How to dispute your mechanic bill

How to dispute your mechanic bill

This article is by freelance writer Roger White and staff writer April Dykman. It originally appeared on Roger's blog in a different format.

April

As many GRS readers know, last year I quit my job to become a full-time freelancer. The hardest thing about moving on was leaving coworkers like Roger White, a magazine editor and author of the funniest interoffice e-mails ever. Roger and I teamed up to bring you his story about a recent experience paying for an auto repair, along with tactical advice about how to dispute your mechanic bill.

Roger

Our little family was tooling along this year, struggling to stay within our monthly budget while juggling life's big-ticket items—you know: braces, countless teenage daughter items, summer camp fees times number of children squared, etc., etc.—when the two most feared words in all of suburbia's lexicon knocked us flat.

Car repair.

Funny thing is, it all started with just a broken brake light. I'm sitting in my wife's car at a stop light, waiting to turn right, when a smiling woman pulls up next to me and says, “Hey, your right rear light is out. Better get it fixed, 'cause the cops will stop you for that.”

Instant adrenaline panic overdrive. The cops! Where?

Ever since I was a teenager, having a cop stop me for any reason has always struck fear deep in my heart, even when I was doing absolutely nothing wrong. Readers of a certain age will remember the CSNY lyric: “Like looking in my mirror and seeing a police car!”

So the wife and I promptly hightailed it over to our nearest franchise fix-it shop, thinking that a broken rear light costs, what, five bucks maybe?

Hah. The franchise fix-it shop guys saw us coming a mile away. I should have known. I can't think of any other scenario where I feel so much like a life-sized walking all-day sucker than talking with the mechanic man. I'm thinking I'm not alone on this.

I believe that auto repair types begin sizing you up for the big squeeze the minute you walk in the door.

“Hello, sir, I see you and your wife have a Honda V6.”

“Uh, yes.”

“Does your model have the actuated re-inverter or self-regulating?”

“What?” Off guard, I blurt, “Actuated, I think. Really, we just need a brake light…”

“Uh oh. Actuated.”

(The other guy behind the counter sadly shakes his head at this point. The choreography is keen and well-executed, I must say.)

Still, I play along, because I don't know enough about cars to bluff them, and they know that I don't know. Furthermore, I know that they know I don't know. You know?

Dang, I should have said self-regulating. We're already off on the wrong foot.

“Well, it may be self-regulating, I'm not sure.”

“No, you said actuated.”

“Is that going to be a problem?” I ask.

“Depends. What are you in for?”

“Busted rear light.”

“Hmmmm.”

More head shaking. Some computer clacking, looking in reference manuals.

We left the car with the fix-it shop crew, said three quick Hail Marios to the Great Grease Gods, hoped and prayed for the best, and went about our day. I tried Googling “re-inverter,” but all I got was something about how to design a death-ray gun. When we got the call that the car was ready, we swallowed our gum, put on our all-day sucker heads, and made our way back to the garage. A different guy behind the counter gave us a bill that was a good 25% over the estimate. On the bill was a hefty item—I kid you not—that was labeled “service fee,” on top of labor, parts, tax, recycling charges, oil disposal fee, and all the rest.

My wife, always the braver of us, questioned this item, noting that the estimate was much less than the sum before us.

“This is way over what you said,” Sue said right out loud, turning all heads in the shop. I cringed. In a western movie, this was one of those moments where the piano player stopped playing and the saloon grew deathly silent. “What is this service charge?”

I expected another stern, condescending talking-to about how variable fluctuations in the world of auto parts derivatives combined with the situation in Libya, hourly swings in crude oil prices, and our particular vehicle's unfortunate re-inverter configuration all coalesced in the time it took to repair our rear brake light to necessitate an additional service charge. But the guy looked at the bill, looked at my wife, and said, “Huh. Don't know what that is. I'll take it off.”

Booiiiinnng. That was the sound of my brain leaping out of my skull and bouncing on the floor. How many people, I wondered as I chased my brain across the floor, pay this “service charge” without a second thought?

April

Repairs are one of the costs that come with car ownership, but it sure is confusing when you don't speak the lingo. When I go to the repair shop, I'm on the phone with my dad the whole time, repeating everything the mechanic says to my father, then repeating everything my dad says to the mechanic. I should just hand the mechanic my phone and cut myself out of the equation.

Like Roger, I probably wouldn't dispute my bill, either. I know how anti-GRS that sounds, but I'm being honest. I hate making a scene, and I'm likely to assume it's my own ignorance about cars that's the problem, not the service charge.

