How to Tell If Your Mechanic Lied to You
There are clear signs that will help you recognize when your mechanic lied to you. Know how the system works so you don’t find yourself handing over hundreds of dollars for unneeded repairs and parts.
It is no secret that some mechanics will invent repairs or needed buys when you go in for a simple inspection or oil change. Don’t get me wrong, many mechanics are honest and can help you with serious car repairs, but some are…well, some are less than reputable. Worst case scenario, it couldn’t hurt you to know when your mechanic lied to you in those instances. Sure, you can’t forget that your mechanic is part of a business when your check engine light comes on, but knowing the difference between someone helping you or when they are trying to help the financial situation of their auto repair shop will be crucial to saving you money that you don’t need to spend.
First, learn how your car works.
I’m not saying go to an auto mechanic school. Let me ask you this though, have you read your owner’s manual? If not, that is a great place to start. The more you know, the less likely you are to be tricked into spending more at auto repair shops. Knowing where your engine and air filters are, or even how long a new set of tires should last, will help you to know if your mechanic has lied to you. The internet is a priceless tool when researching specific problems. A car is a hard thing to DIY, but having certain information on hand can help you navigate a conversation with your mechanic.
Learn the tactics mechanics use to get you to spend money.
Mechanics have some pretty common practices and tactics to make sure you spend more than is necessary; and though it may be sexist to say, mechanics have been known to lie to women about repairs (although men can fall victim just as easily). When you need air filter changes, tire rotations, oil changes, or car repairs, you need to be aware of these tactics.
They’re wasting extra time so you’ll spend that extra dime.
Some mechanics will charge you for more time than the repair actually takes. A good way to guard against this is to know beforehand how long one of these operations should take. For example, for a tire rotation, the job itself should only take around 30 minutes. Many repair shops will charge for almost two hours of work. That’s an hour and a half of free money coming from your wallet. A simple search around Google or a conversation with a knowledgeable friend can help you save a lot of money when going in for a car repair or simple maintenance.
Some mechanics will tell you a blatant lie about work they haven’t done.
On the same train of thought as charging for extra hours, you can also be charged for work that has never occurred. This tactic can really put a dent in your pocket for work that may need to be done later on. How can a mechanic get away with a tactic like that? There are air filters that are hard enough to get to that you will never be able to physically see a difference in when looking under the hood of your car. A mechanic can easily tell you work has been done at their auto repair shop knowing that you won’t be able to tell if there was a change or not.
Common Car Repair Issues
Watch out for these potential problems:
- The shop waits until the vehicle is up on the lift and partially disassembled before getting your authorization to proceed with the repairs. By then, you are essentially forced to: (a) authorize overpriced repairs or risk getting your car back in a disassembled and unusable condition; or (b) pay a large and unexpected fee to have your vehicle reassembled, only to discover it no longer runs at all;
- The shop shows you dirty oil with metal filings in it as evidence that you need a new transmission. Virtually all used transmissions have dirty oil with some amount of dirt and metal filings. This is normal and is not necessarily a sign that you need a whole new transmission. However, once the transmission is disassembled and reassembled with the same old seals and parts, it usually does not work the same as before;
- The shop starts repair work on your car without first getting your authorization to perform the repair work, and then charges you for repair work that you did not authorize;
- The shop gives you a verbal estimate as to the cost of repairs, then charges a higher price;
Don’t take it to the dealership after the warranty has expired
A rule to live by when you’ve got an older car without a warranty—never take your car to the dealership. They charge more for everything—parts, hourly compensation, etc. Of course, the dealership is your cheapest option if you have a warranty because everything will be covered and of no cost to you.
At the dealership, there’s a good chance you won’t actually be met by the mechanic—an advantage you get with a smaller repair shop. There will likely be someone hired specifically for customer service that will explain what’s wrong with your car and take your money.
If you appreciate good customer service and a friendly relationship, you’re better off with a private garage (not that all dealerships are evil, but in my experience, they aren’t the greatest).
However, it is best to bring certain cars to the dealership. Take my Saturn Ion for example. Mechanics hate my car because Saturns aren’t made anymore so they can never find parts for it. Saturns were a short-lived production by General Motors that didn’t pan out.
GM dealers are able to find parts easier and their mechanics have more experience with the type of car. So while it may be more expensive, sometimes it’s best, if you’re in the same situation as me, to take your car some place that knows what they’re doing rather than chance it.
Meeting with the Service Writer
Here are some steps you should take to make sure you are describing the problem fully. Remember, you know your vehicle better than anyone. When something is wrong, try to pinpoint the symptoms before taking the car in for service.
What to Look For
- Unusual sounds, odors, leaks, warning lights, or smoke
Where in the vehicle is the sound coming from? When does it happen? When the engine is running? When the engine is cold? When you’re accelerating? Braking? Turning? Going above or at a certain speed?
- Problems in handling or braking Do you feel vibrations in the steering column or the brake pedal? Does the steering pull to the right or the left? Are your tires wearing unevenly?
- Changes in performance Has your engine performance decreased? Is your fuel economy falling? Do you regularly have to add coolant or oil? Are belts or hoses wearing out faster than they should?
When you explain the problem to the technician or service representative, be as detailed as possible. Don’t rush or let yourself be intimidated.
Although the technician or service representative probably can’t diagnose your problem on the spot, ask questions. If you don’t understand the answers, ask for clarification.
Be sure the repair shop has a number where you can be reached. If the technician is going to call you later with a diagnosis, ask when. If you’re going to call the shop, be sure you know the number and best time to call.
Evaluate the Shop
When checking out an unfamiliar mechanic’s shop for the first time look for the following:
- A clean lot with plenty of turnover: Quality mechanics take pride in the appearance of their shops and rapidness of their repairs. If the shop’s lot is clean, the work floor tidy and bright, and there aren’t a bunch of half-repaired clunkers lined up out front, that’s good.
- A knowledgeable Service Writer: The service writer is the guy that sits behind the shop’s front counter and produces the estimates and repair bills. He’s the one that you’ll be primarily interacting with while your car is in the shop and is responsible for answering the questions you have. If he’s reticent or not very helpful, that’s a huge red flag.
- Talk to the mechanics: If possible, talk to the guys that will actually have their hands under the hood. Get a feel for their age and expertise. Some older mechanics will be whizzes at fixing classics but may not be as sharp when it comes to scanning the on-board diagnostics of this year’s 5-Series. Also ask about how long they’ve been with the shop. A high turnover rate is very, very bad. If the shop’s been there for more than a year but none of the mechanics have been there longer than six months, bail.