There have been plenty of exposés about the shady mechanic--those who consistently upsell a customer who may not be the wrenching type, regardless of sex, age, or race. Recently, a story in the Washington Post told how one woman quit her engineering job to become an auto mechanic and teach other women the basic things they should know about their cars. That piece sparked a discussion around the Instamotor offices: How can everyday people avoid being taken advantage of at the auto shop? We’ve put together a list of “Dos and Don’ts" for you to follow to ensure that your money goes to good use when your car is up on the lift.
First, get recommendations from friends and family. It sounds obvious but, generally speaking, your community knows who the scammers are and who can be counted on to do right by your precious vehicle. Short of that be sure to visit a certified mechanic. They have a lot more to lose if they are scamming customers than any old fly-by-night service. Know that automotive service scams are one of the most frequently reported issues out there and that they can be hard to litigate, if it comes to that. According to a 2013 study by Northwestern University (digested here by U.S. News) auto repair shops often charged women more for the same work than they charged men. The surprising takeaway, however, was that if a woman (or man) appeared to know little about their car or how much a repair should cost, they were likely to be quoted a higher price.
Which brings us to our second “do.” Get educated about your car. Really. There are some great resources out there for you to tap into about any kind of car that may be new or used. Start with a simple Google search for you year, make and model. From there, dig up forums that discuss how your car works and some of the common issues with your specific car. One of the best ways to learn about your car is to invest in a simple set of maintenance tools that every car owner should have.The other option goes back to point one—call your friends and family. Everyone has one friend or family member in their life who just knows everything about cars. If they don’t know, they’ll likely know where to look and just might enjoy hunting the issue down with you. Remember this though: They’re likely getting calls about bangs and whirrs all the time (much like the guys on NPR’s Car Talk used to) so when they diagnose a busted o-ring or a bad hose, bring them a case of beer, a pizza, or a bottle of whiskey to thank them for the money they will eventually save you when you do take your car into the shop.
Finally, always get a second opinion, even if you are bringing the car into the dealer for service. You wouldn’t go in for major heart surgery just on the word of one doctor, so why take your car to just one mechanic? It makes good sense to get competing quotes when your car needs major maintenance—and get those quotes in writing (a requirement in most states, anyway). Be sure that no work is done to your car without your express authorization and make sure that you understand what exactly is being suggested. Ask questions—if someone is trying to scam you, they’ll likely back down if you start digging deeper. Like many things in life, knowledge is power—this holds true in garages, too.
For more on how to maintain your new-to-you car and how to avoid being taken at the mechanic, check back with Instamotor, regularly.
Digital media content producer/consultant & former CNN senior producer, now running CN'TRL : Cars, Tech, Real Estate & Luxury.