Obviously, Sue is the one who's got it right. If a charge looks wrong, you should ask about it. This doesn't necessarily mean the shop is trying to cheat you — mechanics are human and they can make honest mistakes. How do you make sure you're being billed fairly? I did some digging and found the following advice for those of us who aren't so mechanically inclined:

  1. Check to see if your car is under warranty. If it is, you'll need to take it to the dealer or an authorized repair facility.
  2. Find a good auto shop. Ask coworkers, friends, and neighbors where they take their vehicles for repairs. Is the shop affiliated with AAA or does it have technicians certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE)? Do you like the look of the place (clean, organized, etc.)?
  3. Ask for a written estimate before the work starts. It's not uncommon for the actual bill to be 10-20% higher, or more if the mechanic finds that the problem is more complicated.
  4. Ask for the mechanic to review your bill with you. It might seem tedious, but it can save you money, as Roger found out. Mistakes happen all of the time. Compare the charges with your estimate.
  5. If you have a bad feeling about the work performed, dispute your bill carefully. If you can't find a resolution, ask for the old parts (should you need evidence) and take your dispute, in writing, through the chain of command. If necessary, you might turn to the Better Business Bureau or, as a last resort, legal action.

Finally, if you're happy with the service you receive, become a regular, preferably at a local body shop. From Edmunds.com:

“The one-on-one relationship between driver and mechanic that smaller repair shops foster can really help consumers have confidence in both the work that's performed and in the vehicle itself. Local mechanics are more willing to help you understand how your car performs and what it needs. You can ask to look under the hood or the chassis with your local mechanic, and perhaps learn something about what goes where or why a service needs to be performed.”

In other words, you might feel a little less clueless each time you bring in your car.

Sources: AA1Car, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Edmunds

Roger

Meanwhile, back at the franchise fix-it shop…

“By the way,” says the mechanic, “you need new struts. They're bleeding onto your brakes. That's about $600 without tax.”

Flush with new confidence instilled by wifey, I took my turn. “Oh, no you don't. I know how you guys operate. Struts. No such thing as struts, I bet.”

I got some looks of approval from some of the other guy customers as we walked out of the shop. I think they were looks of approval, anyway. I had a bit of difficulty getting my all-day sucker-head in the car, but we drove away with a bit of salvaged pride. Struts, indeed.

“Hey, what's that noise, hon?”

Readers, got any tips or stories of your own to share? Leave them in the comments!

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harold
harold
9 years ago

I cant work out whether or not the part about the struts at the end is tongue in cheek or not, struts being part of the suspention & oil filled with a tendancy to leak when they are shot 😛

Another Idea would be to look for second opinions on the expencive jobs (second quote wont hurt either)

Andrea
Andrea
7 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

I had the same problem with my car. I took it to Big O’s (now a privately owned busines) in my hometown to get a second opinion. The Manager came out and looked at my car and told me the struts needed replaced. he also told me that struts need replacement every 50,000 miles and that mine have not yet been replac3ed..He also stated that they could start leaking and damage my car.I told him that I kept hearing a strange creaking noise every time I made a sharp left turn and if that would cause the problem..he told me… Read more »

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
7 years ago
Reply to  Andrea

Three words: small claims court. ASAP! You don’t need a lawyer, and you can get the folks you talked to to testify, maybe.

Lee
Lee
6 years ago
Reply to  Andrea

Actually what is RECOMENEDED is replacement due to age/wear. Yes they CAN start leaking but the actuall issues is every up and down movement of the strut/shock is wearing it out. Like tires rolling on road, they wear out. Now did they lie to you, not really but yes. What happened is they are CHANGING the wording to make it sound more dire. Struts/shocks that are worn can cause ill/bad handling, extended stopping distance and excellerated tire wear. Propper inspection and keeping careful tabs on the part in question is warranted. Also go to Monroe shocks, Gabriel shocks, ,KYB shocks… Read more »

Susan S
Susan S
6 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

I took my mom’s car in specifically to get chk-engine working.Told them chk-engine light would not come on and this was intermittent. That the car failed smog test and I need tags. Showed them ABS light was also on and wouldn’t go off. They said this was a completely different matter. Car was in shop 5 wrkg days, Finally said their diagnogstic indicated distributor, igniter & ignition coil had to be replaced at a cost of $985+diagnostic of $119, total around $1,100. They got OK to do this based on their word and that this would fix the chk-engine light… Read more »

Michelle
Michelle
10 months ago
Reply to  Susan S

What did u do I’m going through the same thing right now $800 plus smog check. He wants money for the work he did but it still won’t pass smog and I’m out $900 and now he won’t work on it at all he’s had for almost 3 weeks I’m curious how u handled it after u paid

Bobby
Bobby
9 months ago
Reply to  Susan S

They replaced coil pack and distributor? Those are for two different ignition systems, your car has one or the other. If you have that in writing I’d sue. complete bs when they try taking advantage of uninformed. Future reference, most major autoparts stores will read codes for you and give you a print out. Just because the light is malfunctioning doesn’t mean the computer is.. Get that list and ask questions on any number of forums. People out there not looking to get your money and can give you decent advise.

The Realist
The Realist
9 years ago

Find a shop you can trust. There are better options than going to a franchise shop. Second, I know it’s just a story but the whole “actuated reinverter” wouldn’t be necessary for the repair shop to ascertain your knowledge level of cars. If you’re going in for a broken tail light that’s enough information right there.

