Going to an auto mechanic shouldn’t be complicated. After all, you’re just taking your car in to be repaired, and fixing it should be easy and straightforward, right?
Sometimes it is. But during those times when the mechanic is trying to explain what’s wrong and how much more it will cost than what you originally thought it would, it can turn into a confusing time where you don’t know if you’re being taken advantage of because you don’t know enough about cars.
And you shouldn’t have to be. You just want the car fixed and running well, at a reasonable price. To help ensure you’re not getting ripped off, there are some questions you should ask a mechanic whenever you take your car in. Here are 11:
1. How much will the diagnostics cost?
This is like first asking your doctor how much the tests will cost before he gives you a diagnosis for why you feel ill. While it can seem like an odd question because you’ve gone to the trouble of taking your car to the mechanic, and you obviously want it repaired, you don’t want to pay too much for tests. But if it’s too high, it’s an opportunity to shop around for better prices.
Depending on your state and the auto repair shop, diagnostic tests can cost $100 to $200, says Bert Gagnon of Neon Productions Radio.
2. Are the mechanics ASE certified?
The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence is a non-profit organization that has trained more than 325,000 automotive professionals nationwide and given them the ASE Blue Seal of Excellence. Certified mechanics must be retested every five years to keep up with changing technology. Look for the updated certificates on the wall of your auto shop’s office.
3. Can I get a written, out-the-door estimate?
Always ask for a written estimate of how much the repairs should cost. This should include parts, labor, taxes and any discounts. Always give them a phone number to reach you to approve another repair that might be needed, and make sure they give you an estimate of the added cost.
4. Are there extra fees that might accompany a service?
Some dealers will charge “miscellaneous fees” for things, or will give you an estimate for replacing tires but won’t include the tire disposal fee in the estimate, says Rob Infantino, CEO of Openbay, an online marketplace for vehicle owners to cross-shop, book and pay for local auto repair and maintenance.
“Ask for the estimate first, then ask about any hidden fees on top of that,” Infantino says. “If the shop hasn’t disclosed all the details in the initial quotation, that may be cause for conern.”
5. Is this part still under warranty?
If you bought your car recently or just had work done, many of your car’s parts could still be covered, says Chuck Frizell, general sales manager at David Stanley Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Midwest City, Okla. You can also check with the auto manufacturer, and mechanics and dealership service departments will sometimes have that information posted in their shops.
6. Is OEM repair information used?
In order to do a correct and safe repair, the technician should access OEM service and repair information, says Bob Keith, a multi store director with Carstar, an auto body repair company, and the head of I-CAR, which provides technical certification for collision repair professionals.
OEM is short for “original equipment manufacturer” of a replacement part made by the manufacturer of the original part. In other words, it’s an auto part used when the car was first built.
You may also want to ask if used or aftermarket parts are being used, and if so, if the non-factory parts meet OEM standards for safety and performance, says David Smith of Auto Damage Experts.
If you want factory parts, or OEM parts, and your insurance company wants non-OEM parts, ask the car shop to notify you before performing repairs, Smith says.
7. Does your mechanic specialize in my car’s make?
This might seem like a no-brainer, but specialization can be important. The Chrysler dealer that Frizell works at obviously works on Chryslers. But if you drive a BMW, find a garage that specializes in German makes, or a mechanic who knows a lot about Toyotas if you drive a Toyota.
8. What repairs are necessary and are there alternative solutions?
Ask the mechanic what work they’d do if it were their car. “Understand what repairs are absolutely necessary and which ones are just recommended,” says Andrew Bradway, head auto warranty administrator at DriveTime Automotive Group, a used car dealer and financing company.
For alternative solutions, there may not be a way to get your car back on the road other than replacing the worn out part, Bradway says. But they may be able to use third-party or used parts to help reduce costs, he says.
9. Can you show me what’s wrong?
If a mechanic insists you need extra work done, ask them to show you the wear and tear on the part they recommend you replace, Infantino says. If you ask to see the holes when told you car needs a new exhaust, and the mechanic balks, then you should be wary, he says.
10. When will the repairs be done?
Get an idea of when your car will be ready to pick up, and ensure that they call you to approve any extra repairs beyond the ones you’ve already approved. You’ll want to know how long you’ll be without your car so you can make other accommodations. Also ask if they can provide a ride to your work or home while your car is in the shop.
11. What repairs do I have coming up?
While you shouldn’t expect your mechanic to predict the future, they should have a good idea of the potential repairs and major maintenance costs you have coming up.
“Knowing what the parts and labor fees are ahead of time will allow you to budget for them and avoid sticker shock,” Bradway says. “This will also allow you to shop around for the best deals for other reputable repair shops.”
An honest mechanic will help you prioritize jobs within your budget, Infantino says, and will help you set up a calendar so you know when to replace specific parts.
Getting these questions answered won’t make you a mechanic overnight, but they should help the average consumer become more knowledgeable so they aren’t taken advantage of by a mechanic.