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Avoiding car repair ripoffs
Finding a good AND honest mechanic
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BAD MECHANIC SHOPS

So why are there so many "bad" mechanic shops?
Actually, there are only a few scam artists in the industry who actually set out to be a ripoff.. A mechanic is normally an honest, everyday person.. But just because a mechanic shop has good intentions, however, doesn't mean they can properly fix your car!

Three common car repair complaints:

People usually have 3 complaints about auto repair:

We've taken the car in and it's still not fixed


More and more often cars have intermittent electronic problems. A mechanic can't fix it if he can't get it to mess up. Check out my article on "car won't start" for some things you can check yourself for those intermittents. Then you can at least tell your mechanic " It loses spark" or "The fuel pump quits" and so forth. Check out my mailbag section on Driveability Questionsif your car runs but just hesitates or just "seems to not run right".

You've probably seen those medical dramas on TV. Quite often they will try a bunch of things before they finally "fix" the patient. A mechanic often ends up doing about the same thing, especially if they have trouble reproducing the problem.. Do the doctors charge only for the treatment that worked? As long as it is done in good conscience as an attempt to correct an auto complaint, a repair is legitimate as long as it is done correctly, and is a legitimate and reasonable attempt to fix the complaint. Bear in mind the human body hasn't changed for thousands of years: cars change radically every few years. Especially with electronic problems a mechanic may have to replace a number of things before fixing the problem. Sometimes a computer has to be replaced: some diagnostics are read through the various onboard computers. Bad computers, bad diagnostics. Diagnostic tools and repair manual procedures can be inaccurate or ambiguous, leading a mechanic down an incorrect diagnostic "path". This can lead to replacing a part and still not fixing the complaint.

Sometimes whatever was repaired was broken, but not causing the problem complained about. Sometimes a problem is caused by more than one thing breaking.

AN EXAMPLE FROM MY SHOP

I had a car once which would die on acceleration occasionally. Most of the time it would run fine. The computer said there was a bad crank sensor. I replaced the sensor. Same problem. Checked the wires from the sensor: good conduction, tests good. Replaced computer. Same problem.

I finally fixed it: inside the frame, way under the motor, the wiring harness had rubbed against a sloppy weld on the frame. (This was a rough weld from the factory: quality control isn't what it used to be!) Every once in a while the wiring harness that contained the crank sensor wire would rub against the rough weld and ground out. This would happen on acceleration because the engine moves around slightly when you accelerate. I smoothed the weld and repaired the wiring harness. The fix took about 15 minutes. Had the owner come by and said,"Hey, can you tape up this wiring harness where it's rubbing on this sharp weld" it would have been easy.

That's the way it often is: the fix is easy, the diagnostics very hard sometimes.

2) We took the car in for one simple repair and now they say it needs $1000 worth of other repairs


The repairs may be needed! All too often, though, at least some of the repairs are either unnecessary or premature. Unfortunately this often happens in the biggest and nicest looking mechanic shops, even dealerships. They will try to sell you the things that they can replace the easiest and make the most money on. Often they will "lure you in" with a $9 oil change or a "free" brake inspection.

COMMON REPAIR RIPOFF ITEMS
Common mechanic "ripoff" items: mufflers, exhaust stuff, shock absorbers, and brake repairs. There are a lot of car scams around! A mechanic told one of my customers was told she needed a new exhaust system because it had rust on it! (They will rust almost immediately. Brand new cars on the dealer's lot have rust on the exhaust parts). 5 years later she still has the same muffler and exhaust system: IT STILL DOESN'T NEED REPLACING!

Auto tire places
Whenever I hear someone say they got tires at one large auto tire shop in Gainesville I ask them how much they paid for their brake job. "How did you know I got a brake job?" they always ask. "Because EVERYBODY who gets tires there gets a sold a brake job!" I reply.

The auto tire place I recommend to my customers just sells tires. No brake jobs. They will of course tell a customer if they notice their brakes are really low or their shocks look bad, but they AREN'T looking for other big profit repairs to sell !

3) They seem to want a lot of money to fix my car!


Believe it or not, a mechanic is underpayed compared to techs in other fields. That's one reason it's hard to find good ones. Many times a mechanic makes less than $400 a week. They could make a lot more as a construction worker, welder, plumber, electrician, etc. Any good mechanic already posesses the skills needed to do these jobs, and a lot of people are an "ex" mechanic for that very reason!
If you go to the dealer, or to a mechanic shop with wall to wall carpet and a big screen TV in their waiting room, somebody's paying for all that! One thing to watch out for: just because the mechanic shop has a high labor rate doesn't mean the mechanic is highly paid! I know of several shops who charge $75 to $100 per hour to the customer and pay the mechanics $10 or even $8 per hour! These won't be the best mechanic in town!

Another misconception: mechanic shops make money off their parts. Just because you can buy a part for $10 doesn't mean the mechanic shop is robbing you by charging you $15 or even $20. A mechanic shop commonly charges double their cost on parts costing less than $50. Some mechanic shops offer a percentage of the parts profit to the mechanic. Not always, but often this leads to unnecessary parts being replaced.

