Avoid top auto repair rip-offs

Short-circuit the scam to get the car service you need

Auto repair rip-off is among the most common ways consumers are separated from their hard-earned money. Although most auto repair shops and their personnel are honest and hard working, it only takes one or two bad experiences to sour a person on the entire industry.

It’s possible to arm yourself with knowledge that will prevent you from becoming an auto repair scam victim. The first and best step is to find a good, honest repair shop and stick with it. Ideally, you should discover a good shop before you really need it and establish a good relationship with that shop and its mechanics. Such a preemptive move could save you money and frustration later on (see “Put Your Mechanic in Check,” Verve, April 1999).

One of the places you’ll likely get ripped off is on the road. In this case, you don’t have the luxury of establishing a relationship with a mechanic, so your membership in a roadside assistance organization-the American Automobile Association, for example-can be invaluable. In choosing a mechanic, look for the same signs you would at home for quality service. If the repair seems expensive or unnecessary, call your home mechanic for advice on a more affordable way to get you back on the road and home for a more thorough examination. If your regular mechanic is unavailable, call the service department of a new car dealership for your vehicle make. If you have a new car, your dealership may help you out.

The toughest time to find assistance-whether on the road or at home-is on a weekend or holiday. Repair shops in remote locations will be more difficult to find and you can expect even the most honest mechanic to charge higher rates. Just as you would expect overtime or other compensation for working unusual hours, the mechanic is entitled to extra pay for remaining available to you for emergencies. In such a case, a higher yet reasonable fee is not the same as a rip-off scheme.

Virtually all scams contain one or both of two elements: (1) Charging you for work that was never done, or (2) Convincing you of the need for unnecessary and often overpriced repairs. Here are five different types of scams you could run into and ways to avoid them:

  • Unnecessary replacement of parts. If the mechanic says your car needs a replacement part, ask to be shown which part needs replacing and use a marker or some means to distinguish it later. Always let the mechanic know that you want the old part back-this way you know the item was actually replaced. If you’re still mistrustful, you can always have the part looked at by another mechanic to make sure
  • it was defective.
  • Charge for unauthorized work. Always request a repair estimate or work order that itemizes everything you’ve authorized. Don’t sign a work order unless it’s completely filled out and you understand what it says. Generally the cost of the repair should vary above the original estimate by no more than 10%. Before authorizing even
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