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Humble Mechanic Logo

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.

Humble Mechanic Logo

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!