How to avoid ripoffs:

ASE Certification

Look for ASE mechanic and shop certification. Make sure the mechanic working on your car is certified in the area he's fixing: if he's fixing your transmission, it doesn't help if he's certified in brake repair!

Be knowledgeable

Check this website out for the system you're getting fixed. Ask your mechanic questions. Show your knowledge. See if the mechanic can explain the repair to you, and why it is needed.. A mechanic shop will not be as ready to take advantage of a knowledgeable customer!

Ask a friend

Talk to a friend: chances are he knows a good mechanic shop. Make sure the mechanic shop will take time to explain the repair to you and why it's needed.

Call the BBB

Check with the Better Business Bureau and Chamber of Commerce. Although they don't pick up on all the bad mechanic shops, they have the very worst cases on file.

Caveat Emptor! (Let the buyer beware!)

Beware of "come-ons" that are just too cheap! That $9 oil change barely covers the cost of the oil and filter, much less paying the mechanic. They're looking for something to fix so they can make money off you!

Find a good mechanic shop and have them do all your repairs

Find a good mechanic shop and stick with them! Your regular mechanic can get to know your car. He'll know what has already been done, what needs to be done later, and what MUST be done NOW! The people who go to a different mechanic shop for each repair, using price as their only consideration, usually end up paying more and getting less reliable maintenance on ther vehicles.

EVEN HONEST MECHANIC SHOPS LIKE TO MAKE MONEY

Ever go to a burger joint and get a 99 cent hamburger? Pretty good deal! Amazing they can make them for that! What about that $2.25 Jumbo Drink with the NASCAR driver? Not such a good deal!

If you really want to save money, you just buy the burger and a glass of water.

You can fix your car the same way. The best example is maintenance. A good mechanic will inspect things during routine maintenance repairs. Many shops offer free inspections or very cheap oil changes to give them the opportunity to look your car over for other more profitable repairs.

"How about a Jumbo Drink with that burger?"

A good example is your air filter. It's important to change your filters! Can't say anyting bad about putting a new air filter in while you're getting an oil change, even if it doesn't quite need it yet!

Air filter at parts store: $7
Air filter at oil change place: $14.99
Labor to install filter at oil change place: $5-$10
Couldn't you have changed that filter? Did it REALLY need changing?

"And how about a nice hot apple pie for dessert?"

I had a customer whose fuel pump had failed. I told her it had failed largely because her fuel filter hadn't been changed in 150,000 miles. I replaced the pump and filter. The next week she came by my mechanic shop. She had just been to a "quick oil change" place. The service writer had told her she needed a new fuel filter, that it looked like it had been "on there for awhile". She asked him if he was sure the filter was not new. He said, no the filter was not new.

She hauled it back to me and I actually took it up on the lift and showed her the new filter. It was clean, bright, and shiny: looked just like it did when it came out of the box..

She couldn't believe the guy was doing that! This was one of the biggest auto mechanic repair chain stores in the country! Especially when she asked him if he was sure!

I wasn't surprised at all.

Keep maintenance records

Keep track of what is done to your car, especially maintenance items. Follow the change intervals recommended in your owner's manual. Often the manual will have a place to record repairs and services.

Gomer Pyle and Goober don't work on cars anymore

Remember the Andy Griffith Show? Mayberry? How about the star mechanic: first Gomer Pyle then Goober?
It used to be that almost anyone could fix a car. With the advent of computer controls and such, fewer people are really truly qualified (or equipped) to fix many modern vehicles.

An auto revolution: 1970 to 1990

A number of things have taken place which have revolutionized the auto repair industry. Until the late seventies, most of the cars on the road in the U.S. were made by "The Big Three" automakers: GM, Ford, and Chrysler. Imports were there, but a small portion of the total automotive picture.

In any case, emission controls had not yet entered the computer age, and the only real "electronics" on a car resided in the transistor radio! Mechanics of that day often would "strip off" emission controls, saying, "You don't need that: it's just pollution junk!" This returned the car to a pre- emission control state, sometimes making it run better!
This was largely because the first emission controlled motors were the same as those designed in the 1950's. Emission controlls were just "hung on" them to meet federal pollution standards.

Modern Vehicles

Today's vehicles, however, have more computer power on board than the Apollo moon shots! They are designed from scratch to have all the "emission controls" operational and in place! A mechanic must have a knowledge of these systems: he can't just disable or bypass them anymore!

A big learning curve for a mechanic

This means a big learning curve for today's mechanic. The manufacturers don't make it any easier. either! There is little standardization among the many worldwide automakers regarding this "computerization." They can't even agree what to call the computer! One company calls it a MCU (Microprocessor Control Unit), another a ECM (Electronic Control Module), or PCM (Powertrain Control Module) or a SMEC (Single Module Engine Controller): to name a few of the obscure acronyms used to describe the same component: the computer which controls the car's engine!

