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Is my mechanic ripping me off? 4 tricks used by dodgy mechanics

Mechanics have gotten a rather bad rap over the years. There is no lack of stories; some mechanics intentionally seek to rip off customers by up selling and repairing components that don’t actually need fixing. Others simply don’t know what they’re doing, misdiagnosing problems and causing you big, costly, drawn out drama.

Unfortunately, many drivers have labelled the entire industry as “untrustworthy” and I’m constantly asked by people “is my mechanic ripping me off?”. In answer to that question, below are the top tips on how to spot the dodgy mechanics out there, and at the end… a list of how to avoid them!

If a mechanic wants to rip you off, they usually go for one of the following four options…

CHARGE FOR PARTS NOT REPLACED OR LABOUR NOT PERFORMED

It’s not uncommon for us to attend to a basic service for a new customer where a major service was said to have been performed by their previous mechanic and yet the customer complains of a number of problems that simply shouldn’t be there if the car was serviced well. Usually it’s because the parts that were charged were not actually replaced. Dodgy, right?!

BRING FORWARD SCHEDULED PARTS REPLACEMENTS

Loads of parts in your car will eventually need to be replaced. The trigger is either the number of kilometres your car has driven or time. A mechanic who wants to bump up your bill will often bring forward these major parts replacements unnecessarily.

For example, if a part should be replaced at 100,000km, some mechanics will start recommending replacements at 70,000km. This is also commonplace at roadside assistance operations where staff are incentivised to sell parts, like batteries. These guys will often replace any batteries that are over two years old (even though the normal life cycle is three to four years) regardless of whether the problem was actually the battery or it just needed  recharge.

CREATE PHANTOM REPAIRS

If you’re wondering – “is my mechanic ripping me off?” – here’s where things get really dodgy. There are some mechanics who will create repairs out of thin air in order to upsell you. Worse still, because there wasn’t a problem in the first place, they don’t actually do any work for the extra charge.

For example, the mechanic will spray WD40 on your suspension struts. They’ll then bring you in to show you that you have an oil leak and the suspension struts need replacing. You authorise the work, they then go ahead and clean up the WD40 and paint the suspension struts black. When you return they show you your new shiny suspension struts with no oil leak. That will be $1,200, thank you!

LURE YOU IN THE DOOR WITH A CHEAP SERVICE

With thousands of mechanics, workshops and dealerships, the automotive repair industry is super competitive. One of the most common tricks to get customers in the door is to advertise a cheap service. They lure in first-time customers with a bargain headline rate for a service, as low as $99. While this may sound appealing, the problem is that the mechanic just isn’t making any money. With the cost of parts, plus their business overheads, they’re not paying themselves. To counter this they’ll upsell you a bunch of things you don’t need. The strategy is to get you in the door and then bump up the bill.

What to do when auto repair goes wrong

First thing first, do not refuse payment. As per mechanics lien, if you refuse to make a payment, the mechanic may not return your car. Pay the agreed upon price and then try to work with your options.

Often it’s difficult to prove a mechanic’s fault. But try all your options. after all, it’s your money and your car, with your family’s safety attached to it. Take details about the repair work in writing, that’s the first step. State law requires repair shops to disclose all the details about the work done on your car.

Talk to your mechanic

Sometimes a simple oversight or honest mistake can lead to a faulty repair. If you’re unsatisfied with the work your mechanic has done, it’s important not to rush to conclusions. Return to the car repair shop, asks to speak to the mechanic and explain the situation.

Tell him what the initial issue was, what you expected from the transaction and why you’re not satisfied. Most issues can be resolved by reasoning with the mechanic and be working toward a solution. Ideally, an understanding will be reached and the automobile repair will be done properly and at no extra charge.

Determine your next move

What you should do next depends on where the repair was done. Your options will vary slightly for each type of automotive service center: a small, private garage; a chain shop; or a car dealership.

  • Small, private garages: Unfortunately, you have the fewest options for this type of car repair shop if your repair wasn’t completed to your satisfaction. You may be able to speak with the owner or manager of the shop, but in a small garage, it’s likely the owner repaired your car. If you can’t reach an agreement, determine whether you want to eat the loss or take legal action.
  • Chain garages: You have a few more options if your vehicle was serviced at a chain shop. Automobile repairs at a chain garage will generally be more expensive than at a mom and pop car repair shop, but that extra expense means the company can afford to employ customer service representatives. If you have an issue with a repair, speak to the manager of the garage. If an agreement still can’t be reached, escalate the issue to the corporate office. The outcome depends heavily on your situation, but many corporations are willing to concede the cost of a repair in the interest of preserving good customer relations.
  • Dealerships: Your options at a dealership are similar to chain car repair shops. Since dealerships are often affiliated with a larger corporate entity, you’ll have additional customer service options. Follow the chain of command from the mechanic to the manager to the owner to corporate headquarters, if necessary, to resolve your issue.

Consider taking legal action

This option should be considered only as a last resort. Suing for damages in small claims court can be an expensive and lengthy process. Laws surrounding vehicle repairs vary by state, so visit your state’s website or call the attorney general’s office to discuss your options regarding “lemon laws” and other applicable legislation.

If you decide that seeking damages in court is the best option, contact small claims lawyers to compare legal fee estimates. Try to find an attorney that accepts payment only if you win your case or better still, will add legal fees and court costs to the settlement amount.

If you have automobile insurance coverage and the initial damage to your car is covered, you may be able to avoid dealing with the mechanic directly. Contact your insurance agent and let him or her know the repair was not done correctly, and the insurance company may work to resolve the problem on its end.

How to Handle a Motor Vehicle Repair Case

Collect Available Evidence

Gather all the relevant evidence, pronto. In this situation, this means getting your used parts (it’s a good idea to do this any time you have major work done). If the garage will not give them to you, ask again by letter, keeping a copy for your file. If you get the parts, fine–if you don’t, you have evidence that the garage is badly run or has something to hide.

Have Your Car Checked by an Expert

Before you drive many miles after the disputed work is done, have your car checked by an experienced mechanic. Sometimes it is possible to get a free estimate from a repair shop. In this situation, however, you are probably better off paying someone to look at the engine thoroughly, with the understanding that if the need arises, the mechanic will testify on your behalf in small claims court–or at the very least, will write a letter stating what’s wrong with the engine. A few states require that you present three written estimates in small claims court. Whether this is required or not in your state, it’s a good idea to have them.

Try to Settle

By now you should have a pretty good idea what the first garage did wrong. Call and ask them to redo the job or refund part or all of your money. Often the repair shop will agree to do additional work to avoid a hassle. If they agree to take the car back, insist on a written agreement detailing what they will do and how long it will take. Also, talk to the mechanic who will actually work on the car to be sure you both have the same understanding about what needs to be done. You may be a little paranoid about taking your car back to the garage that just screwed it up. Nevertheless, unless they have proven themselves outrageously incompetent, this is probably your best approach because it’s usually easier to get work redone than it is to get a big refund. Also, if you sue and the garage owner shows up in court and says he offered to work on the car again but you refused, it may weaken your case.