Car Repair Scams – What to Watch For

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With the warming weather, spring service packages pop up like May flowers at auto service and repair shops around the province. Legitimate garages welcome new and returning customers alike, counting on the repeat business of regular clients. The auto shops that give the industry a bad name, however, are preparing to boost sales rather than your car’s performance.

The Oil Change Loss Leader

The business model for some oil change shops is based on sales to the extent that outlets are run by salespeople, not mechanics. A 2013 expose by the CBC followed complaints to a chain outlet that offered low prices on a basic oil change, then tried to upsell undercover clients on repairs and fluid system flushes that were just not necessary, as the cars had been serviced prior to the shop visits.

Staff working in oil change shops may have no automotive training, says a 20-year veteran mechanic interviewed by the network. He recommends only acting on the advice of a licensed mechanic, which requires five years on the job and three years in-school training. Trust is key, and so is a basic knowledge of when your car requires certain service procedures.

Finding a Good Mechanic

Educating yourself is the first and perhaps only way to develop good instincts for avoiding car repair scams. It doesn’t mean that you need to serve a mechanic’s apprenticeship. Between the owner’s manual and your own records of previous maintenance, you have two important sets of information.

Firstly, the owner’s manual provides you with a list of recommended services and mileage intervals. This will give you a reference for when certain jobs may be necessary. If a mechanic recommends a particular service when your car is at 79,000 km and your manual recommends it at 75,000 km, then you can feel confident it’s probably a realistic repair.

That brings up the second part – your service records. You can check to see that this repair wasn’t done at your last regular maintenance visit.

Do Your Homework

car repair

The Internet has a number of ways to support your search for fair, quality service while avoiding car repair scams. Looking up mechanics in your area is a good start. In some cases, you may find reviews online. Take some of these with a grain of salt, as any one reviewer may overreact to legitimate costs. Look instead for patterns of several reviewers having similar experiences.

Knowing the approximate cost of service is another way you can be alert to ask the right questions. While there are car repair estimators online, most are U.S. based. However, Canadian consumer savings website How To Save Money.ca has good advice on how to use these sites to approximate what a local garage will charge.

Avoiding Car Repair Scams

When there’s a deal on an oil change, you can still chase it down while protecting yourself. Get the oil change and pay the sale price. If you are offered an upsell, whether legitimate or not, thank the shop, ask them to note this work on your invoice. Don’t have the service done at the time of the oil change. Check with your regular mechanic to see if the work is really necessary.

Below are ten common car repair scams you should be aware of.

#1 Prematurely Replacing Spark Plugs 

This is a common car repair scam. Spark plugs have been developed to last for a long time; many cars can drive 100,000 kilometers before needing a spark plug replacement. You can check the manual of your car to confirm the interval and the type of allegedly damaged plugs before you are talked into replacing them.

#2 Engine Treatment

This scam is common when oil has to be changed. While these treatments might not particularly cause any harm to the engine, studies have revealed that the effects of frequent engine treatments are not significant if there are any at all.

#3 Synthetic Oil Upgrade

Do not fall victim to the unnecessary upgrade to synthetic oil, especially when the mileage of your car is above 200,000 because you might have to replace the car soon anyway.

#4 Premature Replacement of Air or Cabin Filters 

Having the cabin and air filters work well is important, but having them replaced prematurely is a scam that is not uncommon. Unless your filters are obviously dirty, there is no need for a replacement.

#5 Treatment of Transmission

This is a common car repair scam as many car owners pay very little attention to the transmission. However, regular fluid and filter changes are enough to keep your car’s transmission in perfect shape.

#6 Premature Cooling System Flush

It is important to flush your car’s cooling system, but it is a scam to have it flushed prematurely, especially when the recommended period by the manufacturer has not yet arrived.

#7 Unnecessary Air Conditioning Recharge

It is not always great to have your air conditioning system recharged even when the mechanic tries to talk you into having one done. You don’t need this service done often.

#8 Unneeded Shock/Strut Replacement

You definitely have to replace the shocks of your car when they are worn out, but the scam comes in when they have to be replaced sooner than required. You can do the traditional bounce test on your bumper just to be sure the timing isn’t too early.

#9 Fuel Injection Service

This scam is related to the engine and transmission treatments. You would most likely be told of the removal of contaminants. However, there are a number of treatment fluids than can help you avoid the expensive service.

#10 Premature Brake Pad/Rotor Replacement

The fact that your brakes need to be in perfect condition is no brainer. However, you want to be sure that you only address the legitimate concern of old brake pads that have worn down enough to warrant replacement.

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