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Auto Repair Advice: How To Avoid Auto Repair Fraud, Scams & Rip-offs

Copyright AA1Car

Like going to the dentist, auto repair is an experience most motorists want to avoid. It's inconvenient, it's expensive, and for some people it's downright scary because they fear being taken advantage of or ripped off. Motorists who have little mechanical knowledge feel especially vulnerable because they often don't know what's wrong with their car, what it really takes to fix their problem, and how much it should really cost.

Unfortunately, auto repairs and maintenance are unavoidable aspects of vehicle ownership. Much as we'd like to neglect our vehicles and drive them forever without ever having to spend a dollar on maintenance or repairs, all vehicles require a certain amount of preventive maintenance. And sometimes, in spite of our best efforts to maintain our vehicles, things wear out, break or fail.

HAVING CAR PROBLEMS?

Your car won't start, or it suddenly dies in the middle of nowhere. A warning light comes on. Something is leaking out of your car. It's making a funny smell or unusual noises. Maybe the engine overheated. The battery died. The transmission won't do anything when you put it in Drive or Reverse. The air conditioner isn't blowing cold air. The heater isn't blowing any heat. The engine feels rough, lacks power, surges or is getting horrible fuel mileage. Your vehicle just failed an emissions test. Lots of different things can go wrong with engines, transmissions, brakes, cooling systems, electrical systems, air conditioners, tires, chassis parts and all the power accessories on today's vehicles, and lots of things can prevent your vehicle from starting, running properly or passing an emissions test. So when bad things happen, you need good repair advice. That's probably why you're visiting this website. You need repair help.

DO-IT-YOURSELF AUTO REPAIR?

For those who have some mechanical ability, a little automotive know-how and some basic hand tools, doing your own auto repairs and maintenance can usually save you 50 percent or more over what it usually costs to take your vehicle to a repair facility and pay someone else to do the work. The trouble is many people who would like to save money by doing their own repairs and maintenance lack the know-how, the tools, the automotive expertise, the time or the physical ability to do it.

Today's vehicles are far more complex than the cars and trucks your fathers or grandfathers worked on. They are also much harder to repair on because of cramped engine compartments and limited accessibility. The parts are much more expensive, too, because of their complexity -- and in some cases limited availability (parts that can only be purchased from a new car dealer, for example). So even though basic maintenance jobs such as changing oil, filters, spark plugs and brake pads are still within the abilities of many do-it-yourselfers, driveability problems, emissions diagnosis and major repairs are often beyond the capabilities of most do-it-yourselfers. And if you are NOT a do-it-yourselfer, you have no choice but to take your vehicle to a service facility when maintenance or repairs are needed.

FIX MY CAR

Professional auto repair is essentially a "do-it-for-me" service business. You pay someone else to diagnose and repair your vehicle. Hopefully, the repair facility you choose has competent technicians and honest management. Hopefully, they will accurately diagnose the problem, explain the repairs that are needed and give you a written estimate of the cost for parts and labor. Hopefully, the repairs will fix your problem, the repair bill will be no more than the estimate and their work will be backed by a written guarantee.

You'll be happy your car is fixed -- though you might not be happy with the cost. But don't blame the shop for that. Labor costs today average $60 to $90 a hour The technician who does the work usually receives less than HALF the amount your are billed. The rest goes to the shop to cover overhead, operating expenses and profit (which the shop needs to stay in business!).

The Car Care Council has created a 12-minute video for motorists that talks about what to expect when shopping for an auto repair shop. To watch the video, Click Here

THE FLAT RATE SCAM

The labor your are charged on your repair bill is usually based on a standard "flat rate" estimate. Repair jobs are classified by year, make and model, and the times can vary a great deal from one vehicle to another. The labor time required to perform a certain task will vary depending on how much other stuff has to be removed to get at the part, the average degree of difficulty of the job, whether any special tools are procedures are required, the age of the vehicle and so on. Changing a starter on one car might be a relatively simple task if the starter is easily accessible, but on another vehicle you might have to remove part of the exhaust system or loosen a motor mount and raise the engine to replace the starter. All of these estimated labor times are calculated, tabulated and published by the vehicle manufacturers as well as various aftermarket sources. Shops then refer to these numbers when writing a repair estimate.