Bottom line is most repair places are trustworthy. It’s worth it to ask around ahead of time and find a shop near you that people trust.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago
Reply to  The Realist

My local Firestone (a chain) is a pretty good shop. I like that they keep my records and I can get consistent service across the country. And if there’s a complaint (I had one with another shop out of town) you can escalate it with a regional manager. For the record, the problem wasn’t Firestone’s fault but the local parts dealer who sold them my new fuel pump with a huge markup. I had to eat the charges because it was an emergency repair outside of town. Now, about those dealers… curse them and their price gouging. The best way… Read more »

Colleen
Colleen
9 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Wanted to second the vote for Firestone. I know people usually knock chains, but I have consistently had good luck with them. I moved from Massachusetts to DC and in both areas they have been great about telling me what I could do regarding service and then telling me what I should do. Never once have I felt that they have tried to “up-sell” me or charge me for work that wasn’t done well or wasn’t necessary.

Claire
Claire
9 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I also trust my Firestone shop in Durham, NC. I’ve tried a few places in the area, and ended up not trusting something they say for one reason or another (I do know enough about cars to realize when someone’s full of BS).

Lindsay
Lindsay
9 years ago
Reply to  Claire

On the other hand, I’d avoid Meineke at all costs. I went in needing an oil change and they came back and quoted me $370 because I “also needed 8 new platinum spark plugs”. I looked at the guy and said, “First of all, I drive a Civic. I don’t need platinum anything. Second of all, I have a four-cylinder engine. What do you intend to do with the extra four plugs? That’s like telling me I need 8 new tires. Change my oil for the $30 you advertised and I’ll be leaving.”

Jack Foley
Jack Foley
9 years ago
Reply to  The Realist

What kills me is that u can get your mechanic to do work but always there is extras..

this needs doing, etc, etc

thats where they make their money..

Jack Foley
Jack Foley
9 years ago
Reply to  The Realist

I think its good also if you get referred and use that name when u go the mechanic..

No Debt MBA
No Debt MBA
9 years ago

I tend to take advantage of my friends who are car nuts and always have “project” cars. They can usually explain what’s wrong, give a ballpark for what it’ll cost to fix and recommend a shop or two. I then return the favor with beer and manual labor when their “project” needs help and learn a few things myself.

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

And there’s always the cartalk guys. 🙂 We actually use the mechanic in town that is known for having somewhat higher than average prices but never telling you that you need things you don’t, and fixing things correctly the first time, etc. Great yelp reviews and everybody you ask in town uses them, and some have horror stories about other places in town (like the Jiffy Lube). There’s a plumber in town who is similarly awesome. Other folks we’ve had to navigate our way through. Sadly… they can no longer do oil changes on our Civic Hybrid because when we… Read more »

Damsel
Damsel
9 years ago

I used to hate that I “had” to let my husband handle car stuff – my stupid ego got in the way of my good sense. The truth is that I just don’t know enough about cars, and he knows TONS. I’ve since realized that being married is fantastic in the arena of “divide and conquer”. He knows about car stuff, ergo, he takes care of car stuff, and I don’t have to worry about it! I do love that Roger’s wife questioned the service charge. I think I’d do the same, especially if it wasn’t part of the original… Read more »

Kevin
Kevin
9 years ago

One other piece of advice I’d add: If you’re having a part replaced, ask to see the old part.

Some shops have been caught charging customers for replacing parts that they haven’t actually replaced. Ask to see the part they took out (and bonus points if you ask them to show you what’s wrong with it and why it had to be replaced in the first place).

Chadnudj
Chadnudj
9 years ago
Reply to  Kevin

Agreed. Before I found my current honest local mechanic, I actually went a step further — I didn’t just ask to SEE the broken/replaced part, I asked FOR the part itself upfront. That way, they couldn’t just show me the “broken pump” they kept to show customers who asked to see such things…they actually had to give me something.

Most of the time, when they’d give it to me, I’d take it, then turn around and say “You know what, I thought I might have had some use for this, but go ahead and recycle it.”

Marsha
Marsha
9 years ago
Reply to  Kevin

I like it when a repair shop actually gives you the old part. If they do this for every part they replace, you have more assurance that the part came from your vehicle, and it’s not just something they show to everyone who had that part replaced. The best shops are always clear and fair on what the charges will be, and will call you before doing extra work over the estimate. They have to overcome the bad reputation that ripoff shops have given the whole industry. I once had a repair shop try to charge me with replacing a… Read more »

Drew Dowdell
Drew Dowdell
9 years ago

Really… going to a repair shop to change a lightbulb? There are videos on Youtube on how to change just about anything on any model of car. There is a lot of stuff you can do at home, don’t be scared.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago
Reply to  Drew Dowdell

That’s for certain. I’m clueless when it comes to cars, but I’ve figured out how to change my own bulbs (so simple it’s a crime to pay someone for it) and even the entire tail light assembly.

Trisha
Trisha
9 years ago
Reply to  Drew Dowdell

i have also found that most folks at the auto parts stores are very willing to help. they can tell you if you need to change the whole lamp or if a bulb is all you need.
i have taught myself mechanical/plumbing/electrical/carpentry stuff because i will never pay someone to do the stuff i can do. educate yourself or expect to get scammed. you’d never do it with your money, why would you do it with your car???

