Auto repair is like any other business-there are some unscrupulous cheats out to take your money. But you can avoid getting ripped off for auto repairs if you keep your wits about you. Here's how to do it.
First, get a referral to a reliable, trustworthy mechanic. Friends are a good source for referrals. Ask them who they've had good experiences with, and who they would avoid. That's probably the best way to find a winner.
But don't simply take a friend's word for it. Check out your mechanic! You can call the Better Business Bureau to see if he's had any complaints. Look for certifications like an Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) seal, which means he's at least met some minimum standards for skills and service.
Before you get any work done, ask about labor prices and prices for parts and supplies. Not asking means you really have no right to be shocked if they pad your bill. And be sure to find out about the warranty on parts and labor (don't forget the labor piece of the puzzle).
Most important, get everything in writing. That means the estimate for the work, the details of the warranty on parts and labor, everything. If a mechanic won't give a written estimate, he's either too lazy to do it, or he's leaving the door open for fraud. You don't want to play either game. And once you're armed with the price and warranty information, don't be afraid to shop around to see if you can lower your cost.
If your problem is a little out of the ordinary, such as those annoying intermittent rattles most cars experience from time to time, take a test drive with the mechanic beforehand to show him exactly what you need addressed. Don't make him guess. If you can show him the problem, he might know exactly what to target, which will save you labor cost, and probably save him from making unnecessary repairs.
Before you pay the bill, go for a test drive to make sure the car is fixed to your satisfaction. If it is not right, ask the mechanic to make it right. Even great, honest mechanics who pay attention to detail can miss things. A test drive can bring those misses to light, and probably save you a hassle later.
And speaking of the bill, read it. Check it over carefully. Ask about anything you don't understand, or that does not sound right. If you just pay the bill without checking, it's like signing a mortgage document without reading it. Silly, right?
Finally, pay your bill with a credit card if you can. That gives you maximum flexibility to protect yourself from fraud. If something goes wrong, you can call the credit card company and dispute the charge. Many cards also offer some fraud protection, so you might have another line defense.
As with most things, you can avoid getting ripped off for auto repairs by being informed, and by being careful. If you will do a little work up front to prepare, and take small steps to protect yourself, you can save yourself aggravation and expense.