How To Tell If A Mechanic Is Ripping You Off

Published on July 9, 2012 under Humble Mechanic

This is a question that I get from people that I meet. It usually goes something like this.

Oh, you are an auto mechanic. Well, I don’t know anything about cars. How can I tell if a mechanic is ripping me off.

I feel like, as a women, I am always getting taken advantage of when I get my car serviced. How do I tell if a mechanic is ripping me off.

They are basically saying that they are scared. Scared that they will get taken advantage of. The truth is, there are many people that know very little about how cars work. That is okay, but I want to make sure you are confident in your car maintenance and repair choices.

Here are some actions you can take to be sure you are not getting swindled into repairs you might not need. Oh, before we get into the meat of this, I need you all to know about getting ripped off. I don’t think that women get ripped off more than men. I think it is a customer that lacks the knowledge and confidence about their car that gets taken advantage of the most. I have seen guys get taken to the cleaners just as much as gals.

Show me the goods
Asking to see the problem is the best way to avoid the “did I really need that” feeling. Even if you know nothing about cars, ask to see the issue. You will be surprised at how easy it is to see a worn tire, or a ripped wiper blade when it is staring you in the face.Take this situation for example.

You bring your car in for an oil change. The service advisor tells you that you need to replace 2 tires.You ask them to SHOW you why you need new tires. The advisor walks you back into the shop and shows you this tire.

bad tire on a Volkswagen
You don’t have to know anything about tires to know this is not safe. See the impact that looking at an unsafe tire vs just me telling you? You might not be happy about buying tires(I know I wouldn’t be) but you know they are needed. If the mechanic or service advisor can’t or is not willing to show you what is wrong, think twice about the repair.

Do I NEED this repair
I know it seems like a very simple question. You might feel like “they” will always tell you the repair is needed. Yeah, that might be true, but not as much as you might think. Asking the question can help you find out if the repair is NEEDED vs RECOMMENDED.

  • A needed repair is one that will make lead to a safety issue, or cause further damage to your car.
  • A recommended repair is something to consider, but may not be vital right now.

If you NEED to make a repair, then you might just have to bite the bullet and do the repair. If the mechanic or service advisor says they recommend the repair. You might be able to skip that repair.

Check your owners manual
This is a great tool when it comes to maintenance. Does your owners manual say you need a transmission service at a specific interval? If it does, you need to get the transmission serviced. If the mechanic recommends it, ask why. Ask why THEY recommend it, even though it is not in the owners book.

Now, if the mechanic shows you that the transmission fluid is dirty, you might want to think about the service. If they say something like

Well we just recommend it.

I would probably steer clear.

Get a second opinion
If you have exhausted all the other possibilities, there is always this option. If your car is drivable, you can get a second opinion. Even if it means calling a friend, there is nothing wrong with getting a second opinion. Getting a second set of eyes on an issue can help you feel better about a repair.

I do have a few issues with getting a second opinion. I worry that the second place will not be as good as the first. You will need to make sure the second opinion know what the heck they are doing. I would hate for the second opinion to be wrong.

The biggest advice I can give is BE CONFIDENT. You don’t have to understand how a timing belt works. But if you ask questions about the repair, it will generally expose a dishonest mechanic. If the service department has the answers to your questions, and can show you the issues, I say go for it. You might not love having to make the repair, but at least you will not feel like you get taken advantage of.

I just wanted to remind you guys of the “SEARCH” box, it is just above the subscribe box on the right side. If there is something you are wondering about, type it in and check out some posts where I covered it. If you can’t find it, contact me and I will make it a post topic!

Of all the posts, I think this is one worth sharing. I want to help teach everyone how to be confident when it comes to maintaining and repairing their cars!

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  1. Louise

    I want to share an experience I had and get your opinion on this. Recently, my husband and I moved back to his hometown. Not having any relationships with mechanics here, we decided we would use the shop my mother in law has used for over 30 years. She has a very good relationship with them and we know they treat her well. We therefore felt they were trustworthy.