Kevin M
Kevin M
9 years ago
Reply to  Drew Dowdell

That’s the same thing I thought. If you can replace a household light bulb, you can replace a bulb (brake/headlight/whatever) in a car. Just go into any auto parts store, tell them the make/model of car and they’ll even find it for you at no charge.

Amanda
Amanda
9 years ago
Reply to  Kevin M

There are you tube videos of how to fix many little car things too!

Lyn
Lyn
9 years ago
Reply to  Kevin M

Heck, I’ve come across a couple parts stores where employees will actually walk out to the parking lot and replace the lightbulb – or battery – for you! Free!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Lyn

Ditto on the light-bulb moment. It’s generally a fairly simple process. If you do it right there at the auto-parts place, they might lend you a screwdriver or, as someone else noted, an employee to come out and help you with it. Takes 5 minutes of the guy’s day, but it makes you a customer for life. I wouldn’t go so far as to say you can fix ANYTHING on your car with help from the Internet. If you foul up, it might mess with the remaining time (if any) in the warranty. It might also mess with your ability… Read more »

Jack Foley
Jack Foley
9 years ago
Reply to  Lyn

Any idea how much it costs to change wipers?

cindy
cindy
9 years ago
Reply to  Kevin M

Sorry, I couldn’t reply directly to the wipers guy below – Windshield wipers are very simple to repair, you can get middle of the line ones at an auto repair shop for about $15 a piece (when they’re not on sale), and the instructions are usually right on the box. Check your instruction manual for your car too, and it will tell you what type to buy. Easy peasy, even a 18 yr old girl can do it 🙂 My dad made sure I knew simple car repairs before I went off to college and that knowledge has paid for… Read more »

AsherMaximum
AsherMaximum
9 years ago
Reply to  cindy

I usually refer people who don’t know how to do stuff like windshield wipers and batteries to Advance Auto, as they actually advertise that they will do that for free (on most cars)

theseven
theseven
9 years ago
Reply to  Drew Dowdell

Yea, I’m actually surprised these places are still in business. Unless you need specialized tools, you can fix just about anything on your car with the help of the internet- both to find the best/least expensive parts, and to learn how to do things. I’ve saved thousands of dollars on car repairs in the past two years by having my boyfriend, who had never done a single thing to a car before then, do repairs for me. Simply by learning it online.

Kaytee
Kaytee
9 years ago
Reply to  Drew Dowdell

Actually, replacing a bulb is not always as easy as it sounds. The first time one of my headlight went, neither my husband nor I could figure out how to change the gd thing. It was nothing like the cars either of us had previously owned. We ended up taking it to the shop and asking them to show us how when I got my oil changed. (Per our rental lease, we are not allowed to work on our cars in the apartment parking lot.) It turns out that you have to take out the air filter and pull the… Read more »

Tom
Tom
9 years ago
Reply to  Drew Dowdell

I had a heck of a time replacing a light bulb on a 95 Taurus, and spent an afternoon replacing the entire housing of the tailight on my Eagle Talon (don’t remember the year, 99 maybe)
It has gotten considerably easier with my 2009 Focus. I did find out though, if a taillight burns out during bumper-to-bumper warranty, that the shop replaces it for free, saving me a couple bucks at pep boys.

AsherMaximum
AsherMaximum
9 years ago
Reply to  Tom

Whenever I buy a car, the first thing i buy for it is a “Haynes” manual. The internet is great for a lot of things, but for just showing you how things come apart and where they go, it’s the best.

Erin
Erin
9 years ago

I don’t mind questioning a bill because who else is going to care enough about my money? NO ONE! Recently, I had to spar over a medical bill and I saved myself $150. That’s $150 back in my pocket, where it belongs. I honestly don’t understand why people don’t question more of their bills/services. For example, my internet company decided to hike my bill without giving me warning. I called them up and said I’d only pay the same price I had been paying the past 2 years. There’s no need to be mean or rude about it, but stand… Read more »

Dan
Dan
9 years ago
Reply to  Erin

“Nobody cares about your money more than you do.” Everybody else cares about my money too. They just care about how to take more of it from me 😉

AC
AC
9 years ago
Reply to  Erin

I think that is one of the main gripes about our health-care system. No one knows what all these unnecessary steps costs them and their insurance.

Zina
Zina
5 years ago
Reply to  AC

Insurance companies are behind the unnecessary steps because they make more profit from them. They make profit off the inefficiency that is stressing out and bankrupting American families. It doesn’t help that providers all think they are entitled to be millionaires so their practices have become ruthless for profit machines and the two (providers and insurance companies) with their competing interests trap patients between them. It’s bad medicine, bad healthcare delivery, period. Insurance companies, though, exist to take our money and give only part of it to our medical providers, making them nothing but parasites we’ve all been bamboozled into… Read more »

