Have you ever gone to the garage to get your car fixed and feel like you were getting ripped off? Maybe you didn't know what was wrong with your car, felt the pricing was too high for an easy fix, or you didn't understand what everything meant on your bill.
These mechanic secrets they don't want you to know should help prepare you to ask better questions and keep you from getting ripped off at the garage.
The Best Kept Secrets That Your Mechanic Doesn’t Want You to Know
Your car is a major part of your day-to-day life. It gets you to and from work, around town to run errands, and it’s got your back when your running late. Chances are, you probably couldn’t imagine your life without your ride.
But we all know that cars can be costly—very costly. It doesn’t help that automotive repairs can be notoriously expensive and, if you don’t know what to look out for, they can get you ripped off when it comes time to foot the bill.
When it comes to defending yourself against the threat of getting ripped off, you need to arm yourself with knowledge about your vehicle and how it works. In this article, we’ll go over the top secrets that your auto mechanic probably doesn’t want you to know.
Don’t Get Conned at the Garage
It’s been said that mechanics are like doctors for your car. For this reason, we tend to naturally trust them and adhere to their advice without question. But, as you might imagine, this leaves you vulnerable to getting hosed at the checkout.
The truth is that most mechanics are not very transparent about their billing. Many garages are profitable only because they charge per service and per car part. For this reason, most mechanics are not exactly forthcoming about charging you for only the repairs you need. Sometimes, they tack on extra charges for services you don’t truly require.
What Your Mechanic Won’t Tell You
Want to protect yourself from getting scammed? Here are some bits of information that can go a long way in helping safeguard you from getting ripped off.
Some Repairs Are Super Easy
Don’t get duped by a mechanic’s tough talk. Sometimes, simple maintenance repairs can be done in a matter of minutes with very little elbow grease involved. For instance, changing your water pump and timing belt are generally brief services that can be done immediately one after the other.
When you get these services done, make sure they aren’t charging you for a double labor cost, because they’re only putting in enough work to warrant one charge.
Beware of Gimmicks
When you take your car in to a fast-service lube garage, you’ll find that sometimes the customer representative or mechanic will try to push unnecessary, gimmicky services on you. At the top of the list are power steering flushes and coolant fluid flushes.
These services are often suggested under the pretense that they are necessary when, in fact, your car might have thousands of miles left to drive before you start worrying about it.
Another predatory service that was mechanics push is cleaning your fuel injector. Often, fuel injectors are perfectly fine as is and can go many years (sometimes even its entire lifespan) without a thorough scrub from a car maintenance professional.
Be Wary of “Lifetime Mufflers”
Mufflers are rarely, if ever, able to last a lifetime of a car. Sure, many car part manufacturers will sell you on a muffler under the promise that they will issue you a free replacement whenever it breaks down.
However, you’ll get slammed at checkout when you find that your supposedly “free” muffler replacement costs an arm and a leg in labor costs to service the pipe.
There’s A Pricing Manual
Many mechanics do not set their own prices. Instead, they rely on the prices set forth in industry trade manuals that dictate what hourly prices should be at a flat rate. In other words, you’re getting charged by the book whenever you get a quote from a mechanic.
Regardless of how fast the mechanic can perform the service, you will be charged the same flat rate (even if a two-hour service only takes a half-hour).
Although your local garage isn’t to blame for this, it still ends up hurting the customer. This is because simple fixes that don’t take much time would otherwise cost you only a few bucks if you’re charged on a per-hour basis. However, on a flat rate, you can end up forking over some serious cash.
Brakes Don’t Need to Be Replaced as Often As You Think
You don’t always need to replace your brakes every few thousand miles. Instead, you should ride out your brakes until they’re at least 90 percent worn. Ask your mechanic about the degree of wear and tear they notice on your brake pads before you consider replacing them.
When it comes time to finally replace your brake pads, be sure to request the original equipment (OE) pads that come standard with your vehicle. Although they will cost a bit more than the generic stuff, you will be glad that you invested in a quality set of brake pads that will last you longer and will be trustworthy when you need them most. Quality brakes can make the difference between stopping on time or taking a life, so always buy the top shelf OE pads.
All-Season Tires Are Usually Fine
Depending on where you live, you may be able to get away with all-season tires instead of swapping your summers for winters every year. Not only are all-season tires more economical and time-saving, but they also can take a load off your mind since you won’t have to worry about getting them switched every season.
