If Your Mechanic Tells You These Things, It's Time to Shop for a New Mechanic
Car maintenance costs are high enough without adding unnecessary changes from shady mechanics
Just about every driver has been to the shop for routine maintenance only to drive away after paying a lot more money in unanticipated charges. Most auto mechanics are honest, hardworking people who only want to help owners by pointing out and fixing problems. But some mechanics aren't so honest and want to take you and your wallet for a ride.
We've compiled a list of signs you should look for the next time you visit a mechanic. If you hear or see any of these things, you should start looking for another mechanic.
- "You can use any kind of motor oil."
- "I wouldn't drive that very far."
- "We actually recommend doing this maintenance sooner."
- "We should replace the entire thing."
- "You need to fix this now before it becomes a problem."
- "That didn't happen here."
- "It's complicated."
- "This part/repair cost more than we thought it would."
- "It will take us at least a week."
- "The cheap tires will be fine."
- "To fix this, we have to replace that."
- "We can't let you into the back to show you the problem."
- "We should flush your fluid."
Some mechanics will try to tell you that your car can use any kind of oil, especially if it will save you money. There is only a little bit of truth to this. Let's take a very common oil, 5w-30, as an example. The first number is the viscosity, or the ability of the oil to flow, at 0°F. The second number is the viscosity at 212°F, or the normal operating temperature of most vehicles.
Some vehicles in extremely cold climates use a thinner oil, such as 0w-30, in order to start in extreme cold. Some vehicles can even run on this thinner oil for better fuel efficiency in the minutes after starting. But that second number, the 'hot' number, isn't one to mess with. Using a thicker or thinner oil than recommended for normal operating temperatures can result in a lot of damage to your vehicle. So in this case, all oil isn't the same.
The same goes for conventional versus synthetic oil, each of which has different properties and a number of pros and cons. Synthetic oil is more expensive, but is also better for your vehicle. Some turbocharged and high-performance vehicles even require synthetic oil in order to perform properly.
This is a scare tactic designed to get you to authorize a repair. Mechanics know that most people don't know anything about their cars, so they prey on your fears that you'll not want to break down on the side of the road. If a mechanic is trying to coerce you in this way, get a second opinion immediately.
Before you agree to any maintenance, check the maintenance schedule in your car's manual. This maintenance schedule is the only one you should be following.
Many shady shops will try to convince you that the vehicle's manufacturer really doesn't know about real-world conditions. They may even tell you that they have seen vehicles like yours that did not have the service performed and ended up broken down. But this is all a ploy to get you to spend money. The manufacturer has done rigorous testing in the real world to develop your maintenance schedule.
Small shops may do this, but many dealerships also use this trick. The service department is the real money-earner in a dealership, so service advisors and technicians are encouraged to find repairs. Many people don't know it, but your service advisor gets a commission on your repairs. The more you spend, the more your service advisor takes home in his/her paycheck. Many people still buy into the 3,000 mile oil change myth and change oil too frequently.
Sometimes you need to replace the entire exhaust system when something is wrong. But other times, a simple repair will cover it. If you fail an emissions test because of a hole in your exhaust, you should be going the other direction if you hear words like "entire," "whole," or "system." In some cases, a simple problem like the one we mentioned could be fixed with a much cheaper weld or even a quick dab of a sealant.
Some greedy mechanics will exaggerate how serious a problem is in order to get you to make a repair, even if it doesn't really have to be fixed right away. You may have a power steering pump, for example, that has started making some noise and will need to be replaced down the road. But that pump might last for a long time before it eventually fails.
Even worse, a shady mechanic may point out a problem that doesn't really exist! A really thing to do is to show you how 'dirty' your fluids or air filters have become. If something looks dirty, it doesn't mean it's time to replace. Some also point out how freely certain things on your vehicle with bearings spin, such as wheel hubs or pulleys attached to belts, when compared to a new one. But the new ones always have a fair amount of resistance until they are installed and have a chance to break in.
Unfortunately, some genuinely trustworthy mechanics will exaggerate a legitimate problem in order to convince a skeptical vehicle owner that the problem really does exist. When in doubt, get a second opinion!