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
9 years ago

What’s worse than not knowing and getting f***ed, is knowing exactly what is wrong and having the mechanic try to convince you that you don’t know what you’re talking about. As a minority woman, I went (alone) to a shop to get an axel repaired…I knew exactly what part I needed and how long it should have taken to put it in. Why did the guy at the counter and I get into a tiff over whether or not my car was a 4 or 6 cylinder (it was 6, he insisted I was wrong). They already had my car… Read more »

dee
dee
9 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Yeah, You know all about your “axel”. That’s why you can’t spell it? AXLE To be fair, if anybody male, female or transgender came into my shop, I would still confirm the problem /cause before I carried out any work. Especially if they said “the axel is broke….” You would be coming in on a tow truck. I believe that the biggest issue in a lot of the cases above is an over exaggerated sense of ones own ability. Who would the customer blame if they replaced the part they were “told to” and the problem was not fixed? If… Read more »

Brett
Brett
9 years ago

This article supports my belief, that unless you are making enough money to throw it away on car repairs, everyone needs to have a basic understanding of automotive repair. Understand how to change the oil and all your exterior lights. Know how to change a tire. You’ll save yourself at least 10000 over lifetime, I can guarantee it. I actually use a franchise shop because it’s within walking distance of my home and have built a good reputation with the manager. He knows not to f*** me over because I recommend his shop to my coworkers; he better remain an… Read more »

Dan
Dan
9 years ago
Reply to  Brett

“You’ll save $10k over its lifetime.” I’m not sure about that. In the ten years I’ve had my car, I think I’ve spent half of that on repairs and routine servicing. Assuming I had the tools and knowledge to do those jobs myself, I’d probably only save the labor charges — maybe a couple of grand.

Spider-mike
Spider-mike
9 years ago
Reply to  Dan

Okay and multiply that over the course of your life and you get aleast 10k, much more if you have a wife and kid with a car.

Ian
Ian
9 years ago
Reply to  Dan

The labor is the killer. My BMW has a know issue that’s internal to the engine. It’s a $100 part, but 10 hours of labor. I’ll do it myself when it goes, and save about $1200.

Most shops charge $100 to $120 per hour. Doing small repairs yourself will save a ton.

Tim
Tim
9 years ago

I had an issue with the remote start in my car, so I call the dealer and they advise me to bring the car in and all the remotes. I should have tried the basics first, but in the end, it turned out to be a dead battery in one of the remotes. They wanted to charge me $5 for the battery (which I’m OK with) and $60 for “installation”. I challenged it, and challenged it to the tech’s manager who tried to argue that his technician had to troubleshoot the issue and that takes time. I can understand that,… Read more »

Dan
Dan
9 years ago
Reply to  Tim

If they truly charged you $60 for “installation” I’d be pissed. If he really wanted to charge for his mechanic’s time, he should have charged you a diagnostic fee, which isn’t unreasonable.

The NTB by my apartment charges $20 just to look at something, and you’re stuck with that charge no matter what. Dealers will charge you more, but if you decide to get the work done with them, they will apply it as a credit to the work.

Kevin
Kevin
9 years ago
Reply to  Tim

Surely you’ve heard the parable of the retired GE engineer? This is exactly analogous to your situation. One day in the early days of computing, General Electric had a problem with their computer. All of their engineers took a look at the problem. Although each was wise, they were unable to understand the complexity of the machinery and repair the error. A call was made to the retired engineer who had helped in the original set up of the machine. The retired engineer walked around the machine for a few minutes, just looking it over, not touching anything. After a… Read more »

Ash
Ash
9 years ago
Reply to  Kevin

That is hilarious. 🙂

Adam
Adam
9 years ago

Finding an auto mechanic/shop you can trust is invaluable. It’s not different than trusting your dentist, or any other person you have a professional relationship with.

Erin O
Erin O
9 years ago

One of the best lessons I learned early on in my car owning life was have a great mechanic you can trust. Luckily I learned this when I was young (early 20’s), female and used to mechanics treating you as clueless. Based on recommendations I found someone who ran his own small shop. When the dealer had a recall and I was on the phone with the service folks after dropping off my car and was told the faulty thing could only be fixed safely if they fixed x,y, and z as well (at my expense), I called my mechanic… Read more »

Ilya C
Ilya C
9 years ago

Having a local mechanic in your corner is a great feeling. I don’t go to the mechanic all that often but when I do it’s always the same place, and after years of this, I know the guy is not trying to hustle me. Plus they’ll usually cut you a good deal as opposed to corporate places that run on more cookie cutter pricing. I go to the mechanic with a few of my friends (if I can’t help them myself) to make sure they are not getting scammed. Some of the things mechanics will try to pull if they… Read more »

Erin
Erin
9 years ago

When I was single, I went to my now husband’s family’s mechanic for the first time. I was on a very limited budget. I told him that I was on such a budget and asked that he call me before performing any work so that I could ok it. It helped to find out what I was going to spend (pretty exactly) before I spent it. Because it was a small repair shop there weren’t extra random fees tacked on.

It also helped that my now-father-in-law called and told them to take care of me. 🙂

Kim
Kim
9 years ago

We had a good friend that was a mechanic that helped us find a trustworthy shop. We have been frequenting the same shop for over 5 years now and have a good relationship with the owners. Often times they’ll just give us 10% off because they’re in a good mood. We get coupons in the mail from them and use them. I feel cheap sometimes always asking for discounts, but we’ve spent a TON of money there!!! Giving us the discounts and being honest with each interaction has kept us loyal customers.

