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Is Your Mechanic Ripping You Off?

Do your homework before hiring a mechanic

Mechanics have gotten a bad rap over the years. There are loads of stories of mechanics intentionally ripping customers off by up-selling and repairing components that don’t actually need fixing.

Then there are the mechanics who simply don’t know what they’re doing; misdiagnosing problems and causing you big, costly, drawn-out drama.

Unfortunately, this has caused many people to label the entire industry as “untrustworthy” – which isn’t the case. It’s just about spotting the dodgy mechanics and avoiding them.

To help you do that below is a list of things that dodgy mechanics do to rip you off.

1. Charging for work not performed

It’s not uncommon for dodgy mechanics to charge for parts they haven’t actually replaced and work they haven’t performed.

2. Bring forward parts replacements

Loads of parts in your car will eventually need to be replaced. The trigger is either the number of kilometres your car has driven or time. A mechanic who wants to bump up your bill will often bring forward these major parts replacements unnecessarily.

For example, if a part should be replaced at 100,000km, some mechanics will start recommending replacements at 70,000km. This is also commonplace at roadside assistance operations where staff are incentivised to sell parts, like batteries. These guys will often replace any batteries that are over two years old (even though the normal life cycle is three to four years) regardless of whether the problem was actually the battery or it just needed recharge.

Ultimately, these mechanics are not thinking about you as a customer for the long term, they’re just trying to make the most out of every service. For a guide on what to service and when check out this article “How often should you service your car?”.

3. Create phantom repairs

Here’s where things get really dodgy. There are some mechanics who will create repairs out of thin air in order to upsell you. Worse still, because there wasn’t a problem in the first place, they don’t actually do any work for the extra charge.

For example, the mechanic will spray WD40 on your suspension struts. They’ll then bring you in to show you that you have an oil leak and the suspension struts need replacing. You authorise the work, they then go ahead and clean up the WD40 and paint the suspension struts black. When you return they show you your new shiny suspension struts with no oil leak. That will be $1,200, thank you.

4. Lure you in with a cheap service

With thousands of mechanics, workshops and dealerships, the automotive repair industry is super competitive. One of the most common tricks to get customers in the door is to advertise a cheap service. They lure in first-time customers with a bargain headline rate for a service, as low as $99. While this may sound appealing, the problem is that the mechanic just isn’t making any money. With the cost of parts, plus their business overheads, they’re not paying themselves. To counter this they’ll upsell you a bunch of things you don’t need. The strategy is to get you in the door and then bump up the bill.

If you see a cheap service, be prepared to drive out with a much larger bill. A good benchmark is a minimum of $180 for a basic service for a standard, non-European car.

Is Your Mechanic Ripping You Off?

What can you do about it? 

The thought of questioning your mechanic can be a tad scary. The prospect of speaking to a mechanic in greasy overalls using complex car language is daunting enough, let alone questioning what they’re telling you. Sometimes it’s easier to stick your head in the sand and hope the problem goes away.

But if you follow a few simple rules you can quickly figure out whether or not you’re getting ripped off…
1. Do your homework: Check out this list on how to find a good mechanic
2. Stick to your maintenance schedule
3. Avoid cheap services, $120 is cheap, $180 is average
4. Get everything in writing
5. Keep Records, your logbook, a maintenance journal and keep track in your calendar of what’s due and when
6. Know your car
7. Check your brake lights
8. Ask questions and ask for your old parts back
9. Get a second opinion

Unfortunately some mechanics are simply not very good, or just plain dodgy. Luckily, once you know the tricks and mistakes to look out for, it’s much easier to avoid getting ripped off.

For more tips on finding a good mechanic, check out the Blue Toro Blog.

Written by Janelle Gonzalez

Corporate escapee and mechanic’s wife Janelle Gonzalez has spent the last 24 years in garages, pit lanes and on road trips. Living a double life - corporate by weekday, trackside on the weekends - she shares her husband’s passion for cars. She has now turned her skills to building Australia’s first national mobile mechanic franchise. Her mission is to help Australians trust mechanics by educating car owners and returning to good old fashioned service values, while changing the lives of mechanics and their families.

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