Car maintenance costs are high enough without adding in unnecessary changes
Just about every driver has been there: you take your car into the shop for routine maintenance, only to come out with a list of unanticipated charges.
AAA's 2016 "Your Driving Costs" study found that vehicle maintenance costs drivers an average of $792 per year as it is. No one needs mechanics to tack on unnecessary fixes to that bill.
Of course, not every maintenance technician will try this. Most are honest and want only to help the vehicle owner by fixing the problem(s). However, there are situations in which consumers should question what they're being told.
Below are five common lies. If a mechanic tells you one of these, save your money and take your business elsewhere.
- "You can use any kind of oil in your car."
- "You need to fix this now before it's a problem."
- "That damage didn't happen here."
- "This part cost more than we anticipated."
- "The cheap tires will be fine."
Although your service schedule or car manual may tell you to use a certain kind of oil, some technicians will try to convince you that it's okay to use any kind, especially if it will save you money right then.
According to Lauren Fix, spokesperson for nonprofit Car Care Council, this is not true.
"Run the oil that your service schedule tells you," she says. "Running the wrong oil in your engine can void your warranty."
High-performance vehicles and turbocharged, supercharged engines require synthetic oil. If that's what your vehicle needs, make sure that's what your mechanic uses.
Mechanics sometimes exaggerate the seriousness of vehicle issues because they want you to pay for a repair—even if it doesn't really need to be fixed at that time.
Before you consent, check your service schedule, which Fix calls the "Bible for your car." This should dictate routine maintenance for your car. According to the Car Care Council, following your service schedule and being proactive about fixing real problems can save you more than $1,200 per year in repair costs.
Fix admits that technicians will sometimes exaggerate not to convince you about a problem that doesn't exist, but about a problem that actually does. Conscientious mechanics will do their best to make even the most skeptical customer understand real vehicle issues.
"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," she says.
Accidents happen, from tiny scratches to large dents. Even the people who are being paid to fix your car can sometimes damage it by accident.
Trustworthy mechanics will inform you about all such incidents. Ideally, they will examine the vehicle beforehand and have you accompany them to make it clear where there are—and are not—such defects before they begin the repair process.
It's easy for mechanics to make extra money by overcharging their customers for a part or repair. If you're uncertain about fair prices for parts or repairs, get several quotes in writing before you hand over your car.
"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."
In addition, you can do your own research on average costs to get a general idea of what to expect. Use this research to compare the estimates you obtain and even to negotiate.
"Education and information are power," notes Fix.
Mechanics may try to talk you into the cheapest brands when it's time to replace your tires. But Fix says that's a bad idea.
"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."
How to Find a Trustworthy Mechanic
- When you take your car in, look for signs displaying that the shop is certified either by the Automotive Service Associate (ASA) or the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). Certified technicians are the best of the best and can usually be trusted.
- Ask the people you trust: friends, family, and co-workers. Also, look for online reviews and recommendations.
- Talk to a dealer. Not only do they specialize in your vehicle, they can also notify you of active recalls and even help you find another mechanic if your warranty is up.
- Take your car to another mechanic if it's safe to drive. Second opinions are just as important for your car's health as your own.
- Is your "Check Engine" light on? Go to an auto parts store rather than a mechanic. They will find the issue using their equipment, which will empower you if a mechanic tries to add on an unnecessary repair.