Before we begin, a disclaimer: by no means is every car mechanic always on the lookout for a mark, someone they can scam or skim in order to line their pockets. Most mechanics work hard for their money and realize that it’s better to cultivate long-term loyalty than to get rich quick by ripping off one-time customers. That said, there are a few tips you can use to weed out the few folks whose eyes turn into cartoon-style dollar signs when you walk through their shop door.
Find a Qualified, Honest Mechanic and Be Loyal
Is finding a good mechanic easier said than done? Not really. First, ask around — between friends, family members, coworkers, and neighbors, it’s likely that you’ll start to hear a few names more often than others. Check online reviews, too, but take them with many grains of salt, as dishonest mechanics might well pay for bogus reviews or remove any negative ones they get. When it comes to cars, RepairPal and CarTalk are probably better bets than Angie’s List or Yelp.
If you’re the type who enjoys research projects, take your car to the top contenders you’ve narrowed down. Ask for quotes on a small, simple repair — replacing the battery, for example, or fixing a busted headlight. This will help you get a good idea of how each mechanic or shop does business before you need a major fix.
Know Your Stuff (or Make It Sound Like You Do)
When you do need a larger repair, it’s best to do a bit of the legwork in advance. Spend an hour or so researching the problem online. If you have a mechanically inclined friend, ask them for help diagnosing the issue. That way, you will at least sound knowledgeable when you describe the problem to the service writer or mechanic. Be ready to tell them what the problem sounds like and during what driving conditions it occurs.
At the same time, don’t march into an auto repair shop and tell them what’s wrong unless you’re absolutely sure you know what you’re talking about. If you tell them one problem and it turns out to be something else, you may well be on the hook for both repairs.
Never, ever, waltz into a shop and ask them to “do whatever is necessary.” That’s giving an unscrupulous mechanic carte blanche to replace everything from the transmission to the tail lights. Instead, ask for a breakdown of the work that needs to be done, and what they will charge you for parts, for labor, and for fluids. Emphasize the words “total cost.”
You will also want to ask about whether the necessary parts are in-stock or must be special ordered, and how busy the shop is. In other words, ask for “total time” in addition to “total cost.”
Get Estimates from Other Mechanics
An honest car guy won’t mind one bit if you take his estimate and mull it over for a day or two, especially if he is recommending pricey work that would exceed the value of your vehicle, or if it’s a job that could be put off for a few months. In the event that you feel pressured to OK an estimate on the spot, that’s a sign that something underhanded might be happening.
After you know exactly what’s wrong with your car, call around to get a few other quotes. You can also check Consumer Reports’ Car Repair Cost Estimator. Remember that costs will vary from shop to shop, but if your mechanic is asking for a price that’s way above the range of other estimates, be wary.
Maintain Your Records
Before visiting a car repair shop, review your records. That way, if a mechanic tells you that new tie rod ends are necessary, you’ll know that you just replaced yours six months ago. There might be many legitimate reasons that your car requires a do-over on some repair, but it pays to be informed, lest you get swindled because you don’t know a catalytic converter from a carburetor.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Evidence
The mechanic tells you that your brake pads are shot — even though all you wanted was a new muffler. Ask to see the problem. You have every right to inspect your own car, but some disreputable mechanics might throw in an extra repair if they think you’ll just nod and smile and hand over your credit card.
If necessary, say that you’ll be in later to look things over. That way, you can research what worn brake pads look like, or bring that knowledgeable friend with you.
Simplify Things By Going to Your Dealership
Want to avoid the entire hassle of finding an independent mechanic or repair shop? Take your car in to the certified mechanics of a Hutchinson KS car repair shop right at the dealership where you bought your Honda or other vehicle. There are a number of advantages to having repairs and scheduled maintenance done exclusively at the dealership.
First, you won’t have to keep such a close eye on your repair records; they’ve got it all right there, easy to access at a touch of a button. You’ll develop an ongoing relationship with the mechanics, too, which means you’ll be able to trust them both in the short and the long term. The dealership shop will also honor manufacturer and extended warranty coverage free of charge to their customers. Lastly, the mechanics there are specialists in repairing your make and model, which means they’ll be able to do the work you need faster and better.