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Don’t overspend on car repairs

By Naomi Mannino ·
Friday, May 4, 2012
Posted: 2 pm ET

High prices and improper repairs are the main reasons car owners become dissatisfied with auto repair shops, according to the Consumer Reports Annual Auto Survey. But what if your bad experience is your own fault?

In reading the tips on avoiding a bad car repair experience that accompanied the survey results, I was reminded of how I busted my car repair budget in my most recent visit to my service station. My car wasn't running quite right, so I told the mechanic I wanted a tuneup because I hadn't had one since I bought the used car. Well, $278 later, the shaking was still there and I had to bring the car back.

"You said you wanted a tuneup," the car mechanic said to me. He had to diagnose and repair what was really broken, which turned out to be cracked motor mounts -- another $260. So I needlessly spent $278. According to the survey, this happens more often to women than men. For the best chance of car repair success for the least amount of money, follow the Consumer Reports advice.

  • Describe the car's problems and symptoms fully. Give the shop as much information as you can and try to talk directly to the mechanic who will be working on your car.
  • Don't offer a diagnosis. Let the mechanic do his or her job, or you could end up paying for repairs you suggest that don't solve the problem.
  • Request a test drive. Let the mechanic experience the problem while driving if you can’t explain it. Test drive your car after the repair.
  • Ask for a written estimate. Ask the station to contact you for approval if the repair will cost more than the estimate.

Additionally, if you're unhappy with the diagnosis, ask for more explanation and ask to see the parts that are causing a problem. Don't let the mechanic say his insurance company doesn't allow customers into the work area. If you think your estimate was unfair, check  out the new Consumer Reports Car Repair Estimator to better understand common problems and receive a service estimate that reflects local prices.

Whatever you do, have an emergency savings plan so you don’t delay servicing to items such as brakes, tires, light bulbs, or other internal mechanical parts which can causes safety issues and more costly repairs later.

Have you ever told the mechanic what you think the problem is and then had to pay more to fix the real problem?  Do you think being a women equates to paying more or bad service with car repairs?

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Ashley V.
May 10, 2012 at 5:42 pm

The same thing happened to me when I asked for a tune-up. I paid for unnecessary repairs and then I am pretty sure I was overcharged. I used but I don't know a lot about cars so I still get taken advantage of. I have heard good things about Repair Smart and am thinking of buying a membership.