7 Ways to Avoid Getting Overcharged By a Mechanic

If you’re like the average American, your car was born the same year Apple’s iTunes store was launched, and when Janet Jackson had a wardrobe ‘malfunction’ at the Superbowl. In other words, the average car on the road is more than 11 years old, meaning your wheels are likely in need of regular love and maintenance.

A few years ago, I brought my car in for a wheel alignment. It should have cost less than $200. The dealership’s service adviser took a look at my car and returned with a 12-page, $4,000 estimate for repairs. The repairs were not in my budget, and I knew they were also unnecessary. Disgusted, I declined all service and walked out. Many moons ago, I worked on a pit crew, and I’ve always worked on my own cars. So I knew better than to accept this bogus “offer” for service, and this awful experience was enough to have inspired a new chapter in my career. But I also knew the average person on the street might not have had enough automotive knowledge to confidently walk away.

When it’s time for car repair and maintenance, I feel your pain – almost everyone has a nightmare car-repair story. You can just picture your wallet opening up and money spraying out like a fire hose. But that’s less likely to happen if you follow these tips.

1. It Pays to Shop Around

Everyone has a different threshold for what “expensive” means. When you hit your ceiling, or what I call the “cause for pause,” don’t feel pressured to book the service right there in the shop. Take a breather and check pricing with other shops. Higher-dollar repairs (in the hundreds of dollars) have higher margins on the parts, so cross-shopping will likely yield more competitive prices.

2. Use the ‘Show Me’ Method

When your mechanic tells you something’s broken, say, “Show me.” Head into the garage together and take a look. Most times, necessary maintenance is visible – brake pads will be carved up; exhaust pipes will have holes; leaks will be visible. A good mechanic will gladly take the time to walk you through the car to show you what you need.

3. Know What You Need

Mechanics know you don’t spend your rainy days reading your car’s manual, so they might suggest you need certain services based on your car’s mileage. Take a minute to look up your manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule, either in your manual or online, so you know whether you need the ball joints or brake lines checked. If they’re telling you it’s time for a brake flush, look online for what you need and tell them you know otherwise.

4. Work with an Independent Shop

Working with an independent shop will not void your warranty. Just keep all the receipts noting you’ve followed your car manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule and you’re golden.

5. Beware of Hidden Charges

Your vehicle repair estimate may not include things like oil-disposal fees or tire-disposal fees. If your initial estimate didn’t reflect those fees, put on your auto-expert cape and challenge them on it. Shops that want to create loyal customers will be glad to honor your request, and speaking up may encourage a policy change.

6. Work With a Pro

Be sure to seek a mechanic who is ASE certified. While a shade-tree mechanic may give you the best deal, these basic credentials ensure you’re working with a pro. Poorly done repairs could cost you more in the long run. If you’ve got some fancy wheels, you’ll want to work with someone who specializes in your brand.

7. Keep Track of Your Maintenance

Sometimes this means keeping receipts for all your recent repairs. If that’s the case, they’re probably spilling out of your glovebox. But your receipts of your service records can also be kept online. The ability to quickly look up recent service means you can decline any duplicate service your mechanic might suggest. Also, keeping all your maintenance and repair records might even help you sell your used car down the line. With any luck, you’ll be able to upgrade to a car that was born when Beyonce told us all to Put a Ring On It (that’d be eight-years old, or three years younger than the average car).

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Image: Dmitry Kalinovsky

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