com, let us know that many services mechanics offer aren’t needed quite as often as they might suggest: “Car ownership is an expensive task (more than $8,500 a year) so it is important that drivers are vigilant about maintenance to avoid any unnecessary spending. Here are some maintenance tips to avoid a rip-off at the mechanic:

“Changing the oil every 3,000 miles. This is very common advice in the auto industry today, but it doesn’t necessarily hold true for new model vehicles. If your mechanic suggests this, remember that new cars can run smoothly with an oil change every 5,000-7,500 miles, which can significantly cut expenses as you wait longer for servicing. You can also save on this process by performing the oil change yourself—this ensures that you are putting high-quality oil into your vehicle and saves both time and money that would have been spent at a shop.

“Recommended tune-ups for engines/air conditioners. This is often an unnecessary, though typical, add-on suggestion from a mechanic or auto shop. If you own a new vehicle, it is monitored by technology that will alert you when an issue arises with your engine that needs to be fixed, so there is no need to perform work prematurely. When it comes to your air conditioner, use your best judgment before spending extra money on a tune-up. If your air is coming out cold and you have no other complaints, it’s better left alone.

“Changing your brake pads. Many drivers believe that this task—which shops will often charge hundreds of dollars for—is too complex to do themselves. However, changing your own brake pads is fairly straight forward as all drivers need is a wheel lug wrench, basic wrenches, pliers and a jack to prop the car up. A DIY job costs about $40, while the average dealer price per axle can land around $250.

“Basic auto tune-up.  Similar to the point above about an engine tune-up, an overall vehicle tune-up is often not essential to the basic functioning of your vehicle because of the advanced technology available in new cars. In addition to an oil and filter change, a “tune-up” consists of changing the air filter, fuel filter, spark plugs (today, spark plugs are designed to last 100,000 miles on average) and a check of all fluids. In the past, it was often recommended to have a basic tune-up done every year, but the safer (and more economical) bet today is to have a tune-up based on mileage manufacturer’s recommendations.”

It probably goes without saying, but paying for maintenance you don’t need is not a great experience for your bank account and should, therefore, be avoided.

Don’t be afraid to ask them to show you what they’re doing.

Most mechanics aren’t trying to rip you off, and if they have nothing to hide, they shouldn’t be afraid to walk you through exactly what they’re doing.

Jill Trotta, director of the automotive group at RepairPal, emphasized the importance of transparency in the mechanic-customer relationship: “Transparency is key. A mechanic should always be willing to fully explain your repairs and show you (if possible) what is needed and why. Asking questions, playing show and tell, and paying a fair price to have the work completed right the first time by a trusted shop is your best defense.”

Mike Scanlin, CEO of BorntoSell.com, offered one important reason to be vigilant: “Sometimes they charge you for parts they didn’t replace… always ask for your old parts before you pay.”

Like we said, most mechanics aren’t trying to rip you off, but you owe it to your wallet to remain vigilant.

Shop around (shop, shop, and shop some more)!

Finally, unless you have a major emergency on your hands, it’s always worth taking the time to find out what your options are. And the absolute cheapest isn’t always the best. Here’s what Trotta told us:

“Shopping price and going with the lowest quote isn’t going to prevent you from being ripped-off, this is putting you in a vulnerable position. Shops who dropped their prices to get you in the door will often cut corners or recommend additional repairs to make up the margins they are losing on the low quote. The lowest price in the door is most often not the lowest price in the end. A shop with qualified mechanics, the right tools, and fair prices (not cheap) is your best option. Building a relationship with your mechanic or using a shop that is part of an organization, like RepairPal, is the best way to find a great shop that uses transparent practices. RepairPal thoroughly vets the shops they list, so consumers don’t have too.”

Use all this advice to make sure your money is going the extra mile (heh). Then you’ll have dollars left over for fixing bad credit (if you’re dealing with that), or purchasing a super cool air freshener to put inside your newly repaired car.

Article contributors
Richard Reina

Richard Reina is the Product Training Director at CARiD.com (@CARiD_com) and a life-long car enthusiast.

Mike Scanlin

Mike Scanlin is the CEO of BornToSell.com (@borntosell), a website for covered call investors. During his 30-year career, he has worked as a software engineer, investment banker, and venture capitalist.

Jill Trotta

Jill Trotta (@RepairPal_Jill) is an automotive professional with over 25 years of professional experience. ASE Certified technician and consultant. She is currently working on the Automotive Professional Team at RepairPal. They do the hard work of identifying technically qualified, customer friendly auto shops and presenting them to consumers. They are working to develop transparency in the Automotive Industry. They also have a very accurate automotive repair price estimator that is available to shops and consumers.

Andrew Tavin
Content Manager

Andrew Tavin is a writer, comedian, and a full-time content manager for OppLoans. He graduated with a BFA in TV Writing from Tisch School of the Arts in New York City, worked as a writer for BrainPOP, and created a branded comedy video series for the National Retail Federation called “Interview Day.” He performs around the country and his writing has also appeared on Collegehumor, Funny or Die, and Sparklife.

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