Stand Up to Your Mechanic

As a woman, I’ve had my fair share of smirks from mechanics who take one look at me and assume I know zilch about the inner workings of a car. Thankfully, my dad was the kind of man who wouldn’t even let me drive a car until I knew how to change the oil and change out a tire. I watched my dad rebuild engines, fix timing belts, and replace brake pads. But despite my home schooling in the world of mechanics, I have fallen prey to smarmy mechanics who try to take advantage of me.

Whether your knowledge of cars consists of comprehending the four-stroke combustion cycle or your knowledge is limited to putting the key into the ignition and turning, don’t feel intimidated by an auto mechanic.

Forget looking through the yellow pages and picking the first auto mechanic your finger comes across. Instead, ask friends and family who they entrust their vehicles to. Ask co-workers where they go for engine problems. Word-of-mouth is the best advertisement. You want to find a mechanic that 1) you can trust, 2) you can afford, 3) is reliable, 4) offers an extended warranty (for parts and labor) that you find suitable (hopefully this mechanic will offer a six-month to one-year warranty), and 5) will perform the services he says he is going to perform and do it well. If you can’t find close friends and family who have had good experiences with local mechanics, take note of the mechanics they’ve had bad experiences with. Seek out people that drive the same vehicle you do and ask them where they bring their car for service. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints and problems have been cited against a particular mechanic. Browse the Internet for forums dedicated to auto repair. These are often valuable resources where you can discuss your car’s problems with other car owners. This also a great venue to ask around about mechanics in your area.

Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion, especially if your car requires expensive repairs. Not every mechanic will see eye to eye on how to repair something. Have the mechanic explain and show you what and where the problem is. If you don’t understand any terms the mechanic uses, or if you don’t understand how something works, ask. When you go for a second opinion, don’t let the second mechanic know what the estimate from the first one is. If the first estimate is high, the second mechanic may not give you the best price, instead giving you an estimate that is only slightly lower than the first one. Also, don’t reveal what the first mechanic’s solution is. Let the second mechanic give you an unbiased and honest diagnoses of your current problems. By taking this extra step, you may be able to find a smarter, more affordable solution.

Insist on receiving an estimate on any work the mechanic plans to do on your vehicle; don’t just let him start repairing your car right away. Discuss which services should be of priority and why. Having a written estimate will guarantee the mechanic’s price, usually up to 10%. What you want to avoid is any shock when you pay your final bill. You also don’t want to be surprised when you go into a mechanic for a simple tire rotation and you’re hit with a bill for a tire rotation and some part replacement. Make sure you know exactly what your mechanic is doing to the car and how much it is going to cost you.

Take a test drive after the repairs have been finished. If you realize there is still something wrong with your car, alert the mechanic right away and let him know exactly what the problem is. If you get home and realize the problem is still there, call the mechanic or garage and let them know that the problem persists. If you wait too long to let them know that you are not satisfied with the services performed on your vehicle, or if you wait too long to let them know that problems still exist even after the mechanic has serviced your car, it will be more difficult to get the mechanic to repair the car without shelling out more money.

Avoid getting trapped into any extra services the mechanic might try to sell you on. This is known as an upsell, where a business tries to sell extra products or services on top of what the customer is already purchasing. Maintaining your vehicle by bringing it in for basic services at certain intervals, like oil changes and tire rotations, will prolong the life of your car. However, avoid getting talked into superfluous services like inflating your tires with nitrogen instead of regular air. Also, if a mechanic tells you there are other problems with your car besides the one you came in with, don’t just let him fix them on the spot. Ask him how long these new repairs will take. Since mechanics charge for labor by the hour, you may be getting sucked into a money black hole if you’re not careful.

Find your voice and use effective communication when dealing with a mechanic. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to let your mechanic know you don’t understand something. Have the mechanic explain in detail what he thinks the problem is, what his solutions are, and how much the service(s) will be, including parts and labor. Avoid having your next trip to a mechanic cost you a lot of money and frustration.