Common Mechanic Scams and How to Avoid Them

scamNot every mechanic is going to try to scam you. The horror stories that some people will tell about being shown an air filter that is completely disgusting and being advised to pay to replace it, only to watch the mechanic insert that same air filter back into the car are few and far between. That doesn’t mean, however, that this doesn’t happen. When you bring your car to our service bay, you can be sure to find great, honest, hard-working mechanics that will get your car back in working order, without charging you thousands of dollars to do it.

We know that sometimes it’s just not possible to bring your car into our service department and that you will sometimes have to take it to another mechanic, who might not have that same standard of integrity. If you want to be aware of some of the common scams so you can avoid them, here are eight to watch out for:

1. Do I really need new spark plugs? Thirty years ago, spark plugs really didn’t last that long and it was smart to have them replaced each time you went in for an oil change. Today, that’s really not necessary. Most cars should have an oil change every 5000 to 7000 miles (even up to 10,000, depending on your oil and what make and model you’ve purchased). For those that commute or live out in the country, that might be every six to twelve months. Most spark plugs have a life of 100,000 miles these days. Paying to have those sparkplugs replaced every time you have your oil changed is probably unnecessary.

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2. The urge to opt for synthetic oil. If you’ve had your car’s oil changed at a Jiffy Lube recently, they’ve probably offered you a range of different oil choices, from regular, to synthetic, to blend, to even more expensive options. Regular oil is usually the cheapest, but most mechanics will recommend synthetic oil. It lasts longer—that’s true, and most car manufacturers do recommend it, but if you stick to your oil change schedule and get your car regularly maintained, there is really no reason to pay more for synthetic oil when regular oil will work just as well.

3. It’s time to change your air filters. Most cars today have their own systems that monitor their filters and let you know when it’s time for a change. Even if your car doesn’t have these diagnostic systems, it’s probably fairly obvious whether or not you need new filters when the mechanic shows them to you. Just make sure the filters they are showing you are actually your filters. Some unscrupulous mechanics will bring out a pair of disgusting filters, claiming that they’re yours and telling you that you need to pay to have them replaced, hoping that you will not know what your air filters look like or when your car is due for new filters. Get to know your filters, what they look like, and what your filter change schedule is.

4. Is it time for your transmission to be serviced? This is one of the reasons bringing your vehicle in to a dealership’s service department, rather than to a mechanic that isn’t familiar with your make and model. We will be able to tell if it really is time for your transmission to be serviced. Many mechanics will simply tell you that it is, without understanding your model or its history, and will charge for what is basically draining fluid that didn’t need to be drained and replacing it with new fluid that it didn’t really need.

5. Did you flush the cooling system? While your cooling system will occasionally need a flush, paying extra for this service when you don’t really need it can lead you to a more expensive visit to the mechanic than you were planning on making. Unless the coolant in your car is actually contaminated or is no longer working, there is really no need to flush the entire system and put in new coolant. You’ll be flushing money as your cooling system is flushed.

6. You need to recharge your air conditioning system. This is something that few of us have even heard of. Why would the air conditioning system need to be recharged? How does it lose charge? Unless you’ve noticed that your air conditioning is no longer as effective as it once was, there really is no reason to add more refrigerant. In some cases, this really is preventative maintenance, but often, there is no actually need to recharge your air conditioning system, especially if it is functioning just fine in your eyes.

7. Have you replaced your brakes recently? You obviously want your brakes to be functioning perfectly when you press down on that pedal to use them. Some mechanics will use this desire to encourage you to replace your rotors or pads before they are actually worn down. You can easily check your own brakes to make sure they are still functioning properly and have the right thickness, so do this before you take your car in for maintenance. If the mechanic tells you that the brakes are worn down when you know they’re not, he’s probably just trying to get you to pay for a service you don’t need.

8.Does the mechanic ask you to buy a new tire when you bring in a flat? Most of the time, especially with simple punctures and tears, it’s possible to patch a tire. It’ll take about five minutes and costs you about fifteen dollars (if that). Some mechanics will tell you that instead of “limping along” with tire that’s been patched, you should just buy a new tire. If they can legitimately patch the tire for you, there’s no reason to buy a new one.

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