Drew Dowdell
Drew Dowdell
9 years ago

Years ago I had a component fail on my Lincoln that caused raw fuel to be dumped into the exhaust catching the catalytic converter on fire. Luckily a state trooper was right behind me with a fire extinguisher and put the fire out before there was any damage. The Ford dealer that was doing the repair came back with an estimate of $600+ dollars. There was one line item I found very interesting. $100 to remove and clean my spark plugs. That made me blink a bit and I asked the guy what that was about. He said “Well when… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
9 years ago

I think in terms of saving money when going to the repair shop, it’s a good idea to learn some basic auto maintenance. Changing a light in most cars shouldn’t take more than ten minutes and a screwdriver, be it headlights or brake lights. Knowing an being able to do simple maintenance like checking/topping off fluids, replacing lights and air filter, changing the oil/filter, etc. will save you a lot in labor costs and are easy to learn. It also gives you the bonus of knowing a little more about your car so there’s less chance of being completely lost… Read more »

Chase
Chase
9 years ago

This story reads like fiction or is very embellished. I’m surprised it didn’t end with him selling you a new car instead of replacing the light. And yes, it’s crazy easy to replace a tail light and the sense of satisfaction that goes with doing it yourself is great. Although I am one that loves paying for my oil to be changed. I consider my time to be valuable. I know how to change oil, I’ve done it before, I don’t care to do it again. But, I’m still kind of scared of the kinds of bills that can come… Read more »

Dan
Dan
9 years ago
Reply to  Chase

Yeah, I thought there was some creative liberty in there too.

I live in an apartment, so doing my own oil would be a pain — not only that, but I don’t have a garage or other space to store tools, and I’d have to dispose of my oil properly. It’s just easier to have someone else do it.

I can change my own tire — that’s something everyone should learn to do.

Coley
Coley
9 years ago

Funny post. Good comments. The only thing that disappointed me about the post is that, while it gives a nice list of suggestions on how to navigate the potential pitfalls of contracted automobile maintenance, never does it even come close to suggesting that the customer might try to learn a little bit more about how his car actually operates. This subtly perpetuates the myth that cars are either too complex for the average person to understand even the basics, or, somehwat more controversially, they’re too low-brow for an educated person to bother learning much about. They’re neither. And I realize… Read more »

AMP
AMP
9 years ago

I work at a dealership, and our management system has an option to automatically add a percentage of the parts & labor total as a “service fee” to the invoice (1.5-2%, I think). It’d be interesting to calculate and see if that’s the case here.

Sharon
Sharon
5 years ago
Reply to  AMP

My husband and I own an auto repair shop. We charge a percentage of the parts total as ‘shop supplies’ to cover things like bolts and washers that don’t get itemized on the invoice. We are an honest shop and we price things fairly but in the end we ARE a business, not a charity. We need to make a certain percentage of profit on each ticket in order to keep the doors open. It does not mean we’re trying to rip off our customers, far from it. We’re trying to stay in business so we can continue to help… Read more »

Laura
Laura
9 years ago

The advice from readers to learn something about car repair is generally good but only if you (a) have any interest in the topic (I don’t) and (b) have the time to invest. I know the response would be it’s in my financial best interest to learn it, but that’s like telling someone that they need to learn everything about fabrics and sewing to buy the best-quality clothing – I’d rather find someone else I trust who knows this stuff and pay them for their expertise. I’ve found it very effective when a (former) garage tells me they’ve found additional… Read more »

Dan
Dan
9 years ago
Reply to  Laura

Laura, Nobody is suggesting that you become an “expert” on anything. But you need to know enough about most major things in your life to figure out whether or not people are taking advantage of you, or otherwise ripping you off. I’m not an expert in investing, but I know enough to know that if someone is trying to sell me something with a sales load, that they’re lying if they tell me I “can’t go wrong” with that investment. Fabrics? You need to know enough about your high quality fabrics to know if a) the fabrics are truly high… Read more »

Chris
Chris
9 years ago

You can’t change a lightbulb? Really?

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago
Reply to  Chris

How many writers does it take to change a lightbulb?

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
9 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

Check out “How many dogs does it take to change a light bulb.” Hilarious!

Pamela
Pamela
9 years ago

I really like the referrals in the mechanic database over at NPR’s Car Talk website: http://www.cartalk.com/content/mechx/.

You can read reviews and leave reviews for mechanics you’ve met.

What’s great about the site is they ask you to rate repair shops on some really good criteria, like whether they fix things right the first time and whether they treat women differently than they do men.

I agree strongly with all the commenters above who recommended finding a great local shop and staying with them. The Car Talk database is a good place to start.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago
Reply to  Pamela

Oh, that is great, thanks so much for posting!

