Six Auto Repair Scams You Need to Know About

By Sabrina S. Siracusa

Even if you are lucky enough to know of a great mechanic, it can’t hurt to be aware of a few common tricks used by some sneaky mechanics to reach deep into your pockets. Read on to get some valuable money saving tips for the next time you have to take your car in for regular maintenance or for the dreaded repair visit!

1. Oil Changes: Overcharged and Overdone

Do you really need to change the oil in your car every 3,000 miles? This has become a sort of debate between cautious consumers and the oil industry. The reality is the way cars have been built for at least 10 years, frequent oil changes are not needed. So how much can you really save? On average, an oil change costs $30. If you drive 15,000 miles per year and replace your oil every 3,000 miles, you will need 5 oil changes totaling $150.00. But if you reduce the oil changes to every 5,000 or even 7,500 miles you can save up to $90 per year.

2. The Spit-And-Polish Scam

Scams by some unethical auto mechanics depend upon a customer not knowing how their car works. The spit-and-polish scam is no exception. Here’s how it goes down: Mechanics may say that a part needs to be replaced, but the reality is that they may pull it out, polish it, then just put it back in the car so that it looks shiny and new. Common targets are easily removed parts like batteries, oil filters and radiators. A twist on this scam is that the mechanic claims they replaced your old part with a refurbished part when in actuality they never removed it. In that case, they’ve done absolutely nothing, except pass the bill along to you.

Here’s what you can do if you can take the car home first: Before having repairs done, mark the suspect part in a spot that isn’t easy for others to see with a small dab of white paint or Wite-Out®. After the repair is completed, ask to see the old and new part. If you see the paint on the “new” part, you’ve caught a scam.

Even if you can’t take your car home, you have the right to ask to see the old part as well as the purchase order for the new one. Match the new part with the info in the receipt. Asking the mechanic this will let him know you will hold him to the work and parts he has listed on the final invoice.

3. The Oil Dipstick Trick

Dip your dipstick in your oil before you go in for maintenance and repairs. This is something you should be doing out of habit anyway to make sure your car is not low on oil. Do this to get an accurate reading of your engine’s oil level and to remind yourself to watch out for that old nickel-and-dime trick some mechanics use. The trick goes like this: They’ll only insert the dipstick in part of the way, which will give a lower reading. May not seem like a big deal to pay $5 or $10 to refill your oil, but it’s unnecessary and money better kept in your wallet.

4. The “Tune-Up” Spark Plug Trick

Another trick to watch out for is the detached spark plug trick–it could save you thousands of dollars and unnecessary engine exploratory work. An unethical mechanic will recommend an expensive “tune-up” and even charge you extra to replace the spark plugs. Many times, the only thing that needed replacement were the spark plugs.

5. Getting Doubled Over

In all fairness, some repair jobs will start with one problem, and then lead to completely different issues. Unfortunately, some auto mechanics will take full advantage of this by doubling your labor charge. Sometimes the labor will even overlap for certain work, meaning you will get double charged for labor. If you’re quoted one labor cost on the estimate, that’s what you should pay in many cases. It’s important to be firm and clear with the mechanic that you want to be informed of extra parts or labor you will be charged for before they start work. And if possible, get a second opinion from a mechanic at another shop.

6. Auto Obsession

No, this is not a recognized psychological disorder. It’s what happens when people are fooled into agreeing to repairs or maintenance sooner than a car really needs. It’s one thing to follow manufacturer suggested timelines for standard maintenance, but another to become obsessive about it. There is usually no need to repair or have work done on your car more than recommended in the owner’s manual. The auto manufacturers know your vehicle model better than any mechanic. After all, they built it and know how each part works. Their recommendations should be followed.

Be suspicious anytime a mechanic pushes you to agree to an oil change, flush or other car repair sooner than recommended.

Play it safe and bring your owner’s manual with you when you take your car in for any maintenance or repair. The old saying “knowledge is power” could not be truer when facing a car repairs or regular maintenance. Take a few minutes to look over your car owner’s manual. There is a lot of useful information provided in that book to help you avoid many mechanic scams. The more you know about your car, the less likely you will be taken for a ride.

If you do not have the owner’s guide to your car you can find it at http://www.edmunds.com/how-to/how-to-find-your-car-owners-manual-online.html

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