How to Avoid Getting Ripped Off by Auto Mechanics

Many drivers today know very little about the inner workings of their vehicles, which isn’t a problem…until something breaks. Maintenance and repairs are a necessary burden for any car owner, and many mechanics practice their trade in an open honest way. Unfortunately, many also do not. These simple tips can help anyone deter a dishonest mechanic and avoid overpaying for repairs.


Research has shown that when a car owner admits to knowing nothing about car repairs they are charged higher prices. Women especially have been shown to repeatedly be quoted higher prices than men for the exact same services. This phenomenon can be combatted with a few minutes of preparation and some good old fashion bluffing. Before speaking with the mechanic write yourself a cheat sheet with the make, model, engine info, and troubleshooting search results for your vehicle. Having this on hand will make you seem somewhat knowledgeable about your car, even if you’re not.

*Engine info can be found in your owner’s manual, or by searching your VIN (vehicle identification number) in a pinch.


Do an internet search to get a basic idea about some possibilities for what might need to be repaired on your vehicle. For example, I searched troubleshoot Ford Edge won’t start. The results from quickly let me know that battery, alternator, and starter issues are the most common causes.

After searching your unique auto problem write down a few common causes and name them when speaking with the mechanic.

Labor Cost

Some mechanics and dealership service centers have significantly higher labor per hour charges than others. Ask how much labor is per hour and compare when choosing your mechanic.

 Suggest Approximate Cost

Use your troubleshooting search results to lookup approximate repair costs for that issue. This gives you a ballpark idea of what to expect and vocalizing it to the mechanic lets them know you’re savvy about these repairs.

Find Independent Shops

Independent auto shops can’t rely on a big brand name to provide them with customers so they often focus more on maintaining long term customers.

Search Your Vehicle for Recalls and Known Issues

It’s easy to search for recalls using several methods. I prefer which lets you search for recalls by make and model, or by VIN.

Get a Free Report for the Check Engine Light

Some mechanics admit to calling the check engine light the ‘idiot light’. Before visiting a mechanic because your light came on stop in at an auto parts store. Most major chains can read your car’s code and give you a printout of possible causes. The light can come on for something as simple as a loose gas cap, but not all mechanics will tighten it and send you on your way.

Say No to Add-ons

An $18 oil change can quickly become a much more expensive visit when consumers feel pressured to say yes to additional services suggested. If you’re going to a big chain oil change place simply say no to other recommended services. Note suggestions and share them with your trusted mechanic.

 Keep Control

Never tell a shop to “Do whatever’s needed.” or to “Just fix it.” Phrases like these make consumers more vulnerable to unscrupulous mechanics who consider them to be a greenlight for unnecessary repairs or charges. Request that the mechanic call you to explain before fixing your vehicle, and don’t be afraid to do some research before agreeing to have repairs done there.

Records and Receipts

Keep an envelope or folder in your car with receipts from all services or repairs to the vehicle. Being able to check these records can help you avoid paying again for warrantied parts or repairs that may have been defective. It also lets the dishonest mechanics you might encounter know that you’re aware of your service history so they’ll be less likely to try to sell you on unnecessary repairs.



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