Today’s cars contain so much complex technology that fewer consumers than ever before are confident in popping the hood and understanding anything they see. Shady repair shops, then, find that they can easily have their way with car owners – charge them for nonexistent repairs, put in old parts while charging for new ones and so on. It’s no wonder, then, that the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and the BBB (Better Business Bureau) are kept busy dealing with these shops all year – they see more complaints to do with fraudulent auto repair businesses than nearly any other kind of business.
Most Common Scams that Bad Garages Try
The Loss Leader
Shops often advertise temptingly cheap loss leaders – brake inspections, battery check, wheel balancing, oil changes and so on – but then lie to you about having discovered other serious problems. Many of them don’t even ask you for your permission – they just perform unnecessary repairs on their own and then intimidate into paying. The Oliver Stone movie U Turn has a good example of this kind of trick (Billy-Bob Thornton plays the creepy mechanic).
In general, asking to see any replaced parts can be reasonable assurance against charges for imaginary repairs. It isn’t foolproof, though. Some do actually perform a few repairs, even if they are unnecessary. Others actually remove parts from your car, damage them and present them to you as evidence. Offering old parts lying around the shop as evidence is yet another trick.
The Forgetful Shop
Some shops give you a reasonable-sounding verbal quote for the repairs needed, but then completely deny the original quote when it comes time to pay. They then charge a much higher price. Sometimes, they also try this trick with their towing or loaner car arrangements – they first advertise that it’s free, but then surreptitiously add charges for it to your bill. Getting around this problem is easy if you always ask for a written quote and look through your bill.
Other shops try a different angle – they first tell you that your car’s warranty covers all repairs for free, but then charge you the full price in the end because your warranty doesn’t cover the specific repairs needed. If this happens, you need to tell the shop to show you the portion of the warranty statement with the exclusion information.
The Waived Deductible
Some shops seem to especially care about saving you money – they tell you that you can choose to buy cheap or used parts for the repairs needed. Meanwhile, they can apply to the insurance company for new parts and share with you the money thus saved. This is insurance fraud, though. Not only can it get you arrested, learning that a shop is capable of such fraud can tell you something about how their business style.
There are Plenty of Good Shops to Go To
The first thing to remember when your car needs service, is this – you don’t want to endanger your chance at your manufacturer’s After Warranty Assistance program.
AWA programs, also called secret warranty programs, are a loyalty arrangement that manufacturers and dealerships offer. If you can prove that you’ve been loyal to your brand and have always serviced your vehicle at the dealership, you will usually get warranty assistance even after it expires. You don’t qualify for it if you take your car anywhere other than the dealership.
If you do wish to go to a third-party mechanic, you should at least make sure that they give you quality. Before you pick a shop, you need to ask your friends for recommendations and also check to see if the shop belongs to your insurer’s authorized service network. Anyone on the network should be reasonably good. It should also be a good idea to check further:
- Check the shops on your list on the BBB‘s website for accreditation and complaints.
- Check for complaints at your local consumer protection agency (you’ll find all the agencies on www.usa.gov/state-consumer).
- Check on the website of the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ase.com) to make sure that the mechanic is certified.
Although it goes without saying, you also need to make sure that your car isn’t still in warranty. If it is, going to anyone other than the dealership could void it.
Get it All Down in Writing
If you aren’t sure whether to trust a shop, you should ask for just diagnostics service – where they only charge you to diagnose the problem. You can then go elsewhere for a second opinion. Many shops exclusively do diagnostic work – they don’t do repairs. Going to such a shop should give you an excellent idea of what’s involved. They don’t have a reason to push unnecessary repairs because they don’t do them.
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