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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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Last week I told you about a few Crazy Customer issues that we have had. Well, as luck would have it, we got a few more. Let me just be clear that I am not really picking on these customers. It is all in good fun.

Customer States that with the  windows all the way down, there is a popping noise randomly like the “SORRY” board game, advise

This concern came in on a 2011 VW CC. When the customer was explaining what the car was doing, it was pretty clear what he meant. It was funny because I have never heard someone use a board game to describe an issue with there car. I test drove the car with the mechanic working on it. He found a way to reproduce the noise, and we were quickly able to find the problem.

Now, I am not 100% up to speed on board games. It has been forever since I have played the game “SORRY”. I do not really remember it being anything more than a dice game. My curiosity got me. I did a little bit of searching and found that the game he might have been talking about was “TROUBLE”. It has that popper in the middle. I was not able to confirm with the customer, but I am sticking with my guess. He was not that far off~ “TROUBLE” ~”SORRY” I totally get that!

We had to order a part to fix his popping noise, I will try and ask him when he comes back.

Customer states, something sticky went down by the center vent and now the vent won’t adjust-please find out what is going on

VW Jetta center vent

This is the vent that had syrup in it

That is what the concern line said on the repair ticket. After talking to the customer I found out what really happened. The customer spilled syrup in the upper center vent of his Jetta. The vents on the Jetta are near the top of the dash, and above the radio. How the heck does one still syrup in that vent? Also, who has open syrup in their car while they are driving? AND WHY???

The customer made it clear that I had to be very careful when trying to move the vent. He said it felt like it was going to break. Not wanting to break it, I told him he has 2 choices

  1. I could remove the vent and attempt to clean it. If the vent broke, he would still have to buy a new one
  2. I could just replace the vent to the tune of ~$300

The only issue I had with cleaning the vent is, we did not have it in stock. He would have had to pay twice. Once to remove and attempt to clean, then again to remove and install a new vent.

He wanted me to just remove the vent so he could clean it. I had to explain to him that he would still have to pay for that. He said that he would just take care of it. To be honest I was cool with that. I didn’t really want to clean goopy syrup out. Thinking we were done, I wished him well and started to walk away.

He called me back and asked me to SHOW him how to fix it. I have him a quick over view of how the vent comes out. He then asked me my favorite question.

How do I do this, and not mess it up?

I reply, with a smile, “You let me do it for you sir”. 😉 He laughed and said thanks but he was not going to worry about it.

I don’t think that I want to make a habit of poking fun at customers. I just like to save a couple and share them from time to time. We all have silly things in our jobs that happen. Sometimes it is nice to trade stories.

Does anyone know another board game that has a popper on it? Just wondering?

We talk all the time about making good choices when it comes to car repairs. Everything from required vehicle maintenance to repairing broken or worn out parts. You might be asking yourself why we are talking about NOT fixing your car. Well, lets face it, sometimes repairs are just not doable.

Today I am not talking about getting scammed, or the mechanic in a can type stuff. I am talking about real repairs to your car. Whether it is money, time, or priority sometimes we just can’t make the repairs to our cars. Here are some ways to decline a repair, but still get the most from your shop, and mechanic.

Be Honest
Honesty is the best policy! If you find that your car needs a repair you didn’t expect, just be honest about it. If the repair is not in the budget just say so. If time is an issue, just let the advisor know you don’t have the time right now.

I appreciate when a customer is honest. I understand that repairs are not planned. Not many people can just drop $500 plus on a car repair.

You want to do some research
With the internet being the endless source of information, it can be easy to find answers to questions. Telling your advisor that you want to do more research is totally understandable. This can give you time to find out more information about the recommended repair.

If it is a safety issue, there is an option too. Don’t be afraid to leave your car at the shop. That will still give you time to research, but not risk doing more damage.

Ask for a printout
Well to be fair, you should not have to ask. 😉 That is something that good repair shops would do for you anyway. Getting a print out will do a few things.

  1. Keeps a record for YOU! Then you don’t have to try and remember what was wrong.
  2. Keeps a record for the shop. Lets say you don’t do a repair. The information will be on file for the next visit.