If the actual time it takes to repair your vehicle is LESS than the estimated flat rate time, you still pay the flat rate. Why? Because life isn't fair. The shop makes additional profit on the job, and the technician who does the work often receives a bonus for beating the flat rate (which most good technicians can do consistently). What's worse, if the actual time it takes to fix your car is MORE than the flat rate, you get billed for the extra time!

Ideally, you should only pay for the ACTUAL time it takes to fix your car and not one minute more. But that's not the system most dealerships or repair shops use for obvious reasons.

DO YOU TRUST YOUR MECHANIC?

What it all boils down to is trust. You have to trust a repair facility to charge you fairly for the work they do, to actually do the work for which you are being charged, to accurately diagnose and repair your vehicle, and to complete the repairs in a reasonable amount of time. To avoid being scammed, overcharged or ripped-off, you need to find a repair facility you can trust.

Don't wait until your car is broken to start looking for a reputable repair facility. Do your looking ahead of time and establish a working relationship with one or more repair facilities by having them do your basic maintenance. Then when major problems arise and repairs are needed, you'll know where to go.

WHERE TO GET YOUR CAR FIXED

One of the most common questions I hear is, "Where should I take my car to get it fixed?" My answer is to take it to a repair facility that (1) has a good reputation (ask friends and neighbors where they take their vehicles), that (2) is affiliated with a group such as AAA and/or has ASE certified technicians, and (3) appears to be clean, friendly and competently managed. The shop should also adhere to the Code of Ethics and repair standards put forth by the Motorist Assurance Program (MAP) official website

Most repair facilities are honest and are NOT trying to take advantage of you. Sure, there are some bad apples in the the repair business, but there are crooks in every kind of business from home repair scam artists to top business executives. From what I've seen, most auto repair problems are due to misunderstandings or miscommunication between the motorist and repair facility (they thought you wanted one thing and you got something else, or they misunderstood your problem), or they misdiagnosed your vehicle and the technician replaced the wrong part(s). In other words, they didn't try to rip you off or cheat you. They misunderstood you or screwed up the repair.

As long as your vehicle is under warranty, you can return to your new car dealer for free repairs (for parts that are covered under warranty). Almost all new cars and trucks today have a 3 year/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty that covers ANYTHING that goes wrong. ALl new vehicles also have a federally mandated emissions warranty that covers the engien computer and catalytic converter for 8 years/80,000 miles (longer in California). The vehicle manufacturers may also offer an extended powertrain warranty that covers major repairs to the engine, transmission and drive axles. Items that may NOT be covered under warranty include common wear items such as filters, brake pads and tires.

Once your vehicle is out of warranty, you can take it anywhere you please for repairs. In fact, you are NOT required to return to the dealer for maintenance or repairs while the vehicle is under warranty (you can take it to ANY repair facility). But the vehicle manufacturer will usually NOT pay for any repairs performed by any unauthorized repair facility -- except in rare emergencies where a vehicle has broken down too far away to be towed to the nearest dealer.

As a rule, independent repair shops are generally less expensive than new car dealers. Franchised repair facilities such as muffler shops (Midas, CarX, Merlin, etc.), tire dealers (Goodyear, Firestone & independents) and retailers (PepBoys, Sears, etc.) are also very competitive with their pricing.

As for repair competency, it varies all over the place. New car dealers have access to the latest factory authorized training and tools, and specialize in the brand(s) of vehicles they sell. But big dealerships are also less personal. You rarely deal directly with a technician. Instead, a service writer talks to you, hears your problem and writes up a repair order. Miscommunication sometimes happens and you don't get the right repairs or service. The service writer is also a salesman who will probably try to talk you into buying additional services you may not need (your 50,000 miles scheduled maintenance, for example, which is nothing more than an oil change, some new filters and a quick inspection of a laundry list of things that should always be checked EVERYTIME your vehicle is serviced or repaired).

