Warning Signs That Your Mechanic Is Scamming You

Mint has a great article on how to protect yourself from getting ripped off by a mechanic. First and foremost, read your car’s manual and learn what to ask for when you take it in. Just saying you need a tune up with a modern car flags you as an easy mark.

Other tips:

  • Get a detailed estimate, sign it, and take a copy with you.
  • If the mechanic tells you that something is about to give out, ask for details. “Find out if it’s leaking, losing pressure or what the specific problem is. Then ask to see the part. A good mechanic should be able to physically show you the problem with the part on your car or explain it to you by using a removed car part.”
  • The “omg your car is in such bad shape that you shouldn’t drive it until I fix it” line is almost always a scam. If you could drive the car to the mechanic’s without issues, the odds good that you can drive away in the car, too.
  • Speaking of driving away—get a second opinion if the quote sounds expensive and your car seems to be fine.

Read the full article at the MintLife blog.

“How to Avoid Unnecessary Car Costs” [MintLife]
(Photo: adobemac)


Edit Your Comment

  1. GitEmSteveDave_WantzTaunTaunBag says:

    Just to throw it out there, some mechanics do fair exchanges for new parts for old parts with their suppliers, so they can’t show you the old part when they change it. Had this with my drums and rotors last week. I was waiting at the shop though, so I saw them give the old parts to the delivery guy when they accepted the new ones.

    • Jfielder says:

      @GitEmSteveDave_WantzTaunTaunBag: Bad news my friend. Rotors and drums are NEVER subject to core charges or reconditioning. And (in Michigan anyways) the law says that the customer has the right to keep all changed parts, and inspect all parts that cannot be returned to the customer.

    • nbs2 says:

      @GitEmSteveDave_WantzTaunTaunBag: I think the point is to show you the removed part before installing or ordering the replacement. So, if you take the car in for a tire change, and they tell you the brakes are bad, they should show you the drums before you approve the work. Getting to keep the old parts as a souvenier is only for wisdom teeth and gall stones.

    • Shaggy says:

      @GitEmSteveDave_WantzTaunTaunBag: That depends on what state you’re in. Here in Michigan, the mechanic has to give you any parts removed from your vehicle. You don’t have to take them home, and most mechanics will gladly dispose of them for you, but they have to offer.

    • halcyondays says:

      @GitEmSteveDave_WantzTaunTaunBag: More than likely, the shop is selling the old rotors and drums for scrap rather than turning them in as cores.

      • GitEmSteveDave_WantzTaunTaunBag says:

        @halcyondays: Well, I go to this mechanic a lot(I drive 30 min to see him because I used to live 2 min away, and he does good work), and he always pays the delivery guy for any parts he buys w/cash. This time though, he handed my brake parts over in some boxes, and got a set of nicer cleaners boxes in return, w/no cash changing hands. I’m guessing the parts MIGHT have had a lifetime warranty, so you give the guy the old parts, and they give you the replacement.

        @all” I’m in NJ, BTW, not that corrupt Michigan state.

    • hmahaffey says:

      @GitEmSteveDave_WantzTaunTaunBag: it is called a core charge… but a reputable mechanic will always show you the old part if you ask. and if they tell you that they cant then they are lying… (if it is a core charge you have the right to pay the full price for the part and keep your old part)

    • dadelus says:

      @GitEmSteveDave_HazEnvy: Also make sure the old parts actually came from your car. I normally do my own oil changes but I was lazy once and took it to a mechanic that came recommended by a friend. The mechanic tried to pull a Jiffy-Lube by telling I should really consider changing my air filter while I was there and proceeded to show me a round filter that was just about black with filth.

      The problem was that since I normally change that on my own I know my filter is rectangular. I asked him to take me out and show me where he got that off my car. I got a free oil change and neither I nor my friend has been back again.

  2. Acolyte says:

    Another thing that has gone the way of the dodo….the honest mechanic. Nowadays most mechanics due to the recession have to find someway to get the most out of you, if it’s not minimum labour/hourly charges, it’s a mark up on parts or upsell on services you don’t need ie all sorts of flushes etc.

    Read your manual, check online for common issues with your make and model of car, know the right fluid colors and levels and other basics as regards your car. May be time consuming but is most def worth it given the savings you can make!

    • madtube says:

      @Acolyte: As a professional master trained Acura tech, I can both agree and disagree with you. There are techs and service writers alike who will run you for everything they can. There are also very honest mechanics (I consider myself to be one) who will only recommend what you need and will be more than happy to show and/or explain things in detail for you.

      As far as the other stuff, markup, flushes, etc., do a little research to see what you are getting. Most dealer markups are very high, ranging from 50-150%. That is usually set by the higher-ups and the dealer can sometimes do very little about it.

      I would be lying if I said all the “flushes” and “cleaners” that are sold are worth it. Some are very worth it. The flush and cleaners that were sold at my dealership, for the most part, were good enough for me to do on my own vehicles religiously. Usually a high-end dealer will not endorse a service that is bad for the vehicle. Some go a little crazy with selling them. Many help considerably and I would never hesitate to give my customer the option unless I have done it to my own vehicle first.

  3. bloggerX says:

    My previous car horn went out. I went to Midas, they told me $400 to replace it. $300 for the horn, $100 for parts and labor. Went to the junkyard, found a horn that match the interior, payed $100 for it. Worked perfectly as well.