Accidents happen, from tiny scratches to large dents. Even the people who are being paid to fix your car can sometimes damage it accidentally. Trustworthy mechanics will inform you about all such incidents when they notice them. Ideally, they will examine the vehicle with you before and after a repair. Dealerships are often better about this than independent shops because they want you happy to both come back for service and to buy your next car.
Sometimes it is hard to know whether damage happened at the shop unless you examine your car closely. But a mechanic who is trying to pass the buck on damage that couldn't have happened anywhere other than in the shop is obviously one to avoid.
If a mechanic or shop personnel tell you that something is complicated to understand or that you wouldn't necessarily understand, run away. Some shady mechanics know that you know absolutely nothing about your car, and prey on it.
First, you should always get a written estimate for any repair, which lists the labor and parts costs. But when costs go up significantly, something is wrong and you should start looking for another mechanic.
It's possible the shop quoted a price for the wrong part or service, did not anticipate a related service, or made some other mistake. In these cases, most good shops will honor the original estimate at a loss to get your repeat business. Other times they will give you an option to approve a new estimate and offer some other compensation or discount for the error. But the problem comes after you approve an estimate and the cost goes up when you show up to pay.
Some shady mechanics will even quote you the price for one part only to install a cheaper generic part in its place. This typically isn't a problem in dealerships, but it can happen anywhere. It's hard to spot the switch unless you or another mechanic can examine the part. If you are replacing a part that not a common replacement item, such as a windshield wiper motor, ask for the part's packaging in writing when authorizing the repair. Some parts (exhaust, engines, etc.) aren't packaged in traditional packaging. In any case, make sure the part number from the packaging matches the part number on your estimate.
Most repairs can be finished in a matter of hours if the parts, supplies and the mechanic are all available. Even an engine or transmission, a very complicated part, can be replaced in a few hours. So if the time for your steering gear replacement or exhaust system service is starting to rack up, it might be that the shop is trying to pull one over on you somehow.
Mechanics may try to talk you into the cheapest brands when it's time to replace your tires. But that's not always a good idea. Some may even charge you for name brand tires only to slap a pair of cheaper tires on the car, figuring that you won't check them.
You should always get the same tire size and the same or better treadwear rating, load index, and speed rating. If you are the first owner of a vehicle, you have a good place to reference: your old tires. The manufacturer knew what it was doing when it selected the original tires for your car.
You get it. Sometimes repairs do come in groups, but most of the time they don't. Sure, if a part inside the transmission is being replaced, you may end up replacing the gasket, the fluid and the filter depending upon what type it is and how long it has been in use. If your alternator is being replace, you might end up replacing the belt. But you should really be doing some reconsideration if this happens each time you need a repair or if something that sounds like a simple fix requires a lot of other things to be fixed, too.
You can play investigator when someone tells you that a part is broken, a belt is cracked, or something is leaking, by asking the mechanic to show it to you. Reputable mechanics have no problem showing you the issue. But if you hear that you aren't allowed into the service area because of insurance or liability issues, walk out. While it is true that there are issues related to customers being in these areas, a staff member can escort you.
In any case, if you are shown a particular item, you should always do some investigating of your own. Make sure that the cracked belt actually has to be replaced. It might be cracked, but a good belt can still be cracked across the belt ribs and not need to be replaced. But you wouldn't know unless you checked first.
The fluid flush should be called the wallet flush. Fluid flushes are almost never needed, and are certainly never needed as part of regular maintenance. It's just a way to get you to spend more money for a service you think is better.
Simply draining fluid properly will remove almost everything. There will be a little bit of old fluid still coating the inside of the components, but that's something that doesn't need to be 'flushed' out. In fact, flushing a component during regular maintenance can cause problems but dislodging deposits or from the chemicals many machines use.
The exception to fluid flushes is when there has been a catastrophic component failure, such as one internal to the transmission, that leaves containments. In this case, fluid lines and passageways should be flushed according to the manufacturer's service procedures to prevent another failure of the new part due to old containments being left in the system.