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago
Reply to  Pamela

I’m happy to see that the one we use is the one with the most ratings in our town. 🙂

Crystal
Crystal
9 years ago

HAHAHA! Yep, the #1 thing anybody can do to save money on car repairs is spend the time in the beginning to find a great repair shop with honest mechanics. It took me 3-4 tries, but I found my shop and pass 6 others on the way just because my mechanic doesn’t charge me for things that don’t exist (I check on the internet) and they charge $40 an hour for labor instead of the regular $50-$75 an hour that is normal in Houston. My dude also realizes that a Chevy Aveo naturally has a few little issues that we… Read more »

ali
ali
9 years ago

One of the best things to do is ask around – friends, co workers, who ever is in your area, and ask where they get their work done. Also don’t dismiss a franchise or local chain just because of who they are. I moved recently but before I moved my regularly went to a repair shop that was part of a regional chain. They were honest, did good work, always treated me fairly and never like I was stupid and other people I knew used them as well, all with the same good experience. I used them for everything except… Read more »

jim
jim
9 years ago

Check out repairpal.com for an idea of what common repairs and maintenance *should* cost.

Is this story all for real or just fictionalized?

Spider-mike
Spider-mike
9 years ago

Some things I have learned: #1)-Try to buy cars that will last a long time statistically ( I like Hondas) #2)-Don’t buy extended warranties unless your new car has a history of problems (might not want to buy it but…), I have bought them twice and never used them and the odds are very low that you will. Now people who have used them will argue differently but typically they are in the minority for the usage of the warranty. If you do buy it you can haggle on it, I got the dealer to lower the warranty amount by… Read more »

AC
AC
9 years ago
Reply to  Spider-mike

don’t forget when purchasing a car and in the middle of the negotiation process to try and add in free services such as oil changes. A lot of dealers are able to tack this on rather than take money off the bottom-line price.

Jenne
Jenne
9 years ago

For many years, I used a mechanic who had a time estimate book. Apparently this is something mechanics can buy. They then can tell you how long it’s going to take, and bill you *that*. My mechanic always stuck to the price for what needed to be done, only increasing it if they had to do something else. It saved them the trouble of computing real-time hours, I think, and it meant I didn’t have to deal with mark-up. My partner is a motorhead now, so I let her do all the car arrangements. But I strongly agree that two… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
9 years ago

I have only the vaguest idea of all the systems that have to work together for my 16 yr old Honda to run. Have no interest in learning more, and – being an apartment dweller – I can’t even *wash* my car at home, much less change the oil. There is a Midas franchise a short walk from the apartment. I took the car in once for an oil change and liked the way I was treated there (respectfully, with thorough and verifiable information – better than at our Honda dealer service place). My car’s been in there now for… Read more »

krantcents
krantcents
9 years ago

First thing is find a mechanic you can trust! If you do that you will avoid a great deal of this grief. Ask your fiends, check with the Auto club (AAA), or check with a local school who may have an auto shop. Talk to people who have older well maintained cars and ask them where they go.

almost there
almost there
9 years ago

I trust myself more than the dealer service department. I noticed a bolt on my oil pan was snapped off. Purchased all new fasteners and gaskets for the oil pan and exhaust manifold and pipe that had to be removed. Decided I really didn’t want to struggle under my del sol up on front wheel ramps and took parts to honda dealer to change out gasket. Some months later noticed oil leaking just enough to coat underside but not drip on ground. Investigated and found that they had not replaced snapped off bolt and all 22 bolts and nuts were… Read more »

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
9 years ago

My father always said to look for a stand-alone shop that relies on repeat business. Pass on the chains. Also, ask at the Auto Zone, etc. who they recommend when you move to a new area. We got steered right to our guy.

Warning: if your stand-alone shop expands and builds a huge new building, check them out carefully. One of our good guys started ripping us off when he did, so we moved on.

Nick
Nick
9 years ago

The best piece of advice if you don’t feel comfortable calling out a mechanic: shop around! Any legitimate shop should do an estimate for free and will find this a perfectly reasonable request. Remember, until they have your keys and signature, you don’t owe them anything. Getting estimates from multiple shops does a few things: 1) It allows market forces to work. Shops that are upfront and reasonably priced will be rewarded, and those that ask too much or fabricate extra problems will stand out alongside the honest ones. 2) It becomes more obvious which mechanics are making things up.… Read more »

Gern Blandershphelt
Gern Blandershphelt
9 years ago

I hope you didn’t pay more than 10$ for that brake light. They cost 2-5$ at a parts store and take 15 minutes for installation by someone who has never installed one before.

Replacing a tail light is one of the simplest things you can do to a car.

Dobie
Dobie
9 years ago

People do have to beware of dishonest mechanics – especially single women. I took my car in one time with a broken windshield wiper arm (not the motor – just the arm itself). I was told that the part cost over $150.00 – because it was the sports model. I was driving a Chevy Corsica at the time. I laughed and left. I bought the part at NAPA for $17.00 and put it on myself.

