How to Avoid Getting Scammed at the Auto Shop

A mechanic in shadow working underneath a car with a wrench.

When something goes wrong with your car, the last thing you want is to have to pay an arm and a leg to get it fixed. While sometimes the cost of auto repairs can be justified, there are other times you may feel like you're being unfairly charged. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, American consumers lose tens of billions of dollars each year due to faulty or unnecessary car repairs, which raises a red flag.

Dealing with your local mechanic on a professional level is important, but it can be tough to balance that in conjunction with ensuring a good deal. To avoid paying more than you should when you visit the mechanic, take a look at some of the tips and strategies listed below.

Know About Common Scams

Unfortunately, there are several common scams out there that some mechanics try to pull on customers. Read below to learn about those that you should definitely be leery of.

Dirty Air Filters

A car mechanic holding a dirty filter.

Angie’s List reports that one common auto repair scam involves mechanics claiming you have a dirty air filter. Some even go to the lengths of showing you a dirty filter—with one catch: it isn’t actually from your car.

Upfront Charge

A scam costing consumers a bundle is one in which mechanics ask for payment to “look into” a problem, and then charge an alarmingly high rate associated with the work to fix whatever problem they uncover. The expectations around these charges may be murky, and then mechanics are reportedly holding cars hostage until they receive full payment.

Oil Change Scam

Consumers report that mechanics are claiming they must upgrade the oil to premium synthetic, which can ring up quite the bill and may be totally unnecessary.

More Than a Check-Up

Auto shops are known to lure customers in with low-cost specials for a tune-up, and then coax them into other repairs that aren’t necessarily needed. This can quickly add to your tab, leaving you with a hefty charge.

Strategies to Avoid Being Scammed

Because the average American is not a car expert (that’s why you’re visiting a mechanic, after all), it can be tough to know with certainty whether or not you’re being scammed. In this section, we discuss some ways to ward off dishonest mechanics and to save you some money!

Read Reviews

With sites such as Angie’s List and Yelp around, it’s easy to find reputable auto shops with the reviews to back them up. These are great resources to use in finding out where people have had negative experiences, received poor service, or been scammed. Look for spots with 10 or more positive reviews to ensure you’re going somewhere reliable and trustworthy.

Ask for an Estimate

A car mechanic holding a clipboard in discussion with a couple.

Before you commit to receiving service at a particular auto repair shop, it’s a good idea to get an estimate for the services your mechanic envisions after an initial check. This is actually a legal requirement in many states if the repair is expected to cost over $100. You should also ask the professional to contact you if he believes the cost will be significantly higher than the estimate he provided so that you are not surprised at your bill. As an insurance policy, ask for this estimate in writing so that you have something to refer back to if they present a bill that differs from what you had agreed upon. If the estimate looks off in any way to you, consider getting a second opinion, just to be safe.

Spot a Shady Mechanic

Always trust your intuition when you’re hiring someone to provide a service for you. Shady mechanics may give off strange vibes if they try to scare you from driving your car the way it is without repairs, if they don’t take no for an answer, or if they are wishy-washy about giving you anything in writing. Also, make sure that you see their professional certifications before entrusting them with your vehicle.

Don’t let a trip to the auto repair shop intimidate you, but be willing to push back and follow your gut. Protecting yourself from an outrageous bill that is unwarranted should be a top priority when you visit a mechanic, and this guide allows you to do so with confidence!