5 Common Auto Mechanic Scams

The 5 Most Common Scams Mechanics Pull and How to Avoid Them

“$500,” my husband said.

I turned my head around to look in his direction. He wasn’t laughing and I couldn’t see any hint of a smile. In fact he looked relaxed. He leaned his shoulder against the doorframe and looked right at me.  “I’m sorry did I just hear you say you spent $500 at the car dealership today? I thought you were just getting the oil changed,” I replied.

“Yea but Brian at the dealership said we missed the 30,000 mile service and we really should get it done,” he says.

An image of my mother popped into my head and I heard her saying, “If Brian told you to jump off a bridge would you do it?” I didn’t think it would go over to well if I said those words out loud. Instead I shut my eyes, shook my head to clear the image and said, “What exactly does $500 buy us?”

At least he had the decency to look sheepish at this point. His eyes drifted to the floor and his arms crossed over his body. This wasn’t going to be good. “Well, the dealership said they’d change the oil, top off all the fluids, flush out the lines, replace the air filter, inspect our belts, and rotate the tires.”

“And all that cost $500? I know I haven’t been to the car dealership in a while, but that price seems really high.”

Ever feel like you got hosed, but you don’t know enough to say for sure? It happened to Mr. Patterson and I today. The scenario is a common enough one, perhaps it’s even happened to you. You take your car in for a routine oil change and the mechanic calls you saying you need this, that and the other fixed on your vehicle.

The exchange above is a real conversation about just such an occurrence that happened to me and my husband today.  We took our vehicle in for a quick oil change that we expected to cost around $50 and ended up with a bill 10 times that amount. Its instances like these that make it easy to understand why auto repair complaints are the most common consumer grievance.  Now I’m not blaming the mechanic or the repair shop for this because ultimately, we agreed to go ahead with the fixes, but I can’t help feeling like we got scammed out of some of our hard earned money.

So, in true Nancy Patterson fashion I got working on finding out about the most common scams mechanics and car repair shops pull on unsuspecting folks like me. Next time you take your car into the shop look out for these keywords and common ways automotive technicians get you to spend more money than you ever intended.

Getting an oil change every 3,000 miles.  I can still hear my Dad telling me, “Take care of your car and it will take care of you.”  I’m sure you can relate to that scenario. Our Dad’s taught us to change the oil in the car every 3,000 miles or you could damage your car and end up costing yourself a bunch of money down the road.

But this isn’t the 1970’s anymore.  Today’s car engines are built better and run much more efficiently. You simply don’t need to change the oil in your car that often anymore. In fact, you can double or triple that number before you need to head to a car mechanic for an oil change now-a-days.

In fact, General Motors suggests changing the oil in its 2007 Chevrolet Malibu only every 7,500 miles. And Ford says you don’t need to change the oil in its 2011 Fiesta until you drive 10,000 miles.

So, save yourself some money and wait till you’ve driven at least 5,000 miles before you even think about stopping in for a change. To know for sure when your car is ready for an oil change pull out your car’s owner’s manual. The booklet will list the mileage your car’s manufacturer suggests.

Air filter replacement. When you take your car in to get an oil change, inevitably the serviceman will suggest you replace the air filter. They might say it’s dirty and that will affect the performance of your car. They’ll scare you by telling you how it affects gas mileage.

Anyway, the good news is he can replace the filter easily and for just $60 or more. Right.

This is a fix that should be done occasionally, certainly not every time you get your oil changed. Next time you get asked about the air filter ask to see it first. Hold them up to the light, if you can see daylight through them then you don’t need to replace them just yet.

Also, another thing about air filters is this is usually one of the easiest things you can do yourself.  You don’t need to be a certified mechanic.  Simply check your owner’s manual.  It’s usually just a matter of opening the compartment taking out the old filter and placing in the new one.  It’s a great way to save yourself $50 or more.

Air conditioner recharge. So, I don’t know how common this scam is, but I thought I should mention it because we’re heading into the time of year it could happen. In a few months it’s going to be hot and we’re going to be cranking the A/C in our vehicles. A common scare tactic unscrupulous repairmen use is to tell us our air conditioner is only blowing X degrees. Whatever degree he tells you isn’t enough to cool you down. Of course, he can recharge the system’s refrigerant for you for a small fee. This way you’ll have the coldest of cold keeping you from sweating to death in your car all summer long. Puh-lease. If you didn’t notice any problem before you brought your car in then they are pulling a scam on you. If your car’s A/C isn’t blowing out cool enough air, trust me you’ll notice in a big way. Don’t let them talk you into providing this service. Even if you think you have noticed a defect, you don’t have to fix the problem right away, this isn’t something that’s going to kill your car.

Unnecessary Replacements. I told you to watch out for unnecessary offers to replace your air filter, but these aren’t the biggest offenders. Mechanic scams often push to replace your shocks, spark plugs and belts way sooner than you actually need to.

This scam usually works because in our father’s day, parts like spark plugs had very short lifespans. You might even remember your father having to replace them multiple times on the family car. This just isn’t true anymore. Parts today are built better and can take more of a beating before needing to be replaced.

If the repairman suggests you replace your spark plugs, ask to see the culprits. A spark plug that needs to be replaced should look visibly worn down. Do the same with any belts they suggest you replace. Ask to see the offending part and make your mechanic explain in detail why it needs to be replaced. Remember the scam here isn’t about replacing a part, it’s about replacing the part way earlier than they tell you, you need to.

Fuel injection cleaning. If you have a Camaro, Mustang, Charger, or Corvette you might have had a mechanic ask you if you want them to clean your fuel injectors. They might have talked about removing contaminants or enhancing performance all in an effort to get more horsepower out of your vehicle. What they really want is to get more money out of you. Fuel injectors don’t usually need to be cleaned until about the 100k milestone. Most of us never own our vehicles long enough to reach that mile marker. Name brand gasoline usually contains enough additives to keep typical engines free of serious build-up. If the mechanic’s argument really makes you start to think, you can skip the expensive service and add a bottle of fuel injector cleaner, such as Techron, the next time you fill up your gas tank.

In general, you want to stay away from shops that pay their mechanics on commission. Commission paid employees make more money, the more money they get you to spend. There is just too much temptation for them to suggest repairs that are unnecessary.

Whenever a mechanic suggests a maintenance item like a flush or replacement turn to your vehicle’s owner’s manual. It will provide a list of all factory recommended maintenance service and the times they should be performed at for your vehicle. The same goes for any fluids you may need to replace, it will tell you the recommended types as well.

It’s also a good idea to ask your mechanic to give you any part they replace back to you. Dishonest mechanics have charged customers for parts that weren’t used. This way they can’t charge you for a new part and not replace the part. It helps keep your mechanic honest.

If you ever need to get a repair done ask for a written estimate. A common ploy is to pad the bill so that if you try to negotiate the price down, they can and make it seem like you’re getting a great deal. To protect yourself, get the mechanic to write down all necessary repairs and get a second estimate from another shop. Repair shops everywhere can repair virtually any make and model these days.

My best advice is to find a reputable mechanic before you need one. Check out angieslist.com or another service review sites to get recommendations on honest repair shops. Often times when a repair is necessary, we don’t have the capability or time to shop around for a reputable mechanic.  Figuring this out ahead of time will save you that stress.

Good luck!

Keeping Money in Your Pocket,

Nancy Patterson

 
 
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