Last week we discussed that studies have shown that women (and uninformed men) can get overcharged at auto repair shops. This week we are focusing on some of the more common rip off scams that less than reputable repair shops have been caught doing time and time again.
But before we get into those, it is worth noting that not all auto repair shops are targeting women or are owned or staffed by rip-off artists. A good auto mechanic, like any other service business will rely on your continued patronage and the value of your word of mouth referrals.
Also worth pointing out is that cars do require maintenance, and things do wear out. Simply because you bring your car in for a routine service, and the mechanic, owner or lead service tech recommends a costly repair that you hadn’t figured on, does not always mean you are being scammed. A good mechanic can take you over to show and explain what it is they are recommending that you have done, and can show you the cost breakdown for the repairs being suggested.
Now here are some of the more common rip of scams we have heard about in the business:
You are also always welcome to get a second opinion before having the work performed.
Here are nine auto repair scams to avoid:
1. Buying new tires to repair a flat. Most times if you get a flat tire and your tires still have plenty of tread left, you can simply have the hole plugged and the repair will last the life of the tire. However if you drive a long distance on the flat tire (and lets face it we have all seen cars driving around with a flat tire and the blinker on because the driver is too lazy to change the tire), the resulting damage could render an otherwise salvageable tire completely useless. Tires and especially the sidewall are simply not meant to be driven while completely or severely underinflated. If your wheel was swapped out for the spare the minute you noticed flat, then don’t let a repair shop convince you to buy a new tired when a patch will do the job, as long as the tread is still good.
2. The upsell. Auto repair shops, like some other businesses, are famous for the upsell and add services that you may not need. Going in for a routine oil change is a typical time when an upsell is offered.
A common technique used by auto mechanics is to tell car owners they need to replace the coolant in the radiator,” he says. “In reality, coolant doesn’t go bad or wear out the way oil does. While it might make sense to replace your coolant after 100,000 miles of driving, it’s not necessary for routine maintenance.
If you’re told that more work is needed than what you came in for, go get a second opinion if you can drive away without it being a safety problem.
An easy way to spot if you are being unnecessarily upsold is to cross reference the vehicle mileage with the service schedule in the back of the owners manual. This will quickly tell you when the car is due for certain fluid changes and even when wear and tear parts (like belts, hoses, spark plugs, and timing belts) should be considered for replacement.
3. Dirty air filter that isn’t yours. This can be another upsell while your car is in the shop for another repair or regular maintenance. The scam here is when a mechanic brings out a filthy air filter to the waiting room to show you that you need a replacement. However the scam is that this filter is not even from your car, but is kept to trick unsuspecting customers. Always make sure the filter you’re seeing is from your car, and know when your filters need replacement.
4. Dirty fuel injectors. A repair shop mechanic may tell you that fuel injectors need to be cleaned every 15,000 or 20,000 miles. This is rarely true. Gasoline contains detergent to keep fuel injectors clean. Someone may show you a dirty fuel injector, but don’t believe that it’s yours. Check your owner’s manual, but most fuel injectors are recommended for replacement once a year or at 35,000 miles, and even that may be too often. If you have a noticeable engine miss, hesitation or even stumbling on acceleration, then it is possible that the fuel injector could be bad. Parts do wear out before they are supposed to.
5. Used parts passed off as new. If you’re paying for new parts, you should get new parts. If you suspect that you might be a victim of this scam, ask to see them before they’re installed. Check that they’re new, brand-name parts approved by the manufacturer, called Original Equipment Manufacturer, or OEM, parts.
6. Engine flush. Spending $200 on an engine flush is wasted money on a service that’s not part of normal maintenance unless you’ve neglected your engine and don’t change the oil when needed. An engine flush gets rid of sludge in an engine, which is something your engine won’t likely need if you’ve taken care of your car. Look in the oil filler lid for deposits and other gunk. A flush could break loose such sludge that could get into the engine, though you’re unlikely to see such sludge buildup.
7. Nothing lasts a lifetime. Don’t pay extra money for transmission fluid, filters, brake pads or anything else that is supposed to last for the car’s lifetime. A “lifetime” transmission fluid is only good for 35,000 miles, so don’t fall for the hype.
8. Frequent oil changes. If you go to a shop that specializes in oil replacement for your car, you’ll likely get a reminder sticker to return at 3,000 miles. That may have been accurate 20 years ago, but cars now run better and don’t need oil changes as often. Most manufacturers recommend 5,000 miles for an oil change. Check your owner’s manual for details. Also make sure you’re getting high quality oil that’s recommended by your car’s manufacturer.
9. Broken axle boot. These can be expensive, and should be repaired if it happened from normal wear and tear from driving. However, some mechanics will cut the rubber boots that cover your axle. Ask to see the damage before approving the work. A legitimate tear will be jagged and dirty with grease. If it’s not, then the mechanic may have cut it and the auto shop should pay for it.
10. Oil and filter change paid for but not performed. Another scam to watch out for is not getting your oil and filter changed when you have paid for the service. You can tell the difference between old and new oil simply by the color. Old oil is brownish to blackish and opaque while new oil is yellowish and clear. Consumers can make a simple check by noting the color on the dip stick before and after the service. Oil on the stick after the change will be almost unnoticeable due to its clarity. If you can get under the car or peak through the engine compartment you can probably see the oil filter. This is a metal canister and is typically white, blue or orange depending on the brand. Check to see if your filter is dirty and grimy, a sure sign that it was never replaced.
If you suspect that you might be the victim of an auto repair scam in the Harford County area, give us a call at Ward Automotive for a free inspection and second opinion.