Don't Want to Get Ripped Off on Car Repairs? Ask These Five Questions

March 8, 2011

Over the past twenty years, I have worked with thousands of shop owners, so I know all too well what the bad, unethical shops do, as well as what the good guys do. If you want to make sure you are never ripped off by a repair shop, I can certainly help.  

If you want to find the right repair shop, you need to ask the right questions. When you do, it is imperative not only to pay attention to the answers the service advisor or shop owner provides, but to pay careful attention to how they respond as well. If they seem unprepared or uncomfortable when you ask these questions, there is a good chance you are speaking to the wrong shop.

1. How long have you been in business? Is the shop still under the original ownership?

Although there is no guarantee, I’ve found that bad shops typically get what’s coming to them within the first five years. Law suits, degradation of reputation, and/or poor business management inevitably leads to their demise. In some cases, a good guy can sell to a bad guy, so even if the shop meets the “five years” requirement, make sure it’s been under the same ownership. Don’t get me wrong—not every shop that has been open less than five years is an unethical shop, but if a shop meets this criteria, it's usually a positive sign.
2. Do you employ certified technicians?
Although a tech can be highly-skilled and never take the time to become certified, I’ve found that there is something to be said about the techs who do take and pass the tests to become certified. Beyond that, any shop owner that requires their techs to be certified is generally professional, and likes the assurance provided by this certification. Having their techs go through the certification process shows the pride and commitment of a shop owner.
3. Are your shop employees required to participate in a drug-free workplace program?
I have discovered that shop owners who have this requirement genuinely care about the safety of their customers. Of course they realize that they might miss out on some great technicians, but they are willing to pay that price in order to protect their customers. This commitment to a drug-free workplace is a testament to their character, as well as their professionalism.
4. How will you go about diagnosing my vehicle? What are my options when it comes to the repair?
This question puts the shop owner (or service advisor) on the spot because they have to explain their diagnostic services in detail. It not only helps you prevent any potential surprises, but it forces the shop owner to tell you whether or not they explore all possible repair options for their customers. This is what good shops do. If they offer just one solution, it might be good for them, but it's a disservice to you.
5. What type of warranty would come with the repair or service?
In today’s competitive environment, you should expect to receive at least a one-year part and labor warranty. Many shops today offer two-year warranties. All warranties should be in writing, and ideally, should be honored by other repair shops.

Please understand that if a shop owner or service advisor does not answer these questions in the optimal way, it is not an absolute indication that the owner runs an unethical shop. Similarly, there is not a 100 percent guarantee that a shop owner who answers these questions the right way provides fair and ethical service.  

However, if the shop owner answers these questions in an affirmative, seamless way, it's a very good indicator that you are dealing with an ethical, honest repair shop.

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About the Author

Guest Author is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

1 User Comment

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By , September 17, 2011
Good article! Esp. question #4. Fortunately, and after too much "trial and error, I now have a mechanic, who is certified, and who whose specialty is Subaru repair. He works on Toyota and other "Japanese imports", as well. He's a little "pricey", but at least he doesn't "milk" me with unnecessary repairs, he's honest about parts/prices, and he gets it "right" the 1st time! I fully believe that following the advice given on tip #4 helped my cause! I'm POOR! I've used "free lance" mechanics in the past, to avoid the outrageous cost of labor, and grossly marked up prices charged by dealerships. Just because it's a "dealership", does NOT prevent one from being "milked" or otherwise scammed! Usually, these folks came at the recommendation of friends. I've had some who were VERY good, and others, who were...well...not so good. It's a gamble, either way--esp. if one is female or elderly. (I'm a female who's not elderly, but I know of too many elderly people who've been SCAMMED and "milked" by auto mechanics! It happens way too often!) I share this experience because I fully believe people need to know that this kind of crap can happen to anyone, and that one can NEVER play it too safe in this day and age! I had used this one person in particular for a little less than 2 years. I felt he sometimes over charged but I figured part of it was because he came to my residence when my car was not drive-able. He wasn't the fastest "mover" in the world, but Otherwise, he seemed competent and reliable. The 2x prior to my last experience with him, I thought his fees were UNUSUALLY high. He grumbled about the recession, cost of living increase, etc. etc. (Hey, the same recession and cost of living hike was "pelting" me and many other folks too! In some ways it was worse because husband had just been laid off from his job! At the time, I was the sole bread winner in our household! The last time I hired him, the $350 or so he "milked" from me in unnecessary parts and labor should have "tided" him over for awhile! He would have made quite a haul if more people were milked like I was! 3 people a week at $350+ = $1,050 a week. I could live quite well on that kind of bread! The last "experience, was when my car died in my driveway and then would not start. (Rarely does that happen to me at home. Usually, I'm miles away, in the middle of nowhere, it's the weekend or holiday, and in the middle of the night - LOL) I had a hunch the alternator was the culprit because the lights went dim, just before it "died". I told him, of this, and upon a brief check of my battery, he was SURE, that was the problem. $85 later, I had a new battery, and not more than 1 week later, the car died again (only this time I was 45 miles from home!) I got a jump, made it home and called him again. "No" he said. "It's your starter"! Foolish me, I listened to him. $250 and several days later, dead car yet again! Finally, he concluded, the problem was the alternator.....what I thought in the 1st place. Another $110 spent, and the was problem solved. I realized I'd just been "milked" for $350 (give or take a few $). I decided he made quite a haul for a repair that should have only cost a little over $100, and that he'd made 3x more than I should have paid! I told him (after he'd replaced the alternator) that he'd have to come back the next day because I was out of checks but I'd give him an extra $5 for the gas to make the trip. When he returned, instead of the big fat check for $130 he anticipated, he got a check for $25 ($20 for the "house call" and $5 for the gas) Of course, a heated argument followed thereafter. I then told if he didn't want the $25, he was more than welcome to tear up the check, but he should be grateful for the "gift", instead of my having him arrested for fraud for the unnecessary parts. I concluded that I would change my mind if he didn't leave my residence in 30 seconds.