How to avoid getting gouged at the shop

Crooked Mechanics ripping people off

Heading to the doctor, the attorney, the accountant, the computer repair shop, and the auto repair shop all have one thing in common – most of us don’t know whether or not we’re getting good advice until it’s too late.   While we usually ask a lot of questions, do our research, and obtain second opinions from our doctors and lawyers, it seems that most people do very little research regarding vehicle repair.  Like any other industry, there are those in the field who benefit greatly from an ignorant consumer and make a lot of money from fixing things which don’t need to be fixed.  The following are a few things you can do to protect yourself against disreputable repair shops.

  • Find a Reputable Shop and Stay There!
    In the book “Selling the Invisible”, the author dwells extensively on selling trust as your main product.  We rarely know if we get good service from an accountant until the IRS knocks on the door, and then, it’s too late.  Don’t underestimate the value of trust.  Does the shop ask you questions about the problems you’re experiencing?  Do they explain what they’re doing to alleviate the problem, or do they mumble a bunch of jargon designed to confuse you?  Before any repair, you should get a detailed estimate of the work to be done.    If you’re not sure you can trust the people working on your car, you need to go somewhere else.
  • Do Your Research
    When you’re looking for a new repair shop, do your research.  Check their reviews.  While everyone gets unfair poor reviews here and there, take the time to see whether or not the reviews have common themes.  Unresponsiveness, extra charges not agreed to, and repairs which didn’t fix the problem are all common themes.  Find out if they are members of any organizations, and check their credentials.
  • Ask Questions

    If your doctor told you they would need to perform an invasive surgical procedure on you because of a nagging cough you’ve been having, you’d certainly want answers to a few questions.  If your doctor told you “I wouldn’t leave this office without getting surgery – I don’t know if you’ll make it back home…”  You’d probably look for a second opinion – and a new doctor.  The same is often true of repair shops.  Beware of the shop who, once they have your car on the lift, inform you that the car is now too dangerous to drive.  While it’s possible, it should raise a flag for you.  Ask to see the offending parts.  A reputable shop will give you proof.
  • Learn
    Take advantage of one of the more common diagnostic tools for your vehicle.  It’s called the internet.  WebMD is a great example of how the internet has changed the volume of information available to us today.  There are now fairly inexpensive code readers for your smart phone which can tell you the code for your check engine light, sites to help diagnose strange sounds and smells, and even rough estimates on repair pricing for your area.  Heading to the repair shop with some idea of what the problem could be is a great way to ward off unneeded repairs.
    Find the Experts 
As in any other field, there is a wide range of skill in the automotive repair field.  At 5 Points Automotive, we have experts in different areas to make sure we can accurately diagnose any problem which we encounter.  This saves you money, and it keeps us from wasting time on diagnostics.  One of the biggest issues arising from low-skill mechanics is the problem of “part-swapping.”  We had a customer experience this at another shop.  One of the tires was making a creaking sound, so they replaced all the axles.  It certainly fixed the problem, but we’re pretty sure it was probably just a single pair of joints which could have been replaced at a much lower cost.
  • Get a Second Opinion

    People rarely make a major purchase without getting more than one opinion.  Spending a few thousand dollars on a major auto repair shouldn’t be the exception.  If you’re skeptical about what the shop is telling you, get another opinion.
  • Watch for the Lowball
    There is a reason that 5 Points doesn’t offer  a $19.95 oil change, or a free code reading for your check engine light.  It’s because all of those items are losing propositions and nobody ever gets out of the shop without paying considerably more.  The phrase “you get what you pay for” rings true in the automotive industry as well as everywhere else.  Brake pads made from inexpensive material wear more quickly, fail more often, and cause more problems than the original manufacturer specified pads.  It can mean the difference between stopping a few feet before the garage door, and a few feet after.  A cheap oil change is usually the entry point to filters, bulbs, wiper blades, and a host of other additions which bring your price to a solid $99.00 for your service.  A free “Check Engine” scan usually produces a code which, for an additional – you guessed it – $99.00 – will get you the real answer to your problem.  At 5 Points, we’re all about the first point we brought up in this article.  We want to build trusted relationships with our customers so that when we recommend a repair, they know that they really need it.

Next month we’ll actually break down a few things which some repair shops will recommend and why you should question them.  As always, we’re here to help keep your vehicle running smoothly and if you ever have any questions, drop us a note here and we’ll do our best to answer them for you.