Prioritize
If your car needs more than one repair, have the service advisor prioritize the list. Just like a printout, a good advisor will do this with out asking. The order I like to use is

  1. Safety. Items that are safety related are always the most important. If it can cause harm to you, or others on the road, it is priority number 1
  2. It can leave you stranded. If not making a repair can leave the car not drivable, it is a very close second. Cars usually don’t break down in your driveway at home.
  3. Further damage will occur. If not making a repair will cause other items to fail, it gets pushed up on the list. If your timing belt breaks, it will cause engine damage. That is much more expensive than just replacing the timing belt.
  4. State Inspection. In my state we have annual inspections for the state. Most of the items we check are safety related. The ones that are not, need to be fixed before a car can pass.
  5. Past due maintenance. This one is pretty self explanatory.
  6. Regular maintenance. Sadly this one will fall to the bottom of the list almost every time. 🙁

The funny thing about prioritizing is, they can fall under more than one number. Leaving you stranded can totally be a safety issue. That is where a good service advisor/mechanic team is vital!

If you feel like your being bullied, be strong. I was at the dentist(YUCK) today, and went through the up selling. I just asked them to keep noting it in my file. That stopped the pressure to buy more stuff.

Any other tips on declining recommended work? I think the key is being nice about it. It is the old saying, you get more flies with honey!

Remember, you can sign up for all the post updates. Just fill out the box on the right, and BAM, you will get notifications on all post. Oh, don’t worry about spam, I don’t do that junk. I also wont send you 35 emails a day. That is not how I roll.

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If you have been following the site for any length of time, you know I am 100% about customer service. I that is really one of the most fun parts of my job. Well at my first job, I was told “The customer is always right”. I use to buy all in to that statement. Of course the customer is always right, RIGHT?

That statement caught my attention a few days ago. Someone on TV made mention of it, and it got be thinking. I was thinking how in my job, the customer is rarely right. If they were ALWAYS right, what the heck would they need me for? 😉

If I let my customers tell me everything that was wrong with their car, I would be in a world of hurt. Take this for example.

A customer comes in to my shop and tells me their check engine light is on. They also inform me that they think it is a Oxygen Senor.

Now if I just blindly followed “The customer is always right”, I would install an O2 sensor and send them out the door. Don’t think for a second that the situation doesn’t happen, it does, a lot! How mad would a customer be if I (knowingly) did this? Well an O2 sensor runs about $280, so my guess is pretty mad.

The reason that people bring their cars to me is for ME to be right. I owe it to my customers to be right, and to let them know that they are wrong. Another perfect example is when I found out that a customer is “topping up” their gas tank. That is when the pump shuts off and you “top it up” to the next dollar. If a customer tells me they do that, I MUST tell them they are wrong. If I don’t, then I am the one that is wrong. I know better, and it is my job to tell them.

This is not just being a mechanic. This goes for ANYONE in just about ANY job. If I called an electrician, he better tell me I am doing something wrong. I could get hurt. It doesn’t matter if you are a plumber, and car detailer, or nurse anything. If you are a professional, YOU need to be the one that is right!

So by now you might be thinking, “wow Charles, you are not really customer service minded are you?”. The truth is, that is what I am ALL about. I would never say “Hey stupid you are doing it wrong” to a customer. That would be stupid. 😉 Just really think for a second about how much it could cost someone if I let them think they were ALWAYS right. I care enough about my customers to be honest with them. Sometime that means telling them “You are wrong”. Like I said, if I don’t, then I am wrong.

If you are a professional, you will do the right thing for the customer, every time, no matter what. THAT is what the face of caring about your customers look like! Just remember, with our customers, there is no need for YOU! 🙂

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I had found this little story a while back. I would like you all to read it, and then we can talk about.

I’m a journeyman technician
In an Automotive shop
I’m supposed to know the answers
From the bottom to the top

I should diagnose the problem
With just a single look,
And if I fail to fix it,
You think I’m a crook

When I charge you for my labor
You bitch and scream and moan,
And even call and threaten me
Upon the telephone

But technology in the auto
is advancing every year,
And for the systems I must know
I simply have no peer

I must be more electrician
Than the man who wires your home,
For the wiring system in your car
Outstrips the Astrodome

Then refrigeration systems
That I’m supposed to know
Have more gadgets than your home
To make the damn thing go

Electronics now have made the scene
And more are coming yet
Some models now will far exceed
Your television set

In hydraulics I have more to learn
Than a specialist in pumps
There’s brakes and shock absorbers
to help absorb the bumps

Torque converters and transmissions
With servos, valves and gears,
with models by the hundreds
Introduced in recent years

Fuel systems of a hundred kinds
I must adjust and meter
Each far more complicated
Than your furnace or water heater

