Auto repair reality is a tough nut to crack if you’re like about 95% of Americans. Most people don’t know much about their cars and really don’t want to. They want to wake up, turn the key, and have the car do what it’s always done: drive to and from work.But on those gut-wrenching mornings when the car won’t start, or there’s an evil little light on the dash, we know it’s time to telemarket the pros and hope we get a fair deal and not a sharp stick in the eye.
Now you’re in the shop – They’re looking at your car, charging you for it, and when they walk into the waiting room, wiping the grease off they’re hands, how do you now the next sentence isn’t a complete work of fiction?
Let’s pause for a moment of clarity. Just what is an auto repair scam? We like to use this simple analogy to get everyone’s head in the game… Going out to dinner.
Imagine walking into a restaurant any given night of the week. You’re craving (let’s say for sake of argument) a burger, fries and coke. You sit down, the waiter walks over and before taking your order tells you about the specials. They tell you about their tender sirloin tips, sautéed in a cabernet butter sauce served with garlic mashed potatoes and delectable grilled asparagus spears drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. Your mouth begins to water and you picture a glass of Shiraz washing it all down.
Fast forward about an hour. You’re leaving full and happy having spent about $55 more than the original $12 you had planned on.Congratulations! You were just unsold.
Let’s repeat this experience and this time explore a scam… You order the burger, fries and coke. The waiter brings you the carrot plate with an orange juice, charges you for the steak and then the valet refuses to give you your keys until you pay for the entire dinner including tip and a Saganaki you never even knew they served.
Now THAT is a scam.
The truly insidious problem with auto repair is how hard it can be to tell the difference. Unlike dinner, the inner workings of your transmission can be subject to interpretation.
The most powerful tool you have against auto repair scams: Stop using repair facilities who refuse to provide quality information over the phone or internet. We have a simple, hard and fast rule – If a mechanic is not knowledgeable enough to provide at least basic, quality information when I contact them initially; they are not knowledgeable enough to be working on a vehicle. Period.
Service writers and technicians need to understand the rest of the world lives in the information age. With the ability now for consumers to use free public resources (like IanAuto!) and get information to compare notes, mechanics must to stop chanting the old mantra “Can’t tell you, won’t tell you! Bring it in and we’ll take a look”.
You Need To Be Aware. You Are Not Helpless. You Do Have Choices The major reason for prescreening is failure to do so opens you up to a host of potential scams and creepy, high-pressure sales tactics.
How hard do you think it’ll be to reverse a mistake when you’re car is 6 feet in the air with the tires off and they’re pointing out fictitious emergencies?
And if the person on the phone is doing nothing but evade your direct questions, just picture the customer service if you have a problem later on.
Remember, there are some amazing auto service pros out there who will blow your mind with knowledge, honesty and willingness to share. People like this should be given a medal for saving customers on a daily basis. The best thing is they’re either a phone call our mouse click away!
Understanding A Very Important Fact: While you should never use a mechanic who will not provide honest, direct answers to your questions, you must also know they will have to take a look at your care to give a realistic, accurate estimate.The truth is almost 100% of auto repair related situations do require a physical inspection by a trained service professional. Cars are highly complex machines and a problem with one system can frequently effect the performance of another.
For example: Check Engine Lights. These little buggers pop on when there’s an issue with a sensor buried in some deep, obscure system. We can all blame the manufacturers for not making this easy to diagnose. In situations like this there is no way to get around a systems test. You will have to bring in your vehicle, the technician will have to plug in a diagnostic tool and within about an hour (in most cases) you’ll have a solid idea of what’s wrong. But why can’t the technician tell you that?
We have called hundreds of shops across the country and been hearing the same thing from close to 96% of them: “Nope, we can’t tell you anything until we see it.” Or “We don’t give any information over the phone, you’ll have to bring it in.” We’ve heard these exact two sentences so many times at this point we’re starting to think there’s a mechanics phone call evasion phrase book!
Here’s a response directly from our database: This is a shop who knows how to answer your questions, even when there is no direct answer…
The “check engine” light is an indication something is wrong somewhere in your vehicle. What it’s saying is one or several sensors/components is failing or providing readings within specifications. Diagnosis and troubleshooting is required to determine the cause of the problem and this will allow us to provide an accurate estimate regarding exactly what needs to be fixed. The cost for an initial diagnosis runs $X. You can expect the whole diagnosis process to take around an hour. Our technicians are trained to handle these problems and are available ASAP. Please call to set up an appointment. Now isn’t that better than what “Nope. Can’t say until you bring it in”?
(Quick Money Saver Tip: AutoZone will run these tests for free. Save yourself $50-$80 and have them pull the codes. You can then post the codes and have technicians respond to better information. Visit www.AutoZone.com for a location near you. BUT PLEASE DO NOT ALLOW THEM TO DIAGNOSE THE PROBLEM! The nice folks here may try to help you out with advice, but after you get the codes please take them to a trained auto repair technician.)
The Most Astounding Fact Ever: Your answers are found in your mechanics questions. Even though having knowledge of your vehicle is the #1 way to avoid a scam, you can offset being less than informed by digging out good questions from the mechanic. There’s a simple reason for this, it shows they know what they’re talking about.
Because cars have become amazingly complex systems you should not expect to get a diagnosis over the phone or online. But you should expect information. When you call a shop, the person who picks up the phone should be able to tell you something about something. They should also be able to ask you enough questions to draw out info and further highlight their knowledge and professionalism. They should also disclose if they have an inspection fee, disclose if that fee will be waived if you approve the work, and then be courteous enough to ask for an appointment.
Brakes, engine trouble, weird smells and noises… in almost every auto repair related situation you must find a person who may not give you an exact answer, but will be able to tell you exactly why.
Bottom Line: An up-sell is offering premium parts instead of the basic stock, a scam is creating problems or lying about repairs needed. Scams can be avoided by finding a service pro who will directly address your questions and/or concerns. And while maybe not diagnosing your problem, at least offering quality information as to why.