It happens to someone every day; you’re driving to work listening to your favorite morning show when your car breaks down on the side of the road – or maybe you hear a noise and want to have it checked out before you do break down. You need your car repaired quickly because you’ve got a million things to do and a rental is just not in the budget. After having your car towed or driving it to a local repair shop to be diagnosed, you head to work to wait for that dreaded call – and when it comes – it’s not pretty.
The service advisor explains the repairs you need to get your car back on the road, and then tells you about some other things they’ve noticed that need immediate attention. The price sounds high, you’re not sure that it needs all that work, and you’ve heard horror stories from your friends and family about getting ripped off at repair shops , but because you’re not an auto tech and you feel like you have no other choice but to have them do the work.
The good news is most repair shops are honest and want you to come back to them the next time you need a repair, so they are going to treat you fairly. The bad news is there are a few shops out there who will sell you things you don’t need or overcharge on parts and labor just to make the repair order bigger.
It’s not always a rip-off if one shop charges more than another. Some shops have more overhead than others. Some shops may have the latest high-tech equipment, some may pay their techs higher wages according to their skill level, or there may be things included in one shop’s estimate that are not in another's.
Here are some things to look for and do when picking a shop.
Many reputable repair shops today, require their technicians to take The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification tests to show their knowledge and experience in auto repair. The certifications are usually displayed along with the shop’s repair license in their customer service area.
Too often customers complain that the work they had work done on their car didn’t solve the problem. Make sure the person you’re dealing with, whether it is the service advisor or the tech, knows exactly what symptoms you want repaired. Have them take a test drive with you so they know what you are talking about. When you are shown the estimate, ask how the repair they want to do will fix the problem. And, have the service advisor to go for a ride with you after the repair is complete to make sure the symptoms are gone – before you pay for the repair.
If you have the time to shop for prices, get written estimates from a few repair shops and compare them. If not, call for prices, ask what is included in the job and take notes to compare. When you get an estimate is for a scheduled maintenance, if you feel they are adding unnecessary work , check the maintenance guide that came with your car. Before you authorize any repairs, read anything you are asked to sign. Get a copy of the repair order before the work is started and tell the service advisor you are only authorizing the work and the price on the repair order.
Is it necessary?
If you feel like someone is trying to sell you something that you don’t need, tell them you’ll think about it, and then get another opinion at a different shop. You may feel like the repair isn’t urgent; if I looked at your car right now, I could probably find a dozen things to put on an estimate that legitimately need to be done. But, are they going to make your car perform any better or prevent it from breaking down in the future? It may not be in your budget to get everything done at once or you may also feel that you can live with a cracked armrest. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, if they don’t like it, too bad. And, the answers don’t satisfy you, leave it off the repair order or find another shop.
The guessing game
Not all shops have the test equipment needed to diagnose your problem. If you get a call saying, “We thought this part was going to fix the problem, but now we see it needs this part too.” It usually means they are guessing instead if testing the part to determine if it actually needs to be replaced, or they have an inexperienced technician and the part they replaced probably doesn’t need to be replaced in order to fix the original problem. Tell them you are not paying for parts that don’t solve the problem that you brought it in for.
Wherever you end up, make sure they stand behind their work. Ask how long parts and labor are covered, and how they are covered. Many of the big chain shop advertise “Lifetime Warranty.” But, in some cases that only includes a specific part. Make sure you have what they tell you in writing and hold them to it.
A customer had his car towed in when it wouldn’t start and the shop replaced the fuel pump relay. The next day he came back and said, “My brake were fine before you worked on my car, but now the pedal is low.” It ended up being a leaking wheel cylinder. I took a while to explain to the customer that one thing had nothing to do with the other.