If you live in a dry area that doesn’t suffer from icy roads during the winter, all-season tires should be perfectly adequate. Most all-season tires can tread through snow and sleet without much of a hassle. However, it’s icy highways and roads that can be dangerous for cars with all-seasons on.
You Need a Second Opinion
If there are multiple garages in your area, chances are they are competing to see who can offer the lowest price possible. Whenever you roll up to a garage to get a quote for a service, always seek out a second opinion from the other guys. Sometimes, when they see you start to pull off their lot, they may offer you a better deal, so they don’t lose the sale.
When you show up at the second garage, make sure you act as if this is your first visit to a mechanic. The world of car maintenance can be treacherous, so if you tell them that you’ve been elsewhere and that they diagnosed your car with a specific issue, they may collude with one another to set an elevated price.
If There’s a Light on Your Dash, Don’t Panic
Cars are funny things. Sometimes, when your Check Engine light illuminates, there’s nothing you have to worry about. We have seen plenty of concerned car owners pull up to garages expressing concern over their lit-up dash light when, in fact, all that needs to be done is tighten the gas cap.
Shop Around for Promo Deals
Many local dealerships and auto body shops will sell you on promotions for free services like checking your alignment, rotating your tires, changing your oil, or installing certain parts. Although you should always read the fine print and be skeptical of supposedly “free” services, these are the kinds of deals you should seek out if you want to save a ton of cash in the long-term.
Never Sign a Blank Authorization Form
Like the heading suggests, you should never sign a blank authorization form—no matter what your mechanic says. You must always get a signed work order that delineates precisely which car maintenance services are being rendered, and what you will be paying for.
Every authorization form you sign should clearly state that jobs being performed and the warranties that apply to the services. If you are getting a part replaced, ensure that the form states how long the part is good for and whether there is any coverage for routine maintenance or other repairs.
Know Thy Car
Every car owner should know the basics of their make and model. Whenever you buy a car, whether new or used, make sure that you exercise due diligence and do your homework about the ins and outs of the car. You should familiarize yourself with the tools of the trade and should know how to do basic maintenance-related work like oil changes. You should also know how to pop the hood and jump the car if it dies on you.
Decode Your Mechanic’s Invoice
Just about every car mechanic’s invoices have the same elements included in them. If you’ve ever paid for a professional car maintenance service, you know what we’re talking about. Every car owner knows all too well the following lines on the invoice or receipt for a car repair:
You should take some time to get to know the line-items listed above. Perhaps the most confusing and least-understood part of the receipt is the “car data” section, which lists basic information about the vehicle including:
The “estimate” section is another important part of your mechanic’s invoice. This is the part of the receipt that spells out how much you were quoted by the mechanic when you signed the repair order. In some jurisdictions, mechanics are obliged by law to charge no more than 10 percent above what they quoted you.
Lastly, the “retain parts” section refers to the items or parts removed from your vehicle during the servicing. In some states, mechanics are bound by law to offer your old parts back to you. We recommend always taking back your old parts so you can inspect them and authenticate your mechanic’s claims. In other words, you can see for yourself whether your busted-up old muffler is as bad as the mechanic made it seem.
Mistakes to Avoid at the Garage
There are some major no-go’s when it comes to getting your car repaired. To help you quickly wrap your head around them and understand what not to do when you roll up to your mechanic’s shop, we suggest avoiding these mishaps and mistakes:
If you can avoid committing any of the no-no’s listed above, you’re on the road to a successful trip to the garage. Trust us, these mistakes are some of the easiest ways you can set yourself up to get ripped off at checkout.
Know When to Do It Yourself
Some services are better left to the experts. However, many car mechanics don’t want you to know that some routine maintenance services can be done from the comfort of your driveway with a little elbow grease of your own. We suggest doing a bit of research to gain the confidence to perform the following simple DIY services on your own:
If you know where to look, you can find plenty of useful, easy-to-follow guides to help you master the DIY services listed above, including many more that aren’t.
Roll Up to the Garage with Confidence
Knowledge is power, and technical knowledge about your vehicle and what it does and doesn’t need is an invaluable asset that you can use to protect yourself.
Don’t get scammed, hosed, or ripped off at checkout. Instead, follow this guide to familiarize yourself with the warning signs of a scam, and know what to do to keep your hard-earned money in your pocket.