Secrets of an auto mechanic
Most of us would not take our car to just any auto mechanic. We want
one who is trustworthy and will do the job right -- the first time.
Though there are honest mechanics, sometimes finding one is harder
than catching a fish without a hook.
Modern automobiles are so complicated that when ordinary
Joes and Janes bring their cars in for service or repairs, they
have trouble knowing if a mechanic is being truthful or taking them
for a ride. Bankrate.com spoke to auto mechanics with more than
20 years of experience to learn what you should be aware of before
handing your keys over to a guy with a wrench in his pocket.
The simple inspection
The cleanliness of the shop is an indication of the quality of work
you can expect. Because mechanics deal with oil and crud all day
doesn't mean the shop should look like a pigsty. Today, cars and
trucks are much more computerized than their predecessors. So you
may want to see if the shop has the latest equipment to properly
diagnose and service your car. But that's not all.
"The new technology is a help, but if you're not trained it
can cause you to misdiagnose," says our expert, who spoke to
us on condition that he remain anonymous.
Be wary of advertisements
Do you remember the old saying, "If it's too good to be true,
it usually is"? The newspaper classifieds and mass-mail coupons
are commonly stacked with places offering specials to fix brakes,
transmissions or any other part. However, don't let your guard down
so quickly. The special may not be work your car needs. What's more,
the mechanic may be so focused on giving you what the ad specifically
says that he may not check other vital components.
Read the owner's manual
Yes, you should read that dust-covered book that's stashed at the
bottom of your glove compartment. It explains when to replace most
engine parts. Many auto shops and dealers try to sell customers
services they may not need. If you don't know when those parts need
inspection or replacement, you'll take the bait.
Deal with a qualified mechanic
Read the certificates hanging on the wall, and if there aren't any,
you should worry. Look for the Automotive Service Excellence Blue
Seal, which indicates technicians' competence in areas such as brake
work, engine repair and alignment. A shop gets the ASE designation
when 75 percent of their technicians are certified in one or more
areas of repair work. Go to the ASE
Web site to locate shops in your area with the seal.
Having the seal doesn't guarantee that a mechanic is honest, but
at least he knows what he's doing.
"I would like to see consumers more aware of the car they're
driving," our auto expert says. "Educating yourself is
Another source who was a mechanic for 24 years adds a special warning
to female customers.
"Mechanics take advantage of women -- that's standard,"
our source says. "That's because women are more inclined to
Women are especially vulnerable to being sold new parts they don't
need replaced. Our second insider says this is the most common questionable
practice he saw mechanics pull on customers, both women and men.
"Sometimes a shop is having a promotion to sell or move car
parts," our source explains. "They'll sell you stuff you
don't really need. I've seen guys sell tires that way.
"They use fear, raising safety issues -- especially with female
Our source says it's rare to see a customer charged for a part
that isn't replaced. However, it is common to be sold parts you
don't really need.
Most or least
The source says that when a car needs a repair, the customer wants
the least amount of work done to fix it, while a mechanic wants
to do the maximum. In this case, the mechanic isn't necessarily
trying to rip off the customer. He just doesn't want something related
to the problem to break a week later and then he has to fix it for
"It's a genuine disagreement," the source says. "One
viewpoint is: 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.' The other is 'Sometimes
doing the most expensive thing is, in the long run, the cheapest
Mechanics usually win that argument.
"There's a gap in knowledge," the source says. "The
mechanic knows what's going on and the customer usually doesn't.
Mechanics have an advantage, and they use it to take advantage of
Keep in mind that mechanics don't know everything; sometimes they'll
replace the wrong part thinking it will fix the problem. When it
doesn't, the mechanic has to find the part that's really broken.
And guess who pays for the extra parts and time?
"In that case, a mechanic will tell a customer, "Look,
when I was down there, I saw that the so-and-so was in terrible
shape, and it needed to be fixed, too," the source says.
Watch the dealer
All cars are not repaired equally, at least at dealerships. When
a car is under warranty, the manufacturer sets the fee for the repair,
our source explains. This means that mechanics make less money for
those jobs than they do for non-warranty jobs. So the car ends up
being repaired by the least-experienced mechanic. "Newer mechanics
get caught with all the grunt work," the source says.
This is why, when you have something on your car fixed under warranty,
it might take a few trips to the dealer to get the job done right.
Last bit of advice
Use common sense -- and your gut feeling -- when your car needs
repair. "Judge for yourself whether the mechanic is telling
the truth," the source says. "If in fact you don't believe
him and your car can limp home, limp home."
However, if you break down somewhere, don't expect mechanics to
give you a break. "Basically, you're at their mercy,"
our source says.