  4. admiral_stabbin says:

    One thing that many can benefit from is the utilization of enthusiast forums for your car. If you drive a Honda Civic, a Jeep Wrangler, or even a Merkur XR4ti (eww!), you’ll likely find others that are very familiar with them on this here interwebs. A quick search on a popular make/model forum for your car can point you to:

    – Manufacturer TSBs (Technical Service Bulletins; good for spotting problems that are common enough that the manufacturer alerts all of the dealer service centers)

    – Common problems other owners have discovered

    – DIY steps on how to do the work yourself; no need to pay a shop $80 labor to change a cabin air filter if you can do it yourself with hand tools and five minutes of your time

    – Informed and helpful people (most forums, anyhow) that will gladly give you a second, third, and sometimes 20th opinion

  5. diasdiem says:

    1.) Is the problem he’s describing a lack of blinker fluid?

    2.) As he describes the problem, are his lips moving?

  6. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    Also, you’re a girl. They will almost 100% try to scam you if you don’t have a penis.

  7. TheMonkeyKing says:

    What I find to be pretty sad is the way mechanics try to take advantage of women who bring in their cars for inspection. They’ll threaten refusal to pass inspection for a host of non issues. I’ve had to take several of my female friends vehicles in and get them passed because they know I won’t take that crap.

    Hint: get inspected at a lube and oil place instead of a gas station or full service shop. The jiffy lube folks cannot charge for anything more than a filter, oil, or lightbulb change, and chance are you might actually need to have those items changed.

  8. docrice says:

    Even legit-seeming chain businesses are good at ripoffs. I took my wife’s 2008 Scion w/40k on the clock in to get the tires rotated and have the alignment checked (both for free as I bought the tires there and had the lifetime alignment package). They called me 45 mins later to say the mechanic noticed a few things in his “courtesy check” that I wasn’t even informed they were doing. He said the oil needed changed and was low (partway between full and add), and that a taillight bulb was out. They wanted $50 to change the oil and $15 to change the taillight. And $40 to replace a $12 air filter that I changed less than a year ago. No thanks. Also, “scion recommends” a flush/fill on my coolant and changing the Automatic trans. fluid as well. No thanks. “Ok, it will be done shortly”.

    Pick up the car and they give me the 3-page quote of “recommended services”, which included:
    -taillight bulb -$15 ($2 at parts store and 2 mins)
    -oil – $50 ($35 myself with synthetic)
    -air filter – $40 ($12 part from dealer and 2 mins)
    -“Scion recommended” coolant flush and fill (manual recommends changing at 100k, not 40k)
    -“Scion recommended” trans fluid change (not even listed in the book as a required service, book goes out to 115k)

    all for a total of $483. $483, mostly for stuff that didn’t need done. I need an oil change and the bulb, that’s under $40 total. On a 2 year old car. And unfortunately, people actually listen to these guys and spend a ridiculous amount of cash doing work that doesn’t need done. I’m calling and talking to their manager on Thursday.

  9. StanTheManDean says:

    The HONEST mechanic will tell you there is a problem, that he/she can’t fix the problem and that you should take the vehicle to another mechanic for evaluation and repairs.

    Yes, honest mechanics do exist. Usually the honest mechanic will be found at a small, speciality repair shop who is eager to point out problems outside of his/her scope of repairs.

    My general mechanic does not have the alignment equipment required to perform tire/suspension/alignment etc repairs. But he will always point out problems with the suspension and alignment while doing brakes or other general repairs.

    My tire/alignment shop does not perform any repairs involving the removal of the engine block. They were quite happy to point out a crack engine block mount (beyond their repair capabilities) to me.

    My locl muffler guy, always inspects the undercarriage of the car for leaks etc. He won’t repair the leaking valve cover gasket, but he will point the leak and describe the severity of the leak.

    Are the small shops generating traffic for each other? Sure. Potentially. But situated between the shops is a mega car repair center with 30 bay doors and dozens of full time mechanics that do everything buy body repairs. The small car shop might be trying to refer you to their friend, but they risk loosing you to the mega center as well. Which means they risk loosing your business.

    So when the muffler guy says “you might notice a oil spot under the car because you got a valve gasket leak… it is minor at this point, so watch your oil consumption and wait until it gets bad”, I tend to believe he is offering good and fair advice.

  10. bookwench says:

    I’m a girl. I’ve worked with electricity for over 15 years. It’s not the volts that kill you, it’s the cranking amps… I took my car in to get a new battery at a garage; they looked up the make and model and said they didn’t have the right kind of battery for my car. I looked at the specs and tried to persuade them that they could use another battery which had the same specs but a different brand name. They refused, said it wouldn’t work. I left, went to a car retail shop, bought a battery with the right voltage off the shelf, and changed the dang thing myself in their parking lot. It worked brilliantly for years, exactly as it was supposed to.

    Lesson: sometimes you know more about your car than the mechanic does.

  11. jwissick says:

    Wait. you mean I really didn’t need those Muffler Bearings changed????

  12. madfrog says:

    I have worked at several dealerships and have come across good and bad. Mostly, it is management that is pushing the upsell, and they get it because this is the only way most of these guys (service dept) make a living.

  13. katewrath says:

    I bought my Honda Civic at a great, honest, helpful dealership. But moving across the country, I quickly discovered that not all Honda dealerships are the same.

    After a year of oil changes that each included a bizarrely-pricey $39.99 “engine additive” — and after having the charge removed each time because the engine additive in question (ZMax? I think that’s right, but honestly, could it have a dumber name?) is NOT recommended by Honda and in fact, has been SUED by the FTC for false and inaccurate representation — I made a chilling discovery.

    THIS dealership is OWNED by the makers of this idiotic snake-oil-for-cars and they FORCE the employees to include ZMax in all repairs, hoping customers won’t notice.

    And so concludes my relationship with southern California Honda dealerships. Note to Honda corporate: Nice job preserving your brand by allowing these dirtbags to rip off your loyal customers.

  14. ninjatoddler says:

    Simple. If your mechanic works at Jiffy Lube.