By November 22, 20052 Comments Read More →

How Can I Find an Honest Auto Mechanic?

Reader Question,

“The new car dealer does a good job working on my car, but they are so impersonal. Are the independent shops, and quick lube places better? How do I know I am being treated fairly?”

If you have a new car dealer that you are happy with and they do quality work please bring them some donuts when you take your car in for service, because you found a gold mine.

The service advisor is usually the one that is doing the good job for you at the car dealer and just like an independent shop; when you find a good one let them know you will be a loyal customer as long as you are treated fairly and with respect. Speaking with the general manager will usually not solve the problem and could actually infuriate you more. Service advisors are usually commission people and love to see you ask for them by name when you drive up to the service counter.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions you might have about your repair bill to the service writer. If he or she knows that you actually LOOK at the bill, and don’t have a problem asking for an explanation they might be a little less likely to “pad your bill”.

So could I charge you an additional hour or TWO (at $70 an hour) and hide it somewhere in the bill, YEP! And this is what I usually see happening to the public, not some outright huge lie like you see on the TV about car repair scams.

A small charge like an additional hour to perform a service that really should have not been an additional charge in the first place.

Example— A charge to replace the waterpump gasket when you were already charged to replace the water pump itself. Or a “small parts” charge.

Example–Charging for the water pump gasket when it is included in the box with the new water pump.

I estimate most of the repair bills that I see from other shops to have at least a 10-20 percent “fluff charge” or pad to the overall bill. You say that is a small percentage? If you spent $1200 on ALL repairs and service to your car last year, you could have over paid your mechanic by $120-240–each year. Just because you did not fully inspect your receipt.

The majority of my customers do not even LOOK at my bill; they rely on what I tell them. They are in a hurry when they pick up their car, and don’t want to be bothered with the tedious act of saving money.

I actually like it that way, because I don’t like confrontation! If you give me a little flack about a charge on your bill I will usually “adjust it” to make you happy. Try it, don’t be unfair or dishonest yourself, but if you feel something is too high or not justified–politely complain.

I have heard some other (of course not mine) shops say “charge them what you want, they can’t figure out our invoices anyway”. They are exactly right, you can’t figure out their invoices, and that is done on purpose. Even I have trouble understanding the car dealer service order. If your invoice says “brake job $250” you need an explanation of what they consider a “brake job”. Most every shop will be different in their meaning of job descriptions, and you really need it in writing their full job description and what parts were used.

When a customer comes to pick up their car and wants me to give a line by line explanation of the charges, it really tests my faith in being honest and fair. I am only human, and although I think of myself as an honest person I have to admit that there have been times when my prices were inflated some to cover some additional time we spent on diagnosing the problem, or some additional work that I felt we should have been paid for.

I would not do this to someone whom I knew would want a full explanation of accounting face to face at the service counter. It is to your advantage to ASK for a itemized face to face explanation with the service writer (not some cashier at the car dealer or quick lube place) of the work that was done to your car.

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2 Comments on "How Can I Find an Honest Auto Mechanic?"

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  1. Debbie says:

    My son has an older ford Ranger and would like to have a long block crate motor installed. He knows he needs a cooling system, but in San Antonio, TX he has not found a place with good reviews or doesn’t treat him like an idiot. Should he just try one of the Ford places or give up? Any advice would be much appreciated.

    • Austin says:

      No offense…please, but this is not really a good investment decision. There is a reason why you seldom see Ford Rangers on the road today….they did not last very long and most have been chopped up and sold to China for scrap. Honestly, take the $2K or so you would spend on a new motor and buy a new or newer vehicle, you will be much better off long term. Just because the engine is new does not mean the transmission and or air conditioner will not crater next month and both items are very weak on that vehicle. Check out craigslist and see if you can find a newer small truck, like the Nissan pickup with relatively low miles. Nissan trucks hold up well, as do Toyota.

      If you are still dead set on installing a new motor, yes, the Ford dealer parts department would probably be my first recommendation due to a factory warranty. You can have any mechanic install it for you. Now, if you want to take a gamble, a junk yard used motor might be my next suggestion….but you are only buying someone elses worn out Ranger motor so be prepared for that.

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