Independent repair shops and specialty repair shops (those who only work on imports or specialize in alignments, brakes, transmissions, air conditioning, electrical, etc.) tend to be small family-owned and run businesses. You're usually on a more personal level with these people, and may even talk face-to-face with the technician who works on your car. Many independent shops are highly skilled and work on ALL makes and models. This requires a much broader range of expertise than a dealership -- and more diagnostic equipment and tools. Some shops, though, are behind on the learning curve and may not be up to speed on the latest technology. Or, they may not have an up-to-date scan tool or other special tools that may be required to service your vehicle. Even so, such a shop may be fine for basic maintenance and repairs.

The kind of repair facility to avoid is one that is NOT concerned about their reputation or repeat customers, and are only out to scam as many people as fast as they can. These shops are not in the repair business for the long haul. They're only in it to make a fast buck. They probably have not been in business very long. They are typically located in "high traffic" areas where they can snag a lot of drive-by customers. They may be located near an expressway where out-of-towners are apt to break down. They usually have high employee turnover and typically hire beginners or less experienced technicians. They often use "scare tactics" to sell parts and services, or try to pressure you into agreeing to major repairs. They are NOT affiliated with any reputable service organizations such as AAA, ASE, their local chamber of commerce or local repair shop organizations. They do not invest any money in training their employees or buying new equipment. The facility itself may or may not be clean and neat (you cannot judge competency and honesty by appearances alone). And they offer no guarantee or a very limited warranty on the work they perform. Avoid these kind of places at all costs!

AUTO REPAIR ADVICE

Patronize a repair facility that has been recommended to you by friends or family.

If you are satisfied with a repair facility, give them your repeat business. Build a lasting relationship.

Do NOT pick a repair facility at random or based only on advertisements or price.

The repair facility should follow the Motorist Assurance Program Standards of Service.
Click Here to download Standards of Service brochure (PDF file). Give the shop a copy if they do not have one.

Always ask for a written repair estimate BEFORE work begins.
(This is required by law in many states.)

The final repair bill should NOT exceed the estimate by more than 10 to 20%.
(this is also dictated by law in many states, though circumstances may justify a higher final bill.)

Make sure the estimate lists all parts and labor charges.
(and ask for an explanation of any items you do not understand or have a question about.)

If you have any doubts about the work performed, ask for your old parts to be returned.
(you may need them as evidence if you've been scammed.)

If you have a dispute with a repair facility, take your problem up the chain of command, then contact your Better Business Bureau if you can't get the matter resolved. Take legal action as a last resort.

Complain online. Here are some resources for lodging your auto repair complaint for others to read:

Complaintlists.com

CarComplaints.com

Pay your repair bill with a credit card (if allowed)
(You can always dispute the charges later when your credit card bill arrives.)

For more information about auto repair costs, Click Here.





Auto Repair Shops:

Click Here for Auto Repair Shop Listings & Resources

Related Articles and Links on Auto Repair:

Car Repair Advice
Don't Get Overcharged for Auto Repairs
What Goes Wrong With Cars (and When)
How to Pay for Auto Repairs
New Car Warranty Coverage: What Is Covered, What Is Not
Basic Auto Repair rights
Common Car Problems
ConsumerAffairs.com Scam Alerts
New Car Lemon Laws
Repairophobia -- The Fear Of Auto Repair
Auto Repair Facts for Consumers Provided By the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Repair Advice: How Much Should It Cost To Get Your Car Fixed?
Update on Motorist Assurance Program (MAP)
How To Buy A Good Used Car (and NOT a Lemon!)
Warning Lights: What You Should and Should Not Do
Where To Buy Auto Parts?

motorist assurance program
Motorist Assurance Program (MAP)





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