If you are like nearly 88 percent of Americans, you own a car. More than just that, your car is a major part of your day-to-day life.
It gets you to and from work, and around town for essential errands. It might keep your family safe in traffic on road trips.
Maybe it’s the go-to vehicle when you and your friends are having a night out on the town!
Chances are, you probably couldn’t imagine your life without your ride.
No car = no freedom. Right?
But we all know that owning a vehicle can be costly — very costly. From loan payments to insurance — even just the fuel to drive it — sometimes our cars can feel like money pits.
It doesn’t help that car repairs can be notoriously expensive.
Listen, if you don’t know what to look out for, you might end up paying far more money than you should or even pay for unnecessary services.
“The average consumer spends $400 a year on diagnostics, scheduled maintenance, and tune-ups. “
When it comes to defending yourself against the threat of getting ripped off, you need to arm yourself with knowledge about your car and how it works.
So, you’re going to want to keep reading.
You need to know this stuff.
And, we’re going to tell you all the secrets that your auto mechanic doesn’t want you to know, so stay with us.
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 often listen to their advice without question. But, as you might imagine, this leaves you vulnerable to getting hosed at the checkout.
The truth is, many mechanics are not very transparent about their billing
What you think will be a simple repair can bring sticker shock when you see the final bill.
Now, many reputable mechanics and car service centers will provide you with an estimate that includes parts and labor before doing any work.
They will also contact you should anything change with the estimate. In fact, many states require this practice.
This type of system can provide far more peace of mind.
9 Things Your Mechanic Won’t Tell You
Obviously, you’d like to protect yourself from spending too much money or paying for unnecessary parts or services.
We’ve compiled a list of the nine things your mechanic won’t tell you when it comes to car maintenance and repair.
1. Beware of the upsell
You know the drill.
You’re pulling into your local fast-service lube garage for a quick oil change.
And then it happens:
No, not that!
“Would you like to have a complete fuel system cleaning today?”
You’re just trying to squeeze in a quick oil change between running three kids in three different directions on a Saturday morning. The oil light has been on for three weeks.
You just want your freaking oil changed!
When you take your car into a fast-service lube garage, you’ll find that sometimes the customer representative or mechanic will try to push unnecessary services on you.
This is known as upselling.
At the top of the list are things like air filter changes, power steering, and coolant fluid flushes, or fuel system cleanings.
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.
However, don’t write off every single one. Sometimes, additional services are needed beyond a standard oil change.
So, how do you know the difference between a straight upsell and a real recommended service?
Well, first consider the time period for these services.
Average Mileage for Common Upsells
Engine Air Filter
Cabin Air Filter
Fuel System Cleanings
Transmission Fluid Flush
Source: Liberty Mutual
If you drive approximately 12,000 miles per year, you can see that some of these services are only needed once every few years – and for some vehicles, perhaps even once through your entire ownership.
So yeah, you can settle for the basic oil change.
Upsells you should consider
There are two upsells you might want to consider, though.
- Wiper blades
- Synthetic oil.
It’s recommended that you replace your wiper blades twice per year, with the goal to have blades on your car during your most inclement weather periods. Some places will only charge you for the blades if you’re having other services done, so this one might be worth it.
While synthetic oil is more expensive, it does have some pros like lasting longer and standing up to extreme temperatures.
So, if you have the extra cash, this is an upsell that is worth a bit more change, and ultimately may save you money in the long run in gas mileage and stretches between oil changes.
2. Be wary of “lifetime mufflers”
Mufflers are rarely, if ever, able to last a lifetime of a car.
Sure, many places will sell you on a muffler under the promise that they will issue you a free replacement whenever it breaks down and therefore it is a “lifetime muffler.”
However, where they get you is by requiring you to come back to their store for replacements, which removes any chance of you shopping around for the best prices later.
Ultimately, you’ll still pay the shop for labor to install or repair the “lifetime” muffler, so they’ve just secured your business through the life of your vehicle.
Smart for sales and marketing.
But, not so great for you, a consumer looking for a good deal.
3. There’s a pricing manual
Most mechanics do not set their own prices. Instead, they rely on the prices outlined in industry trade manuals that dictate what hourly prices should be at a flat rate.
In other words:
You’re usually getting charged by the book whenever you get a quote from a mechanic.
To make sure these charges are within a fair range, Consumer Reports has a Car Repair Estimator.
You can enter your year, make, model, repair needed and zip code.
You’ll then know if the estimate provided by your mechanic is competitive, or if you should shop around for a better price.
4. Brakes don’t need to be replaced as often as you think
You don’t need to replace your brakes by a set amount of miles.
Instead, you should ride out your brakes until they’re at least 90 percent worn. You can ask your mechanic about the wear and tear of your brake pads before you consider replacing them.
You can also watch for symptoms of brake problems.
