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Keeping an eye on your mechanic

By Claes Bell · Bankrate.com
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Posted: 7 am ET

I had an interesting car experience this week. I took my Mazda into my regular mechanic for a routine oil change plus a tire rotation and a brake check. When I got the car back, however, I suspected the rotation hadn't been done, even though I was billed for it on the invoice.

Normally, when you have your tires rotated to prevent irregular wear and thus premature replacement, the technician just switches the front and back wheels on the same side. Because I don't wash my car often enough, there's often brake dust on the front wheels, so when I saw that the brake-dusted wheels were still on the front of my car, I got suspicious. I called my mechanic and explained my issue, and they apologized and agreed to make sure the tires were rotated correctly in a follow-up visit.

Make sure your mechanic is doing the work and replacing the parts you're paying for

Make sure your mechanic is doing the work and replacing the parts you're paying for

If you read this blog with any regularity, you'll know I place the importance of finding a trustworthy mechanic just under finding a good doctor and a good dentist. I've known the mechanic I go to for years, and they've always treated me honestly, so I was sure it wasn't a case of deliberately skipping the rotation.

But because they're good mechanics, their shop is fairly busy. There are a lot of cars going in and out of the place, and they're human beings, so they're bound to make mistakes once in a while in the same way everyone, even personal finance reporters, do. So even without dishonesty being a factor, which it is in all too many repair shops, work that you're being charged for won't always be done.

Fortunately, there are some easy ways to verify the work you've paid for has actually been done.

  • For an oil and filter change, mark the old filter with a permanent marker before you drop the car off. When you get the car back, check the oil filter, and if the mark is still there, you'll know it wasn't replaced as ordered. To verify your car got new oil, pull out the car's dipstick and take a look at the oil on it in -- it should be a clear gold color. If it's dark and cloudy, you might have a problem.
  • For a tire rotation, take a piece of chalk and mark your front tires with LF and RF for left front and right front. If those tires are still in the same position when you get the car back, the service wasn't performed.
  • If you got a new battery, check the terminals. If there's a lot of crusty green corrosion still on the battery's stubby metal posts, it's a good bet your battery wasn't replaced.
  • If you've just gotten an alignment, take the freeway home and take your car above 55 mph. If the wheel shakes in your hands or your car pulls to the right or left, you'll need to take it back in.

It's worth mentioning that if a pattern of unperformed work emerges, it's time to find a new mechanic. There's a thin line between incompetence/dishonesty and simple mistakes, and a dishonest mechanic can cost you a lot of money and even endanger your safety in a situation where you need auto work done beyond regular maintenance. I still trust my mechanic and I'll continue to be a loyal customer, but this episode reinforced for me that even the most honest mechanics bear watching.

Have you ever been charged for maintenance that was never done? How important is a good mechanic to you?

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1 Comment
Meagan
January 31, 2011 at 10:28 am

I usually bring my own synthetic oil to my mechanic when I have an oil change. It is WAY cheaper and ensures that the right oil is used for my particular car. One time when I took my car in for a change, they forgot to use the oil in the trunk and instead put in regular oil. When I got home, I realized the problem and went back and they changed it out again and were very apologetic. Now I put the oil on the drivers seat when I leave the car for an oil change so there is no chance of a mix up :)