The principles of combustion
I must know from A to Z
And gear trains that will far exceed
Most all machinery

I’m in welding, I’m in plumbing
For water, vacuum, oil and fuel
Compared to me, a plumber
Is a kid in grammar school

There’s alignment and there’s balancing
And God alone knows what
If I fix it, thats expected
If I don’t, I’m on the spot

There’s models, makes and systems
Some seven hundred strong
And new ones coming up each year
To help the scheme along

Now compare me to the Doctor
Whose prices make mine meager,
Yet folks revere his expertise
Ever more impressed and eager

The human body hasn’t changed
In twenty thousand years,
And every model works the same
from the ankles to the ears

There’s years of school to learn his field
And almost none in mine
I’ve learned by practicing my trade
And I read what I can find

There’s new equipment and techniques
And medicines for sure
But this is true in my field, too
As much, or even more

There’s lots of books he has to read
His procedures to define,
But for every page in his field
There’s twenty-five in mine

There’s no comebacks and no warranty
You pay for what you get,
And then come back and pay again
If he hasn’t fixed it yet

His mistakes are often buried
While mine come back for free
And he plays golf on Wednesday
While my customers hassle me

We spend millions of tax dollars
Sending kids to medical school,
But if you ask for some in my field
You’re treated like a fool

Everybody has just one body,
But not one has more
But when it comes to autos
You may have three or four

But you’ll go right on complaining
Of the way I run my show
With no appreciation
For the things I have to know

And you’ll take your high school dropout
And you’ll shove them off to us
And expect them to be experts
While you rant and rave and fuss

And when your car cannot be serviced
I’ll not hang my head in shame
So you’d best wake up America
And find out who’s to blame

Author Unknown

I forget where I found this, but I find it very interesting. Some of the lines are spot on. We ARE expected to know everything. Something that is just not possible. Even in a dealership setting, we can’t know every feature of every car. We ARE expected to be 100% right, 100% of the time. While some of us are right a lot we get it wrong too.

The comparison to doctors is one that people in the industry make all the time.While I think the story does paint a good picture, lets face it, doctors are REALLY REALLY important. My job is not with out risk to my customers. If a brake job goes bad, someone can get hurt.

I also think that it points out some of the things we do that most customers don’t know. Like how many systems a car really has, and how they all must work happy together. The tool and equipment required to fix car.

Let’s open the floor for some good conversation about this story. Are mechanics (blue collar workers) really as bad as they are made out to be? Do they think they are more important than they really are?

If you have never shared any of the post, please consider this one. It will make for great discussion.

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Hey folks, I am back in action today. Got some good stories about automotive logic, and throwing it right out the window. Sorry about missing Friday, but this week will make up for it!!!

There is no doubt that the diagnosis part of this job is one of the toughest. Racking your brain over problems that make no sense, all while trying to relate them to a component failure. It can be enough to make a mechanic lose their mind. Early on in my training, I was taught to always follow a logical repair process. That is a 100% true statement. I would not start diagnosing a tire going flat, by checking the oil. This process is reinforced in our yearly training as well. Of course in a training class, nothing ever goes wrong does it. 😉

There are some basic strategies to diagnosing cars, or anything really. Doing things like “working easy to hard”, “Keeping it simple(stupid), and making sure you are diagnosing the problem not just the concern. if a mechanic follows these simple steps, they will be able to diagnose most issues. This is a lesson that i try to ingrain in all of the young mechanics that come through the shop.

There are times for every mechanic that they get their butts kicked by a car. One of the great things about being at a dealer is we have several layers of assistance to help when a mechanic cant fix a car. Then there are the times that all the assistance in the world doesn’t help, and you have to throw all the logic out the window. The following stories are real. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. There are really no names in the story btw 😉

Beetle Transmission Problems

A customer bring their car in because it was making a horrible noise at about 45mph. The mechanic test drove the car, and did some checking. The thing about transmissions is, failure is rarely absolute. Meaning that being 100% sure of the diagnosis is rare. Usually it takes repairing the concern before you know if it repaired it.

Well, after several test drives, and checks, he decided to replace the transmission. Now, replacing a transmission is not a hard job, but it takes time, is a lot of work, and does not pay really well. It is not something mechanics do for fun! After getting the work done, the mechanic test drives the beetle again. Guess what, noise is still there. Well more checks, and diagnosis follow. The problem turned out to be an 30 second fix. The customer had a Disney ball on their antenna. For some reason, at 45 mph, the ball would catch the wind just right, this would cause a vibration in the antenna, that traveled down into the roof.

