Unfortunately, most car owners are at the mercy of their mechanics
when it comes to understanding the work done on their vehicles. While the nod-and-grin technique may work well during Monday morning meetings with the boss, it can wind up costing you when applied to your shop. You don't have to be a mechanical genius to protect yourself from unnecessary work and unexpected charges however.
Before you ever set foot inside of a shop, keep an eye out for specials. Is the shop offering a complete oil change
, tire rotation
and free stick on trunk monkey for $9.99?
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Shops tend to use specials to bring customers in the door. Once there, technicians do their best to find anything and everything that could possibly need replacing on your vehicle, leading to a swollen bill by the time your car leaves the garage bay.
When you decide on a garage (find one and read reviews here
), it's important to lay down some ground rules. First, never issue them carte blanche. Dropping your keys off with vague instructions to "just fix it" is a sure fire way to see a range of unanticipated charges on your receipt. You may not know exactly what's wrong with your car, but try to be as specific as possible and make sure the mechanic gets your firm authorization before starting any work.
On that note, ask for the details when the shop calls up for your permission to start work. What are they doing? How long will it take? What parts are they replacing? Why?
Ask a lot of questions and don't be embarrassed if you don't understand something the mechanic says. Ask them to explain, remember, this is their job. If they get frustrated or don't want to take the time for your questions, it may be a sign to take your business elsewhere.
Next, before anyone starts wrenching on your vehicle, make it perfectly clear that you want to see any and all of the parts that may be replaced. You'll probably get a cardboard box filled with that looks like leftovers from the set of a Mad Max movie.
While you may not know the difference between an alternator and an alpaca, asking to see the old pieces will send a clear message to the mechanic not to replace anything that isn't worn or abused.
Don't stop asking those questions. When you do finally get your box of old parts, ask the shop tech to go over them with you to learn what was exactly wrong. You're the customer, so they should be more than willing to spend a few minutes with you. Paying attention during their tutorial will arm you with useful knowledge for when you visit a shop in the future. A little bit of time can be worth you saving a lot of money in the future.
Finally, if you feel uncertain about the work a shop proposes for your vehicle, don't hesitate to do some independent research. Call as many other garages as you can and explain the situation. If anyone reacts with a laugh or a gasp of surprise, take your car somewhere else. It's your car, and it's your money.
Ways To Protect Yourself
1. Beware of too-good-to-be-true specials
2. Never say "go at it"
3. Make sure the shop gets your permission to do any work
4. Ask as many questions as you need to understand
5. Ask to see the old parts
6. Get the shop to explain what was wrong with them
7. Ask other shops if they would do the same work
8. Remember exactly what was done to prevent repeat work later
9. Use each shop visit as a learning experience
10. Always read any receipt or contract thoroughly