auto

5 steps to cutting a big car repair bill

No. 3: Prioritize your vehicle's needs.

"If the shop presents you with a laundry list of car problems, and the service adviser says that everything's urgent and must be repaired immediately, that's a red flag," TePoel says. "Instead, customers should insist that advisers address their concerns first, because the customer's concerns are what brought the car into the shop in the first place."

After the customer's concerns are answered, the next priority should be to provide an estimate on work that "must" be done, TePoel says. This would be a repair that's critical for the car.

Next, advisers need to share repair estimates for work that "should" be done for the proper maintenance of the vehicle, but aren't necessarily required to be completed during that service appointment.

Finally, TePoel suggests the estimate could include work that "may" be done, meaning that it's a good idea to complete, but of the least critical importance.

It's up to customers to determine which services to approve, but the adviser should help them prioritize what's most important, he says.

No. 4: Get a second opinion.

If a car owner is not sure that an estimate reflects work that is really needed, Nielsen suggests making a few phone calls to other shops first, in order to help determine if the quote is fair.

"Pick up the phone and call other shops," he says. "Don't be afraid to say, 'Hey, I've got an estimate in my hand. Does this sound right?'"

Even though it's a good idea to get a second opinion, Nielsen cautions that consumers should still be aware that an alternate estimate could be erroneous, especially if the other mechanic has not physically inspected the vehicle in question.

No. 5: Get detailed estimates in writing.

Before approving any work, car owners should get a written record that spells out exactly what's being done, what type of warranty will be applied (if any) and how long it will take to complete the work, Nielsen says.

Owners should also know the process the shop has established for resolving disputes, such as third-party arbitration.

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