TDI Transmission issues

Very similar to the story above. A customer brings their Passat TDI in for a shifting issue. The mechanic drives the car, and verifies the problem. Now this particular TDI engine had just come out, so the information was pretty limited. The mechanic followed the steps he should, and again, decided to replace the transmission.

With a fresh transmission, the mechanic test drove the car. Would you believe that the car drove great, at first! The mechanic let the car sit for a while and test drove it again. Sadly, it was doing the same thing as before replacing the trans. It turns out that the car had a very slightly clogged fuel filter. That small amount of difference in fuel quantity cause the engine to “stall out” when shifting. The only thing felt by the customer and the mechanic was the poor shift. After a new fuel filter, the car was 100% right.

TDI Engine Locked Up

This time, the customer had his TDI towed in, because it would not start. At first it sounded like the battery was dead. The mechanic tried to jump start it, but that was a no go. We towed the car into the shop for further diagnosis. A full starting system test did not reveal anything. The mechanic noted that it smelled like the clutch had burned up. So he removed the starter to check for damage. Didn’t find any.

He attempted to crank the engine over by hand, and was not able to. Even an almost 3ft wrench would not move it. The mechanic removed the valve cover, and oil pan to inspect for internal engine damage. Well, he didn’t find any. We all got to talking, trying to brainstorm and get ideas of what to do next. Just about the time he was going to recommend removing the cylinder head, I suggested that he take the serpentine belt off. That is the belt that runs the alternator, a/c compressor, and power steering pump. When he removed the belt, the engine would turn over normally.

It turns out that the pulley on the alternator locked up. As powerful as a starter is, it was not able to overcome the small pulley. I could not believe that the belt would not just slip over the pulley and let the engine start. I had seen this happen 1 other time, I just wish I would have remembered it before he took the other parts off. As soon as he finishes it, I will update on what happened.

I know there are many more stories just like this out there. If you have one, contact me with the story, and I will share it with everyone. All the repair logic in the world would not have helped in some of these situations. Mechanics need a repair process, but they also need to know when to ditch it and try something random!

If you enjoyed this story, and the site, please share it with someone you like. Lets keep this community growing! All you have to do is click one of the buttons below

On Sunday I was doing some Google searching, trying to fine tune the site so folks can find it. Which reminds me, THANK YOU to everyone who has shared this site. I really appreciate it. Our little community is growing and I am excited for the future! Ok~ A.D.D. moment over.~

I came across an article called “Top10 Mechanic Scams” on AskMen.com. What kind of mechanic would I be if I didn’t read that? It turns out, they are dead on for some of them, and WAY off on others. The ones they got wrong, come from not being in the industry. It is a common issue I find with professional writers. I really respect what they do, and most are really awesome, but I usually feel like they miss the mark. That only comes from reporting, the industry, not living it.

I plan on breaking this up in to two posts. Lets tackle the first 5, or would that be the last 5? The part in quotes comes from the original post. My thoughts are under that.

No.10 Replacing spark plugs prematurely

“In your father’s day, spark plugs had the lifespan of a housefly compared to their modern counterparts. Open your owner’s manual to see for yourself and you might discover that you drive a car with 100,000-mile spark plug replacement intervals. Even if that’s really only feasible under the most gentle of operating conditions, you see our point: Don’t get talked into premature replacement unless there’s a legitimate need to address a drivability issue. Then, ask to see the culprits. Plugs often have telltale visual signs when something’s amuck.”

I mostly agree with this one. If there is a replacement interval be sure to replace them. I would not wait much longer. If you do have a drivabilty issue, most mechanics will tell you to do the maintenance before making a repair! The problem is now you have to pay diagnostic charged.

No.9 Engine treatment

“This mechanic scam often comes up at oil-change joints, but it’s also at some repair shops and they’re on store shelves too. The pitch is that by adding just a little of the product to the oil, the engine will run like new. Between our own testing and the expertise of some techs, results are mixed. They may not necessarily harm your engine, but the benefits, if any, seem minimal and temporary at best. If the idea is to quiet noisy lifters, for example, you may have bigger issues not to be ignored.”

