Not everyone is a gearhead, or knows a gearhead, so more often than not we have to resort to making sound effects and talking about how our car "feels" when we are at the repair shop. That's why it is really important that the mechanic is not only experienced enough to translate what "it makes a rrrrr-eeee-rrrr noise" actually means, but is also trustworthy enough to tell us the truth.
Test your car repair savviness and the honesty of your mechanic by checking to see if you've been caught in any of these scams.
1. "Your air filter is dirty."
Did you hear this the last time you went in for any type of service? Did you actually see the mechanic take the air filter out of your car? A common scam used by dishonest mechanics is to bring you a filthy air filter and ask you if you want to replace it. The problem is, the air filter might not have come out of your car. Know what your air filter looks like. Your owner's manual should have a suggested replacement schedule, which is typically 30,000 miles or 3 years. If you know when you last had it replaced, it is easier to know when someone is trying to pull one over on you.
Helpful Hint: Take your favorite shade of nail polish and put a little bit on the side of your air filter. The next time a mechanic brings you an air filter, you can make sure it is really the one from your car.
2. "Your vehicle needs synthetic oil."
This one is tricky. Synthetic oil can last longer than conventional oil but at twice the price you may not notice enough of a difference to justify the expense. A common pressure tactic is for the mechanic to say you need "premium" or synthetic oil and that the technician working on the car can't use a lower grade without your approval. There is some belief that older cars should not be suddenly switched to synthetic oil. Don't feel forced to pick a more expensive option.
Helpful Hint: Before your next oil change read your owner's manual to see what kind of oil the manufacturer suggests using, then put it on your phone in the notepad.
3. "You need additional repairs."
If you find your simple oil change is becoming a laundry list of add-ons or additional "suggested" repairs, you should be wary. If you haven't noticed a problem with your car, or just had repairs done, don't fall for this one. You can, and should, get a second opinion. If it turns out you need the repairs, you will have the peace of mind knowing you didn't get swindled.
Helpful hint: Keep a list in your car or on your phone of any car repairs you've had done and the dates. You might also add a list of maintenance suggestions from your owner's manual so that you have them on hand.
"You have to pay for the repairs."
This scam happens most often when you have taken your car in for a specific repair. Then you get a call several hours or even days later saying your car needed more repairs and now you owe hundreds of dollars more than the initial problem was quoted. You are legally bound to pay for the quoted price and perhaps some of the labor used to investigate the problem, but do not pay for anything you didn't authorize. If they refuse to return your vehicle, call the local police.
Helpful Hint: This scam plays on the fear that you won't get your car back, so don't give into fear and pay for repairs that you didn't authorize.
To avoid these or other scams, do a little bit of homework before you get to the shop. Thanks to user-generated reviews in apps and on websites, it's easier to find reliable and trustworthy mechanics. It's worth the extra effort because when you find a mechanic you like, it makes dealing with car trouble so much easier.