    About 2 weeks ago, my car went in for its service and then for its roadworthy test. It passed with only minor repairs needed. We had heard a funny noise from the engine every now and then before and had mentioned it to the mechanic. When we came to pick the car up, he said they couldn’t see anything so no one was any wiser where the noise was coming from. We got our keys and were told to come back in 15,000km or one year (whichever comes first) for our next service.

    For the last 2 weeks, the car didn’t make the noise at all…so we figured whatever it was, the standard service had solved it.

    However yesterday, the car started making the same noise again. But then it was non stop not only every now and then. We brought it straight into the shop and this morning I went to pick it up. It was a problem with the throttle which was fixed quite easily and cheaply. The noise is not happening anymore.

    Anyway, while I was there this morning to pick it up, the mechanic (a different guy than 2 weeks ago) mentioned that he noticed my front brake disks needed replacing and recommended I make an appointment to do it. He was surprised when my response was to ask why this was not mentioned 2 weeks ago. He couldn’t give an answer. He then told me the disk change could probably wait a while. I asked how long, because the service and the road worthy test are meant to say that the car is expected to drive safe and no major repairs are expected to be needed in the next year. He said he couldn’t say how long, as he doesn’t know how much I use the car. I then asked if he thought it would be ok for another 15,000km as per what I was informed 2 weeks ago. He didn’t really answer then instead told me it depends on my driving style and it could probably wait until the next service.

    I fully accept that they can never guarantee there will be no problems for the next 15,000km / year. But this all seems slightly dodgy to me. 2 weeks and not many kms later and suddenly I need my brake disks replaced? Now I am trying to figure out if this mechanic was trying to rip me off or if he was trying to cover up for the mistake of his colleague in not noticing the brake problem last time. Also, why was he looking at the brakes when the noise was caused by the throttle? The noise didn’t happen when the brake was pressed so I don’t understand why they were looking there.

    My gut feeling is this guy is trying to rip me off. The road worthy test is an official legal governmental test, the brakes should have been checked then. But because it’s the brakes, I don’t want to take any risks. I did some research online and found you could check for ridges on the brake disk yourself. My husband did this. There is a ridge there, not so deep but it’s there. The car brakes fine, no shuddering or moving to one side.

    My husband is bringing the car in this afternoon to another garage for a 2nd opinion, but how do we know the 2nd garage is trustworthy? They might also see the opportunity to tell us we need the brakes done and make some money. Or, as this is a small town, they might agree with the other place just to have their back.

    Any advice on this is appreciated.

    1. Charles

      The short answer is ask them to show you the brake pads and rotors with the wheels off. They can show you just how much friction material is left and the full condition of the rotors.

      I have more thoughts on the over all situation. I am at work now, but I will respond further when I get home. Just wanted to give you a quick answer before you take the car in.

  2. liz

    My mom took her 2005 to the local shop to be repaired. The car would not start. We had it jumped and it would not go. so we took it in , she told them no more them 175. cause she needed a vulvae cover replaced. What that has to do with the starer who no’s now they want to charge her 2400. says she needs a new engine. We tryed to tow it to another shop they said no way .They told my mom to bring her title and they would call it good. WoW

    1. mike

      always take a voice recorder w/u. also, did u get a written estimate? did the estimate stipulate no repairs r 2 b done w/out ur permission? always get things in writing. i would contact the better business bureau & see if they have any complaints. that should have been done before u brought it in. also, do any of ur local tv stations have a consumer advocate service that checks into allegations of ripoffs? they could mediate a deal for u. u might also call the state attorney general’s office. good luck.

  3. Lynne

    I took my 2009 VW beetle to a VW mechanic for alternator issues. He says the alternator will likely need to be replaced. If that’s the case, then fine. I looked and average cost seems to be around $200.

    My issue is with the amount of labor he’s attempting to claim. He says the alternator is tricky to get to, but as a certified VW shop, they should know what they’re doing. How long should it take?

  4. Ruby

    I took my 2005 Nissan max in for transmission work,we’ll when it goes to 2o miles it makes a quick jump still.The shop closed.Cant afford to replace it,can I continue to drive the car? or what can I do now ?

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