Ask anyone for a good auto repair experience and you’re more likely to hear stories of being overcharged, misdiagnosed, overlooked, ignored, or outright scammed. To begin, auto repair is already expensive. Auto mechanics spend years on training and thousands of dollars on specialized tools and equipment to maintain, diagnose, and repair automobiles. For example, an experienced mechanic might have personally invested up to $30,000 in tools, and the shop might equip a computerized vehicle alignment rack worth upwards of $40,000.

How You Might Be Overcharged

Overhead explains much of high auto repair costs, but not the kind of shady business some mechanics engage in.

  • Unnecessary Maintenance – Almost no vehicle today requires an oil change every 3,000 miles. If your mechanic suggests an oil change earlier than 5,000 or 10,000 miles, they could be aiming for a quick buck or there could be a legitimate reason. This might be if you drive delivery, tow or haul, or haven’t gotten an oil change in over a year.
  • Wallet Flushes – Many mechanics simply recommend fluid flushes based on mileage. Still, fresh fluids help everything work better and last longer and are usually much cheaper than repair or overhaul.
  • $20 Oil Change – This kind of oil change is just to get you in the door. If your car is well-maintained, prepare to fend off inevitable upselling of the

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    previous two items. On the other hand, if you’re shopping for a $20 oil change, your car’s condition probably reflects this.

How to Prevent Being Overcharged

Thankfully, you have plenty of resources at your disposal to keep from being overcharged by your mechanic.

  • Educate Yourself – Your owner’s manual tells you the recommended service intervals for your specific vehicle, such as oil change mileage and oil type. This is just a guide, as mileage, driving habits, and maintenance habits directly affect how well your vehicle will function over time and what future maintenance and repairs may be required. If you’re not sure what your mechanic is talking about, ask for an explanation.
  • Keep Records – There’s an app for that. Whether you use a car maintenance app, a spreadsheet, or a notebook, keeping records can be very helpful in preventing mechanic overcharging. Every maintenance and repair should last a certain period, and faults here might mean warranty coverage or inferior parts and supplies.
  • Choose One Shop – Besides keeping records of your car’s maintenance and repairs, building a working relationship with a single shop instead of always shopping around is a great idea. When you always work with the same people, chances are slimmer they’ll try to pull a fast one.
  • Second Opinion – Of course, if you wonder about a specific repair, it pays to get a second opinion, even if you pay a diagnostic fee. Online resources can give you an idea of how much typical repairs cost, but consider this can vary greatly based on vehicle year, make, model, and condition.

Now, this isn’t to say that all auto mechanics are cheaters – a relative few have established the reputation for the rest of them – but forewarned is forearmed. Considering auto repair is usually seen as expensive, time-consuming, and a bit exclusive, it’s unfortunate that a relative few of the 800,000-or-so auto mechanics in the United States are overcharging for what is a necessary service to the driving public.

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