How Does An Auto Mechanic Rip You Off?

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I get asked this question all the time. It comes in many forms, but this is the most common.

Charles, you are a mechanic. How do I know if I am getting ripped off?

My advice has always been things like:

  • Ask to see the old parts
  • Ask if it is a NEEDED service or just RECOMMEND
  • Compare the recommendation to your owners book
  • Get a second or third opinion
  • find an auto mechanic

Following that advice will help avoid spending money that you do not need to spend. You can read more about How to tell if a mechanic is ripping your off

The other day I got this question,

How do mechanics rip people off?

This is an interesting way to look at it. If you know how you can be ripped off, you have even more ammunition to avoid it. Here are the most common ways that a mechanic “rips you off”

  • Selling service too early.
    This is most common. A mechanic recommending a tune up at 30,000 miles when it is not due until 60,000 miles. Or selling a brake job when the car has thousands of miles left on the brakes.
    How to avoid this. Ask to see the parts, and compare to your owners book.
  • Selling non factory parts as factory parts
    This does not really come up at the dealer level. We 99.99% sell factory parts. It can come up in aftermarket shops. If you are paying top dollar for factory parts, you need to be sure you are getting them.
    How to avoid this.
    Ask to see BOTH parts. They should be similar. Understand that sometimes parts are updated, but you can ask about that too 😉
  • Exaggerating the need for the repair
    “If you don’t replace your air filter, your car will catch of fire” This is an extreme (and insane) example of exaggeration. It is also something that happens all the time. The bad part is, you may actually need the service the shop is recommending. But this type of talk should send up a huge red flag!
    How to avoid this
    . Ask to see the part, and refer to your owners book
  • Selling services that do not exists
    I am not sure this type of thing really happens, but I need to talk about it. If a service doesn’t sound right, ask more questions. There is no such thing (as of 2013) as replacing headlight fluid, changing the muffler bearings, putting summer air in your tires, and who know what people come up with.
    How to avoid this
    . Ask how it is done. Ask WHY you need it. Ask what will happen if you don’t do it.
  • Charging “too much” for a repair
    This one can be a sticky situation. A repair is generally assigned a labor time. The labor time is used to create a price for the labor part of your bill. The sticky part comes in when we try to figure out what “too much” means. Auto mechanics get paid on Flat Rate. The easy way to think about Flat Rate is, a mechanic is paid by the job, no matter how long it takes.If a mechanic does a repair that pays 3 hours, they get paid 3 hours. It may take them 2 hours to complete, or 4 hours to complete. The mechanic gets paid 3 hours. You can read more about How mechanics get paid on Flat Rate.So how do you decide what is “too much”? The truth is I don’t really know. There are so many factors that play in to it. The best advice here, ask more questions. Things like “How long will it take to complete?” “Is this a hard job to do?” “What other parts need to be removed?”. It will show that you understand the way Flat Rate works.

There is one other way people get “ripped off”. I didn’t include it on the list because it requires more discussion. Selling repairs to fix your car, that do not fix your car. I have said before that diagnosing a car is a process. It is rarely cut and dry. If your check engine light is on, the computer rarely says “replace this part”. Times like this is when having a good mechanic is vital. If they get the diagnosis wrong, or find other issues, a good shop will work with you.

The other thing about getting ripped off is, each situation is different. You may not be due for a service, but really need it. If you drive at the beach your air filter may be clogged long before the owners manual recommends replacement. Following the tips I gave you will eliminate most of the problems.

What do you guys think? Are there other ways that people can “get ripped off” by a mechanic? If so, post them in the comments below. This is also a great post to share with folks. I tried to make sharing very easy. At the top and bottom of the post, you can click the icons to share to Facebook, twitter, Stumble Upon, Reddit, and Google +. I really appreciate when you guys share the site with others. That is the number one way we grow our community.

6 replies
  1. Pat ~ The Muscle Car Guy
    Pat ~ The Muscle Car Guy says:

    Good write up. I think you are right, know what your owners manual says, and seeing the old parts. One thing with that, is that the mechanic should be able to tell you what was wrong with it. Like how worn the brake pads are, since not everyone would know what they look like new and worn out.

    • Chesly Cherizol
      Chesly Cherizol says:

      Ive been a certified mechanic for over 20 years graduated from out of new york in 1993 now live in Fl after gaining enough experience I went on to open up my own shop it is the most stressful thing a man can ever put himself through.

      From dealing with code enforcement,taxes,hard to find good workers,etc….

      Today customers are worse than ever because of the internet they can order junk parts and bring it to you and tell you this is what they want done,after you put it in their car either it does not work or not properly.

      they have a million ways to damage your reputation by putting false reviews if they do not get their way with you
      that’s why most good mechanics work for themselves buy and fix cars or just go work for a local dealer,mechanic work is too hard to be doing for nothing.

      Have you ever heard the term “He is a good mechanic”A good mechanic today is a mechanic that has given into doing it for nothing just to survive that’s something I would never do there is a labor guide that everyone should go by.The problem with where I live in orlando fl once you go by the book you are considered untrustworthy,because they want to pay what they think you are worth.

      Are there shady mechanics out there?Trust me I know quite a few simply because they do not update themselves and probably because they let the customer psychology get to them,and will do anything for a six pack of beer.

      Any young man or a woman whom has the will to go to school to become a mechanic take up,marine,diesel,hydraulics,or collision dont go for auto repair unless you will dedicate your self to a dealer.

      This society will tare a part and make your life miserable they all have the same bad nasty ways about how every mechanic is a thief in turn they are the ones who wants steal your hard labor.

  2. Mario Lopez
    Mario Lopez says:

    Thank you,

    Good article, last year I bought a Honda Pilot 2009, from Luther Hopkins in MN, they told us, it is was in perfect condition, 4 months later we took it back for an oil change, and they gave us a long list of parts that need to be replace, even the tires.

    Bad experience, now I don’t trust anybody, and does to bad to all mechanic, specially the honest one.

  3. Denise
    Denise says:

    Really enjoyed your post. Being in the repair business for 20 years or so, I think you summed it up pretty well. We too use mainly factory parts, especially water and fuel pumps! I see another way a person can THINK they are being ripped off is when they have been told they need say a coolant flush and its going to cost around xx. So they start calling around, to shops that havent seen how bad the system may be and quote a cheap, one size fits all price. What the customer may not realize is they have to compare apples to apples. Make sure the job they are being quoted for in the other shops are the same as the one that actually saw the car. They may just be quoting a drain and fill with coolant that is not factory coolant but a cheaper after market, when the shop that had looked at it was talking about a COMPLETE coolant flush ( block drains, thermostat etc) with factory coolant. Seeing parts that have been changed out is a great idea. We take pictures and videos of the repair as well so the customer can see just what was done, or needs to be done. Like your posts!

  4. joe public
    joe public says:

    I have not met a mechanic yet who was not out to rip you off “eventually” they start out giving you a deal then starts the bs. I don’t mind paying for work but I have been to place where the quotes are 100’s of dollars different. It is mostly the dealerships that are just outright ripping folks off! it is bad and mechanics should be ashamed but the greed and easy money make it worth it. karma will come back and get all you pricks!

    • Charles
      Charles says:

      Well it sounds like you are dealing with the wrong folks. I can tell you there are a lot of “us pricks” out there that work our ass off and always do right by our customers. Maybe it is your attitude or your perception of “being ripped off” that is driving the situation?

      Do things go sideways sometimes? You bet they do. But I always try and do right by my customers. That may mean they have to pay for a repair, but I make sure it is a fair as possible.


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