By Kelsey Green
Whether you’re getting an oil change, having your tires rotated, or facing a more complicated repair, like replacing the alternator, it’s possible your visit to the auto repair shop will end up being more expensive than you anticipated.
Automobile maintenance costs an average $792 per year, according to the AAA’s 2016 “Your Driving Costs” study, and you don’t need mechanics padding their bills with unnecessary repairs and charges.
Most technicians genuinely want to help, says Lauren Fix, who is known as “The Car Coach” and is the spokesperson for the nonprofit Car Care Council. But there are times when you should question what the mechanic tells you.
Here are five common lies and ways to combat them.
1. “You can use any kind of oil in your car.”
Technicians often say you can use any oil in your car despite what your service schedule or car manual states.
“Run the oil that your service schedule tells you,” Fix says. “Running the wrong oil in your engine can void your warranty.”
If your car needs synthetic oil, which is for turbocharged, supercharged engines, or high-performance vehicles, make sure your technician uses that kind.
2. “You need to fix this now before it’s a problem.”
Sometimes a technician may exaggerate a problem because he wants to talk you into paying for a repair you may not need at that time.
Check your service schedule before saying yes, because it’s the “Bible for your car,” Fix says. If you’ve lost your service schedule or you bought a used car, check out carcare.org for a customizable service schedule specifically for your vehicle. This will act as your guide.
You can save more than $1,200 a year in repairs if you follow your service schedule and are proactive with any problems, the Car Care Council states.
Fix also warns that sometimes a technician will exaggerate to make you understand that there is actually a problem with your car. Ask for a second opinion if you’re unsure.
“Even if he finds a new problem with your car while working on a problem you have already discussed, you have to assume that it is possible,” Fix says.
3. “That damage didn’t happen here.”
Sometimes it’s just a small scratch or ding. Accidents happen, even by people who are paid to repair your car.
A California shop tried to cover up severe damage to Michelle and Albert Delao’s automobile after it fell several feet from a lift in 2015, the couple says. Employees didn’t tell the Delaos what happened to their car, instead saying that the shop was waiting on a part. The store offered to pay for a rental car while their vehicle was being worked on.
When they finally got their car, Michelle says she immediately knew something was wrong.
“I could tell from little things about the way the car was driving,” she says. “It was wobbly, and we could hear glass in the passenger window, which was weird, because we never had a glass or window problem before.”
To try to resolve the problems, they purchased a new set of tires to stop the wobbling. But they got a call a month later from a technician at the shop, they say. The couple learned that the car fell several feet onto its side, piercing the bottom and shattering the front passenger window, along with other damage to the car’s body. When the technicians could not get the car off the lift, a tow truck was called to pull the vehicle down, causing more damage, they say.
When she called the manager and store to ask about the incident, Michelle says both denied anything happened until she showed the owner the pictures from the technician.
After finding out the true extent of the damage, the Delaos took their car to the dealership, which confirmed all the damage at over $20,000, totaling their car. The couple has filed a lawsuit against the auto repair shop.
The incident has given the couple a severe distrust of technicians, Michelle says.
“It’s just sad, really,” Albert says. “It’s like when people need to go to the doctor. We have to have our car. We don’t know anything about it. We’re not mechanics.”
4. “This part cost more than we anticipated.”
An easy way for technicians to make more money is by overcharging for a part or repair. If you’re not sure how much a repair will cost, get multiple quotes in writing.
“Never do anything without getting a quote in writing,” Fix says. “That is how you know someone knows what they’re talking about and will uphold that when you get it in writing.”
If you don’t like to go in blind, you can get a general idea of what a repair or part will cost with research.
“Education and information are power,” Fix says.
Fix suggests RepairPal.com, which helps people not well versed in car mechanics be more prepared for when someone gives them a quote. You can type in your car’s mechanical issue to research the problem and the reliable cost for the part and labor for your area.
5. “The cheap tires will be just fine.”
When it comes time for new tires, technicians may try to talk you into buying the cheapest brands. Don’t listen, Fix says.
“When people come in saying they need to replace tires, they need to use the same tire brand and size,” she says. “The size and brands of the tires impacts your handling, traction, and safety for your car.”
Tires recommended by Consumer Reports, for example, range from $64 to $121.
Tips for finding a reliable car mechanic
- Go to a certified technician. Look for signs that state the shops are certified by the Automotive Service Association (ASA) or the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). “Find a master technician when you can,” Fix says. “They are the best in the business.”
- Ask your friends and family. Personal experience is the best way to find a reliable technician, so ask the people you trust.
- Check with a dealer. Along with specializing in your car, they can also help with recalls or possibly help find you a new technician if your warranty has expired.
- If your vehicle is safe to drive, take it to another mechanic for a second opinion.
- If your check engine light comes on, head to your local auto parts store, not a mechanic. Their equipment will find the issue, which empowers you with information before you schedule your car for service.