Forty years ago car owners could often grab a wrench, peek under an automobile's hood, and fix minor problems. For most of us, those days are gone. Nowadays, computers operate many of our cars' systems. Skilled technicians with sophisticated diagnostic gear are needed to check an auto's vital signs. When mechanics have finished probing and prodding and repairing, they may hand you a hefty bill for their work.
Although most auto repair shops employ honest and skilled technicians, some shops take advantage of unsuspecting car owners. Less-than-ethical mechanics may jack up prices, provide services that aren't necessary, pad invoices with bogus fees, or install poor-quality parts.
Following are two of the most common auto repair scams and how to avoid them:
- Bait and switch. A shop may advertise cheap oil changes or other routine maintenance services to get your car into the repair bay. Once there, myriad problems may begin to surface. Before you know it, a simple oil change has morphed into an expensive transmission repair. Reputable mechanics will inform you of items requiring attention, but shysters may pad a work order with unnecessary repairs or replacements. Protect yourself by getting written estimates that specify repairs to be performed and fees for parts, labor, storage, and loaner cars. Refuse to pay for work that hasn't been authorized in advance. Mechanics should allow you to inspect damaged parts and should never hold your car as collateral. In some cases, a second or third opinion may be warranted, even if it means paying reasonable diagnostic or reassembly fees.
- Charges for used or damaged parts. Dishonest repair shops have been known to replace a vehicle's tires with retreads, install another car's castaways, even purposely damage existing car parts and charge for expensive repairs. Avoid such scams by inspecting tires before and after the work is completed. Examine all parts to ensure that used parts haven't been substituted for new. And watch for evidence of fresh damage. You may authorize a mechanic to use reconditioned parts, but charges should be commensurate with the items installed.
If you're unsure about a particular repair shop, check with trusted friends or scan for complaints on the Better Business Bureau's website. Pull out your owner's manual and follow its advice. Track repair expenses and shop around until you're satisfied that you'll be getting your money's worth.