Reader Question: Trusting a Mechanic?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Karen asks: I’m not a car girl and feel totally at the mercy of dealerships and mechanics. Do you have any advice to help me avoid getting ripped off?

My reply: I cover much of this in my book, Don’t Get Taken for a Ride – which I’m emailing you a copy of.

Your gut is almost as helpful as being a car girl – or guy. Does it sound fishy? What they are trying to sell you? Do you feel pressured by their pitch?

When it comes to repairs, perhaps the best way to avoid getting ripped off is to get the car repaired when you don’t have to – i.e., before it breaks down. Of course, sometimes this can’t be avoided. But often, it can – as by anticipating the need for required maintenance such as timing belt and fuel filter changes. If you let these “expire” and the car breaks down, now you’re in a pinch – and that puts on the pressure.

If you know you are going to need to have the timing belt, say, replaced at some point in the next six months, you have the luxury of time. To get several estimates; to visit shops and talk about the job with the mechanic. This will give you a much better feel for what’s fair – and sense of what’s not a gyp – than being in desperate need to get your car back on the road ASAP.

And once you find a shop that doesn’t gyp, you will have a resource at the ready for those breakdowns that just happen.

. . .

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. One of the best things people can do is ask friends, co-workers, and family for recommendations. Just about everybody has a trusted mechanic, shop, or dealership that they can recommend. Regarding getting gyped, well, there are no guarantees. However, for the routine stuff (oil changes, timing belts, suspension, etc) you’ll likely not have a problem. IMO, the biggest problem lies in getting professional diagnostic services, particularly for difficult or intermittent problems. That is what separates the men from the boys so to speak. A skilled diagnostician is difficult to find unless his reputation is well known.

    • Hi Pappa,

      Yup. And, often, it’s not so much deliberate gypping as it is honest incompetence. The shop means well, but their tech just isn’t up to speed – or snuff. Recommendations – and trial and error – will usually get you pointed in the right direction.

  2. Making a list of parts companies and going over it and trying to remember all of them is worth doing also. You don’t really have to know anything about them but you can throw certain names around that make you sound like you know what you’re speaking of. Ask people who know about those things too and that can make a big difference. If someone tells you they use the parts their jobber sends, say thanks and leave.
    I spoke to a local mechanic recently because I have to remove the gas tank from my pickup. I was at Wally one day and needed to fill up. A truck was just leaving and another one moved into place. I started to go on since I knew all the crud on bottom would be stirred up but WTH, pumps have filters so no big deal. Evidently the ones at Wally don’t have filters or have either been gutted so they look like a filter(I suspect this since they do get inspected). I’ve had hell with it ever since. When I said it had 240,000 miles and I wanted to change the pump too(it’s a no brainer if it has just more than a few thousand and has been pumping god knows what)and asked if he used jobber filters(many do along with lubricants that are sub-par). He shook his head and said he used nothing but Delco pumps on a Chevy. The agreement was made.

  3. Youtube and fan forums dedicated to your make/model are great resources for repair info. Many popular vehicles have common failures that have the symptoms and repair instructions freely available to anyone able to do a web search. Pdf factory service manuals are cheap on ebay and haynes/chilton manuals can be had at auto parts stores or online retailers. As far as learning the theory of automotive systems i suggest you order older versions of “todays technician” classroom and workshop textbooks. They can be had cheap and give the goods on how cars work and how to diagnose and repair. Knowing your car is the best way to keep the shysters at bay.

  4. Another consideration would be to take an introductory auto repair class at a local community college, if it’s available. You may never pick up a wrench again but, it will remove much of the mystery surrounding all things automotive. It will cost a couple hundred bucks but, that might be saved on your next repair.


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