Avoid top auto repair rip-offs

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

more work, make sure you know the exact dollar amount. Never tell your mechanic, “Do whatever is necessary.”

  • Your valuables, your responsibility. Never leave valuables in the car. Virtually all shops refuse to take responsibility for any personal items left in the vehicle, including small change.
  • Charge for unnecessary work. Be wary of shops that advertise extremely low-priced services. Often, these “loss leaders” are designed to get you in the door so they can sell you more expensive and often unneeded repairs at inflated prices. Be skeptical when the person advising you of extra repairs is not the one doing the work. Ask to speak directly to the mechanic so he or she can explain how the problem was discovered and where it’s located.
  • Misdiagnosis of a problem. When a mechanic provides a diagnosis of your car’s problem, ask questions. Make sure the diagnosis agrees with the symptoms. If your engine alert light is on, ask what causes that problem. Check temperature and oil pressure warning lights immediately. If you’re unsure, read your owner’s manual and don’t continue driving until you understand the warning’s significance.
  • A good defense against virtually any scam, and particularly for any expensive repair, is to get a second opinion. This is particularly important when it comes to automatic transmission repairs where it’s difficult to tell if the mechanic is being honest about repair work. If you can still drive the car, just take it to another shop and see if you get the same diagnosis. If the second shop suggests a different repair, you should ask about the repairs recommended by the first shop-it could be a case of something being overlooked by the first shop, the second one, or both.

    Even the best shops can make mistakes, so every bad repair isn’t necessarily an attempted rip-off. If you suspect you’re being “taken for a ride,” the first step is to ask for the manager if there is a definite chain of command. When problems don’t get resolved as quickly as they should, it’s best to avoid angry confrontations. Be certain to let the right person know that you’re following the proper procedures and have been frustrated in your efforts.

    If you can’t get a problem solved within the business, then move on to the Better Business Bureau and regional government agencies. Most states have an agency for such consumer complaints, often specific to automotive repairs, the source of most complaints. Make sure you have retained all paperwork, receipts and service orders as well as a listing of all the work that was completed. If you have to go to a third party-or even court-to get satisfaction, you’ll want to have as much documentation and evidence as possible. Just by keeping good records and letting the mechanic know that ahead of time is often enough to prevent you from becoming a victim.

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