This one I am part of the “mixed” crowd they are talking about. If they are referring to the can you add when changing the oil, then I think they might be right. That being said, I add a can with ever oil change I do on my car. There is a brand called Lucas that I have used and it works really great to quite down lifter noise. I would say though that most of the things you see at Walmart is junk. If they are referring to an actual engine treatment done by professionals. I totally disagree. There have been some issues with 1.8t Passats. The oil can sludge if not properly maintained. We have a chemical treatment that we do to the engine that works wonders. The treatment, along with some hand cleaning, can take a noisy engine and make it sound great in a few hours.

No.8 Unnecessary upgrade to synthetic oil

“Whatever your opinion on the last mechanic scam, you can’t discount the benefits of the original engine treatment: regular oil and filter changes. When done as recommended by your car’s manufacturer, you’ll probably avoid needing miracle cures altogether. Just don’t get scammed with an unneeded upgrade to synthetic oil. Although synthetic definitely won’t harm your engine, there’s no point in using it in the 200,000-mile car you’re going to replace soon either. Finally, while most of us will benefit from using the more expensive stuff, don’t let them gouge you on the cost.”

I totally 100% agree. If you have seen any of the interviews I have done in Behind The Wrench, you can see that every mechanic agrees! The one thing I will add is that the price of regular oil and synthetic oil is not that much. In fact, at my dealer synthetic is cheaper. We buy synthetic in such huge amounts, that we can sell it a little cheaper than regular. Just make sure you are using the correct oil.

No.7 Replacing air and/or cabin filter prematurely

“Here’s another scam seen frequently at the McOil Change places. The mechanic has grim news to report: It’s your air filter, and it doesn’t look good. Maybe the cabin filter too, and that’s important to maintain healthy air inside the car. Right. A guy looking like Kid Rock with missing teeth and cigarette breath is lecturing about health. Anyway, the good news is he can replace both right away. Ask to see them first. If you can’t see daylight through them or they’re obviously dirty, only then do you consider proceeding.”

You can ALWAYS ask to see the filter. If they refuse to show you, then take your car somewhere else. I think this is something that most people can do themselves. I recommend replacing your cabin pollen filter at least once a year. It can grow bacteria, and make your car smell nasty. Also, if you live in the southern US, we get horrible pollen, no need to keep breathing that stuff.

No.6 Transmission treatment

“Tranny servicing isn’t just a section on Craigslist, it’s something you’ll need to explore on your car. It’s also a source of mechanic scams. For too many people, too little attention is paid to the transmission. Beyond when to put it in park, reverse or drive, no conscious thought is given until there’s a malfunction. So, avoid pour-in services claiming to calm fears and extend service life, as they’re not a lot different from the engine treatments we addressed earlier. For most drivers, sticking to fluid and filter changes at recommended intervals is the best practice.”

I think they said it best. The good thing about working for VW is, you can’t just add stuff to the transmission. I guess when it comes to these types of treatments, there is really no such thing as a “mechanic in a can”.

No.5 Premature cooling-system flush

“The idea of a cooling-system flush itself isn’t truly a mechanic scam, but selling it prematurely is in many cases. Let’s say your coolant tests in the acceptable performance range, but you’re at the manufacturer’s recommended change interval. While you could just have the drain and refill done, a little extra time and money can buy a full cooling-system flush. Why not splurge on this car colonic? Unless the manufacturer recommends it or the existing coolant is seriously ineffective or contaminated, it’s just flushing money away.”

Ok, this is where we start to have different opinions. They said do not do the coolant flush “prematurely”. To me that means before it’s needed. Well, isn’t that EXACTLY what preventative maintenance is? Don’t you want to remove the contaminants before they cause damage? Now if premature means at 10,000 miles, yeah, that is not needed.

In fact this is where I differ from the manufacturer too. Some cars say they are a “life time” fluid. Well call me crazy, but how is that possible? All fluids in your car have 3 major functions,

  • Cool
  • lubricate
  • hold contaminates

The more contaminates it has, the less it will lubricate, the less it lubricates, the less it cools, and so on. Removing the contaminates before there is a problem is much better advise than saying “unless the manufacturer recommends or it is seriously contaminated, your flushing money away” What might be better advise is, make sure you have your coolant checked, if they recommend a flush ask to see the coolant.

What do you guys think? Be sure to read the whole post on Askmen.com. Come back tomorrow and we will talk about the rest of the scams. Do you have a scam you want to ask about? Post it in the comments below, I like confirm/debunk stuff! Also, be sure to signup for email updates, you will get updates before anyone else!