We lost a great friend, Tom Magliozzi from Car Talk, this week and in his honor we’re sharing a few of our favorite tips on dealing with car repair shops! Getting a car serviced or repaired has to be the least favorite activity of anyone who owns a vehicle. It often costs a lot, and most people don’t budget for that expense. Not to mention most people have no idea how to talk to mechanics and whether or not they’re paying a fair price for repairs.
I can’t give you any advice on how to make your car repair experience more pleasant, but I can offer a few dos and don’ts to help you avoid getting scammed and overpaying.
Don’t Wait Too Long.
One of my first pieces of advice is to take care of issues before they become major problems. Strange noises, steering problems and engine troubles typically don’t disappear because you ignore them. You need to address any abnormalities right away for two reasons. First, the longer you wait, the more damage you’re probably doing to the car and the more the car repair will cost. Second, if something breaks and you can no longer drive the car, you’re going to be stuck getting it fixed at the first car repair shop it’s towed to, unless you want to keep paying towing charges to have it drug around town looking for the best deal.
Don’t Diagnose the Problem.
Two things could happen if you tell the car repair shop exactly what you think is wrong. One, they may focus specifically on that problem and miss something else that’s wrong. Or two, they may charge for a repair based on that diagnosis even if it wasn’t the cause of the problem. Let them find what’s wrong.
But do provide as many symptoms as possible. Be very specific about what is wrong with the vehicle. Don’t just tell the car repair shop you’re hearing a grinding noise. Inform them that you hear it when you’re traveling above 35 mph or when you make right turns. Note whether certain weather or driving conditions make the problem worse. Recall any large bumps you may have hit that could have caused the issue. Write everything down and give the mechanic a detailed assessment.
Don’t be pressured into agreeing to a quote.
Car repair shop owners know you’re going to flinch at the size of a quote. If you say you’re going to think about it or get a second opinion, they may counter with “It’s really not safe to drive,” or “I guarantee that’s the best deal you’re going to get.” They may even put the car on the lift and claim they’ve already started the work before you’ve agreed to it. Somebody who’s confident in his work and business practices won’t resort to these tactics just to get your business.
But do push back if needed. If the shop tells you a part is worn out or broken, ask them to show it to you and compare it to one that works properly. Ask for an itemized list of all repairs, not just a single amount and question why something costs what it does. Get the estimate in writing. You should also request the old part after the repair is made to ensure it was actually replaced.
Do get a second opinion from a different car repair shop.
If you don’t feel confident in the car repair shop you’re at, go with your gut and get a second opinion. Take the itemized list and call around to see what others charge for the same work. You should also consider taking the car in to see if another shop comes to the same conclusion as the first one.
A lot of issues can be avoided by finding a trustworthy car repair shop. So always ask friends and relatives if they have somebody they like, check with your local Better Business Bureau and take a look around the shop to get a sense if a reputable business is being operated.
photo credit: Gratisography