Chris Grgs
Chris Grgs
9 years ago

A lot of comments say to find a trust worthy shop, and to ask car nut friends, etc etc etc. I was having trouble with my car, and I kept taking it back to the dealer ship and it was costing me big everytime. Finally they tried to get me for a couple of grand that I didn’t have, so I refused the service. I don’t know where I got the idea, but I went and checked the local Better Bussiness Bureau. They had an F, for over charging for unneeded work. They actually had a list of mechanics that… Read more »

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

So I didn’t really read through everyone’s comments but I do want to point out some good info for everyone to save you money. Advance Auto Parts and I believe Autozone both offer the following services for free: Battery test and replacement. Alternator testing, both on and off car. Windshield Wiper Replacing. Engine code reading (the code readers can be bought for yourself, but a lot of parts stores off the service at no charge and can give you the code) I worked at Advance Auto Parts for a few years and I know that if we weren’t too very… Read more »

Anon.
Anon.
9 years ago

Yelp.com is an excellent website for finding a trustworthy mechanic. I think these are all great suggestions. I just want to add – don’t delay recommendations when your manual and/or mechanic indicate you’ve reached maintenance milestones, but you’re waiting to actually see your car broken down before you pull out your wallet. You will create much more costly repairs by skipping oil changes and refusing to pay for new brake pads. Also, clean under your car’s hood periodically. Try to avoid parking and hygiene situations where mice/rats/bugs/maggots might end up in your car. I work on cars and you wouldn’t… Read more »

Caitlin
Caitlin
9 years ago

What’s up with the little “this article!” sidebox? It’s weird looking, and appears as part of the normal text when reading via RSS.

Danish Kem
Danish Kem
9 years ago

BTW………what is an actuated re-inverter vs. self-regulating.

I’m a car buff………..and that has got me wondering.

I’ve never heard those terms before.

Charlotte
Charlotte
9 years ago

Here’s another article on how franchises like Jiffy Lube overcharge:
http://ccsparethoughts.blogspot.com/2011/04/how-jiffy-lube-charges-33625-for-oil.html

WeekendGreasemonkey
WeekendGreasemonkey
9 years ago

I’m actually surprised that anyone would take a car into a mechanic to have lights replaced. For the 3 cars I’ve owned I bought the Haynes manual for each. If you don’t mind getting your hands a little dirty, you can take on a lot of the regular maintenance yourself and for the cost of the manual (the last one I bought was about ~$20 on Amazon Marketplace less than a year ago) you’ll save yourself a not insignificant amount of money over a few years. In the last year I’ve changed the headlights, and replaced a cracked interior door… Read more »

dcs
dcs
9 years ago

I often see articles and blogs say things like “take a dispute to the BBB, the Attorney General, or resort to legal action” but I’d like to point our another possibility. In most states, auto repair shops are required to be licensed. The state licensing agency can and will fine, or even pull the license of, the shop and/or the mechanic for individual infractions. Even the threat of of a complaint to a licensing agency can be very effective. Here in Michigan at least, threats of complaints to the BBB and the Attorney General rarely elicit much of a response.… Read more »

Moe
Moe
9 years ago

I’m a tech at a local Jaguar/Porsche dealership. I’ve been in “the car scene” all my life. Only had someone else work on one of my own vehicles once, so excuse my ignorance when I ask, why wouldn’t you want someone like me (received an associates degree in automotive repair and another in pre-engineering, certified by ASE, certified by the automotive company I work for) to tell you the other things you find wrong with your car while it’s in for an oil change? I can’t speak for all shops but us techs don’t get paid for inspecting your vehicle… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
9 years ago

You forgot one thing – know the laws in your state. Some states require that actual charges must be no more than 20% (or 10%, etc.) than the estimate without approval from the vehicle owner. If they are in violation of that, even if the charges are legit, it is an automatic bill reduction (or you pay it and file a complaint with the appropriate authority).

A.J.
A.J.
9 years ago

I don’t have a comment about the article itself, but I accidentally clicked on the photo in this article, only to discover (by browsing the Flickr photostream) that this sign stood less than two miles from where I live (until the building was torn down in 2007). Small world.

Strange to go through his photostream and see stores that I knew very well growing up but have since been closed/shut down/whatever. Definitely made my morning, reliving a few old memories.

Thanks for picking that photograph out of a hat, whoever’s responsible.

JDO
JDO
9 years ago

My wife recently went to a Honda dealership for an oil change and walked out with a $1300 bill including brakes, a $200 charge to change coolant, and a “pollen filter”. I felt they had taken advantage of her, and wrote a letter to Honda Corp, CCing my state attourney general, better business bureau, and my lawyer. Got a full refund.

Spedie
Spedie
9 years ago

I do not go to dealers unless it is for warranty work. I found a good local shop nearly 4 years ago. The last time I went in there the owner tried to upsell me. I will never go back. It is difficult to change one of the light bulbs in the rear of my car, but I can do it. The lack of space for fingers is too small. I have found Auto Zone most convenient for wipers and batteries. I, too, am female. I learned early on that some shops try to charge me the “stupid woman price”.… Read more »

Khan
Khan
9 years ago

For a little guidance on potential DIY fixes such as replacing a bulb, one can find some pretty detailed instructions. Google for: replacing brake light + honda accord Not only brings up step-by-step instructions, but even a You Tube video on how to do it. Even for problems that are beyond DIY realm, you can be better armed before going to the shop. I had a Honda Prelude that, on hot days, would only start after sitting for 10 minutes. Google: honda prelude does not start on hot days And found out it is a common problem and knew if… Read more »

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