To be a good mechanic today requires skills not dreamed of in the 1970's. Unfortunately, many a mechanic is unable to keep up. Even if a mechanic is up to date in their knowledge, they may not have the latest equipment and information needed for your car. Just as an underqualified doctor can kill patients, an underqualified mechanic can kill your car: AND YOUR BANK ACCOUNT AT THE SAME TIME!


Check out this site! I've tried to explain every system of your car as plainly as possible. This will help you communicate better with your mechanic. If you're in the Gainesville area, come on by: Remember, we'll always "look for free!" This means we'll look under your hood, take a drive with you, and give a free estimate for either the repair needed or how much diagnostic time will be required to find out exactly what is wrong with your vehicle.

Here's a link to the US Government advice site article on choosing a good mechanic. They also have a rip off report on the really bad auto shops.


Think a mechanic shop is taking you for a ride? Maybe I can help.

Ever wish you had a friend who owned a shop? You could call him up and ask for advice. When a shop told you a bunch of stuff that made no sense, he'd call them up. Sometimes he'd tell you the shop was telling you the truth. Other times, he'd talk to the shop, and their story to you would change: for the better and cheaper. Occasionally, he'd tell you to tow your car out of there as quickly as you can: they're trying to RIP YOU OFF!!!

I spend a good deal of time answering questions people have about their cars. I do this free of charge, however many people have sent me checks in appreciation for my help. This makes me more inclined to keep answering people's questions! I also offer automotive consulting services. For a fee as low as $20 to $50 I'll "get involved" in your car repair situation. I'll talk to any mechanic shop in the world working on your car, and determine whether the shop is up to date and honest, or one of those shops who are either behind the times, or just trying to rob you! If you've "fallen among thieves", I'll find a mechanic shop in your town who will treat you right!

I also regularly testify as an expert witness in automotive legal matters. Contact me for more details..


Background music "I Lied to You" by Dirty Fist

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Thank you for visiting the ECONOMECHANIX WEB SITE. Please feel free to comment. We also serve the surrounding communities of Alachua, High Springs, Hawthorne, and Newberry! Gainesville has been my home since 1974, and I've loved Gvl and the Gators since I came here in the fall of 1974 to attend the University of Florida. I loved it so much I stayed and opened my car repair business. Originally it was out of the back of a 1963 Chevrolet wagon, but in 1977 a fellow mechanic and I opened an auto repair shop with actual walls, etc. I stayed in the same location for 26 years, and recently moved my operation to property I bought 15 miles east of Gainesville. I am doing most all the repairs myself now, having reduced my overhead from $1500 per month to practically nothing. I do work by appointment only. I mostly work only on my established customers cars, but I will occasionally take on new clients. E-mail me and I will either make arrangements to look at your car, or I will recommend you to someone who will.

George G. Scott, Jr.


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Auto, Car, and Truck Article List

A
ABS: Anti-Lock Brake Systems
ADVANCE: Car ignition timing
ALTERNATORS and Car Battery
AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSIONS
B
BAD CAR DESIGNS
BATTERIES: Auto, Car or Truck
BELTS AND HOSES
BEARINGS
BODY AND BUMPER REPAIRS
BRAKE REPAIRS: Car or Truck
C
Car Washing and Care
CARBURETORS:Car & Truck
CHECK ENGINE LIGHT
CLEANING: Engine Cleaning
CLUTCH REPAIRS: Car & Truck
COMPRESSION: Car Engine
COMPUTER CAR CONTROLS
CV JOINT OR CV AXLES
D
DISTRIBUTORS (IGNITION)
E
ELECTRIC WIRING REPAIR
ENGINES: Car & Truck
ENGINE CLEANING
EXPANSION PLUGS
F
FREEZE PLUGS
FUEL AIR MIXTURE
FUEL INJECTION: Car & Truck
FUEL PUMPS: Car & Truck
G
GAGES AND "IDIOT LIGHTS"
GASKETS AND SEALS
GLASS: WINDOWS AND WINDSHIELDS
H
HEADS & HEAD GASKET
HOSES AND BELTS
I
"IDIOT LIGHTS" AND GAGES
IGNITION TIMING: Car & Truck
J
AUTO JACKS: lifting cars safely
K
L
LEAN "Car runs lean"
LIGHTS: WARNING OR "IDIOT LIGHTS"
Limp Home Mode
M
MIL Light
MANUAL TRANSMISSIONS
N
NO START: Car Won't Start
O
OIL CHANGES
OIL: What's right for your car?
OIL LIGHT ON OR GAGE LOW
P
PCV Valve
Q
R
RADIATORS: Car and Truck
RICH: Car runs rich
S
SEALS AND GASKETS
SERVICE ENGINE SOON LIGHT
SPARK PLUGS
STARTERS: Auto, Truck
T
THERMOSTATS
TIMING: IGNITION TIMING
TIMING BELT & TIMING CHAIN
TIRE REPAIR
TRANSMISSIONS: AUTOMATIC
TRANSMISSIONS: MANUAL
U
V
VACUUM ADVANCE
WARNING LIGHTS OR "IDIOT LIGHTS"
Car Washing and Care
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WATER PUMP REPAIR
WINDOWS AND WINDSHIELDS
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