How to avoid the tricks of the car repair trade

How to avoid the tricks of the car repair trade


CAR machanics get a bad rap. We’re at their mercy because we need them to do whatever’s necessary to keep our vehicles running. But when things go wrong, as they invariably do, who’s to know exactly what’s required to get the car road-worthy again? Why is it that things that operated without issue then suddenly “break” in the workshop? Even though there may be only a handful of dodgy garages, how can you be confident yours is giving you a fair deal?

Our mistrust of car mechanics is a universal issue, if research from the UK is any guide. The Sun reports that car mechanics rank among the least trustworthy professions out there, with as many as 85 per cent of drivers admitting they don’t trust them. A study conducted by long-running UK insurance comparison site Confused.com also found that while one in seven drivers are often confused by their conversations with the mechanic, only 10 per cent ask for clarification. And women are more worried about being ripped off than men.

Several years ago my gut told me I’d been duped when my three-year-old European car was returned from its annual service not only with a four-figure service bill but with a bluetooth function which no longer worked. It had been perfectly fine going into the workshop but the loss of bluetooth connectivity meant I could no longer use my phone hands-free in the car. The mechanic held up his hands and shrugged, and I ended up paying another $1000 to have the thing replaced. 

According to the report, one in eight drivers believe they’re pressured into buying parts or paying for repairs they don’t need. I needed that in-car phone connectivity so I stumped up. Had I not been time-poor, the better reaction would have been to at least get a second opinion or shop around for a better deal.

Of course, not every mechanic is a bad egg. Confused.com spoke with a (trusted) mechanic to identify five common problem-areas for motorists along with suggestions on how to defend themselves against the tricks of the trade. 

What language is this??

Chances are, you’ve got no idea what half the car terms mean, which is something mechanics can use to their advantage. You may have heard the term “Bullshit baffles brains” whereby a speaker (in this case the mechanic) will have a listener (you) nodding in agreement to the convoluted high-science they’re explaining in order to convince the speaker they’re totally across everything when, in fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth. You won’t be doing yourself any favours acting like a brainiac here. Ask questions - none of them will be stupid - and get detailed explanations - in writing if you want to be ultra-cautious. And a second opinion will always be instructive.

You charged me how much??

If you know what repairs your car needs, make some calls about average costs for parts and labour. Discuss with your mechanic what your rough cost expectations are, otherwise you’re leaving yourself open to overcharging.

Are those repairs really necessary?? 

The car went in because the fuel lines were blocked but you get a call from the mechanic about a litany of other issues. How do you know if they’re legitimate? You don’t, so provided the car can be driven safely, get it to another mechanic for a second opinion, even a third if you want the best deal. Chances are you should be thanking the original mechanic for pointing out work the car needs, even if it’s not urgent.

Yep, we’re into recycling but not like this!

This involves being charged for a new part when, in fact, a used part was installed, instead. Sometimes a part isn’t changed at all. If you’ve got the time and inclination, you can physically inspect the old and new bits yourself. You could also request parts made specifically by your car manufacturer which might be dearer than after-market parts but at least you’ll get what’s meant for your car.

But these tyres are quite new!!

A simple puncture won’t require a new tyre even if you’re told it does. Punctures  are often repairable but if you’re being told the tyre needs to be swapped out, find out why exactly. If it does, do price checks online and negotiate a better deal over the phone with a few suppliers. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve in half an hour.