You’ll know it’s time to replace brake pads when you’re experiencing the following:
- Your car pulls to one side when you hit the brakes
- Your brake pedal goes all the way to the floor
- Your brakes squeal, scrape, or grind when you apply them
- Your brake light is lit on the dashboard
When it comes time to replace your brake pads finally, 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 did. The investment in a quality set of brake pads means they will last longer and be trustworthy when you need them most.
Quality brakes can make the difference between stopping on time or…
5. Let’s talk tires
Have you ever found yourself with one ruined tire, only to be talked into buying a set of four brand new tires?
Believe it or not, there is no need to replace all four tires at the same time.
The condition of the tires is really what should drive your decision to replace — not the current sale at the tire place.
Also, depending on where you live, you may actually need to invest in a set of snow tires. Winter driving can be challenging, and a good set of snow tires really can make a substantial difference in the safety of your vehicle.
It can also decrease your chances of getting stranded while driving in inclement weather.
Consumer Reports says:
“If you live in an area where snow is a constant throughout winter, having dedicated winter/snow tires can improve your safety, according to a number of studies and surveys, as well [as] Consumer Reports’ own tests.”
However, if you live in a climate that only gets limited amounts of snow and ice, all season tires should be adequate.
Myth: You should inflate your tires to the pressure embossed on the tire’s sidewalls.
Reality: That is the maximum pressure, not necessarily the pressure you want in the tires.
What you should do instead: Look on the inside of your fuel door, find the manufacturer’s recommended pressure, and do that.
Source: Consumer Reports
6. 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.
Some may even offer price matching or attempt to give you a better deal than the competition.
So. seek out a few estimates, especially for repairs that are typically higher priced.
7. If there’s a light on your dash, don’t panic
You’re stuck in rush hour traffic, and your check engine light comes on.
Oh great! Now what?
Many things can trigger a check engine light, the least severe being something as simple as a loose gas cap.
The best thing, in this case, is to visit an auto parts store and ask the associate to use an OBD2 device to diagnose the problem.
And, guess what?
Some national chains don’t even charge for this service.
Often, it’s not even a “problem” per se, but a reminder for routine car maintenance.
8. Shop around for promo deals
Now, you don’t have to be an extreme couponer to get some great deals at the mechanic.
Many shops offer deals online and in the local newspaper. Check around and even ask at the garage what kind of promotions they offer.
This is especially true for standard maintenance items like oil changes or new tires.
Some services are offered with the purchase and can save you some money on the life of your vehicle if you plan on having it for years.
You may be offered “lifetime” vehicle alignments or tire rotation.
Keep watch for these kinds of deals, especially if you live somewhere with a lot of potholes – as alignments can really add up!
9. Never sign a blank authorization form
As the heading suggests, you should never sign a blank authorization form —no matter what your mechanic says.
Keep in mind:
In most states, accurate estimates with a small contingency (normally 10- or 15 percent) must be provided for authorization, and anything beyond the repairs listed require additional authorization from you before the work is complete.
However, there is always a chance you may run into someone who isn’t doing business on the up and up. So, be mindful and make sure you know exactly what work you are authorizing.
This will prevent any surprise charges when you pick up your car.
Importance of Your Invoice
The invoice you receive from the car repair shop isn’t just for stuffing into your glovebox, only to dig them out right before you trade the car.
So, what information will be included on your car maintenance or repair invoice?
According to CarsDirect:
“An auto repair invoice is an itemized listing of all of the labor, parts and miscellaneous charges associated with any auto repair job whether routine, or in-depth overhaul.
Understanding exactly what an auto repair invoice contains can help you figure out if you are being charged a fair rate, or if a shop is cheating you, and it can also help you shop around for the best prices and deals.
Understanding an invoice in practice however, can be quite confusing due to the various methods and ways of calculating charges and labor that most shops use.”
These documents contain essential information that you’ll need should you have to file a warranty claim later.
So definitely keep them somewhere safe, just in case.
Mistakes to Avoid at the Garage
There are some major no-go’s when it comes to getting your car repaired.
To help you understand what not to do when you roll up to your mechanic’s shop, we suggest avoiding these mishaps and mistakes:
- Not asking the mechanic how their pricing system works—is it a flat rate, by the book, or is it a per-hour rate that they charge?
- Not asking for a second opinion from a competing mechanic
- Not asking to see the car parts they removed from your vehicle to inspect the damages
- Not reading every line of your invoice to see if you have been overcharged
- Not asking your mechanic if they have been certified by an automotive authority (i.e., AAA, ASE, NIASE, etc.)
- Not checking the date when your tires were purchased to gauge whether they’re due for replacement
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.
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 YouTube video and 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:
DIY Car Repairs
Spark plug changes
Fuel filter cleaning
Windshield wiper replacements
Headlight and taillight bulb replacements
Brake pad changes
…And many more!
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.
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.
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.