How to avoid getting ripped off on car repairs

Jessica Chou knows this stress – and how it can be compounded by gender stereotypes about knowing cars. When she was younger, she pretended to call her father or boyfriend to a mechanic in hopes it would help her avoid overpaying for repairs. Eventually, Chou decided that studying his vehicle might help him more.

She’s amassed more than 30,000 YouTube subscribers since she started posting videos in 2016 documenting how she learned to work on her car. Now Chou is brand marketing director for RepairSmith, an auto repair company, and works with hundreds of mechanics. Because of her experience on both sides of the industry, Chou understands consumers as well as the behind-the-scenes work that goes into car maintenance.

“When I started my YouTube channel, I was frustrated, I was angry,” Chou said. “I didn’t openly criticize the mechanics on my channel, but I had this feeling, ‘Oh, they always try to take advantage of me, especially because I’m a woman.’ And that’s not the case.”

Mechanics may not be trying to rip you off, but a little maintenance knowledge can help you save money and avoid stress. Here’s what you need to know when bringing your car.

Don’t skimp on the details

Even if you don’t know anything about the technical aspects of your car, you probably know more about how it generally works than a mechanic. A strange sound coming from a certain place can mean a lot of things, but if you’re able to explain when it’s happening, where it’s coming from, and what it sounds like, you can help the mechanic find the problem further. rapidly.

You can also make things easier by letting the mechanic know when the problem started, Chou said. If you hit something, be honest about it.

“Mechanics are not fortune tellers,” Chou said. “Diagnostics are necessary, and often diagnostics pay off. It takes an hour, two hours, or more to find where the problem is.”

It can also be helpful to tell the mechanic your car’s history, including any problems you may have had and whether you’ve deferred routine maintenance.

“Avoid pretending or lying to them about whether or not you took care of your car,” Chou said. “Give them more useful clues so they can identify the problem.”

When describing problems, try to refrain from diagnosing the problem, said California mechanic Rebekah Fleischaker. The best thing to do is provide as much detail as possible, so the mechanic can properly diagnose and fix the problem.

“Going to a mechanic is like going to a doctor,” Fleischaker said. “You can know the symptom, but not the cause of the problem. In my experience, the more information you give your doctor or mechanic, the better and cheaper (the) outcome.”

To ask questions

One of the best ways to avoid getting scammed is to ask questions, Fleischaker said.

Some recommended questions to ask before maintenance include:

  • What are you going to do? Can you explain why? “Asking how complicated the repair might be will give you a better understanding of why they charge for four hours of labor,” Chou said.
  • What parts are you going to use?
  • Can I see the before and after parts? Sometimes mechanics will charge you for parts they didn’t replace, so asking to see replaced parts can help you avoid overpaying, Fleischaker said.
  • Can you explain what this part does? Why do I have to replace it?

Before you pay, Fleischaker and Chou advise asking the mechanic to break down the charges for you. This helps to ensure that you only pay for the maintenance actually carried out on your car and will allow you to avoid hidden costs.

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“I appreciate it when people ask me, ‘So why is it so expensive? ‘” Fleischaker said. “Awesome, it gives me the opportunity to understand why, and the why for me is different than others.”

If you don’t understand the answers, don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions.

“If the person giving you the estimate can’t explain why the price is so, that’s not your person,” Fleischaker said.

Remember to ask your questions respectfully and not be accusatory, Chou said.

“At the end of the day, mechanics are people too,” Chou added, “and people like to talk about themselves and what they’re doing.”

Get a second opinion

Google is your best friend, Chou said. If you’re worried about getting ripped off, you can use Google to compare prices and find mechanic reviews. Ask for a second opinion.

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“It’s okay to call and talk to other stores and say, ‘Oh, I have a quote for $500, how much would you charge? ‘” Chou said. “A lot of people do it, and it doesn’t offend us. We want you to be able to pay for the repair.”

When you get a second opinion, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples and not apples to oranges, Fleischaker said, adding that’s one reason to ask exactly what mechanics are charging you.

Learn the basics of your car

One way to avoid getting ripped off is to know the basics of your car, Chou said. This can be useful in general and save a trip to a mechanic.

You don’t have to be an expert, but basic knowledge about your vehicle and an understanding of basic maintenance items can help you with mechanics, she added.

In case you don’t have time to memorize your owner’s manual, here are some basics, which may vary by make and model:

  • At what temperature your car normally drives.
  • What the parts and lights on your car’s gauge cluster and dashboard mean. It’s good practice for drivers to look at their dashboard to check that their fuel levels and temperatures are normal, Fleischaker said. Drivers should also make sure that the check engine, airbag (sometimes called SRS), tire pressure, oil, and ABS (anti-lock braking system) lights are not illuminated.
  • How often your car needs maintenance.

Once you’ve studied, you might find that there are certain things – like pumping up your tires and changing your air filters, wiper blades, oil and spark plugs – that you can fix it yourself. But of course, there are many other repairs such as fuel leaks, battery installation, brakes, electrics, and engine repairs that you will want to leave to a professional.

“These areas, if not repaired properly, can lead to further damage,” Chou said, “and even worse, make your car unsafe on the road.”

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