It can be a nightmare when your car breaks down, but many consumers are left putting their trust in a mechanic they don’t know for a procedure they don’t understand and at a price that seems unfathomable.
Are you being scammed? Maybe, maybe not. Fortunately, you’re not alone. A new study by AmericanTrucks.com brings to light the experiences of 1,000 different consumers and the kinds of scams they’ve encountered.
"Roughly 35% of car owners have been scammed by a mechanic,” Paul Knoll, marketing director at Turn5 and AmericanTrucks.com, told ConsumerAffairs, noting that the most common scam is upselling unnecessary repairs, costing consumers an average of $975.
“But the most costly scam is when mechanics charge their customers for new parts, but they actually install used or lower-quality parts.”
Knoll says that little trick costs consumers an average of $1,295 each time it happens.
And that’s not even half of it.
Scammed men lose an average of $145 more than women.
A majority of car owners (56%) say that they were scammed due to limited knowledge of cars.
Compared to mainstream car drivers, luxury car drivers lose an average of $1,275.
Three-quarters of mechanic scams occurred at auto repair shops and 25% at car dealerships.
Approximately one in five car owners have difficulty identifying auto repair scams.
Gen Z (52%) was most likely to have fallen victim to a mechanic scam, while Gen X (44%) was least likely.
Since fees have become the new joystick of unsavory sellers in nearly every other consumer category, the automotive repair folks want a piece of that action, too.
Joyce Ann Gutierrez, automotive expert at 4WheelOnline, told ConsumerAffairs that more and more dishonest mechanics are adding hidden fees or charges to the final bill.
“Sneaky auto mechanics may include fees for various services without informing the customer upfront. These could range from diagnostic fees, disposal charges for old parts, or even inflated prices for basic supplies like oil filters,” she said.
What can consumers do to keep from getting ripped off?
Every auto expert ConsumerAffairs spoke with said consumers can protect their wallets and themselves by doing research before taking their vehicle to a mechanic. That “ounce of prevention” thing, you know?
Knoll says his top three are:
Make sure to have the mechanic put the quote in writing.
Research potential causes and costs beforehand.
Ask questions if you are unsure as to what repairs are happening and the cost.
“But most of all, use your gut. If something feels off, it probably is," he said.
Fleshing out Knoll’s advice some more, here’s a checklist that we compiled from our discussions with these experts:
Research: Gutierrez also has this piece of advice at the top of her list. “Before visiting an auto mechanic, it's essential to research and collect information about reputable mechanics in your area. Look for certified mechanics or shops with positive reviews from trusted sources,” Gutierrez said.
With the internet being a repository for anything we can imagine, of course there’s a way to get that kind of information on what mechanics are worth their salt.
One of those is Kelley Blue Book’s Service Advisor tool. Another that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends is using shops that carry an Automotive Service Excellence seal.
Get a second opinion: Brian Moody, executive editor for Kelley Blue Book, told ConsumerAffairs that you shouldn’t stop there, either. “Just like with a doctor’s visit, it never hurts to get a second opinion. If you feel like something is off or are hearing conflicting information, take it to another qualified shop. Asking friends about their experience is also helpful."
Check recalls: Not to toot our own horn, but ConsumerAffairs has a daily update, not to mention an archive of every auto recall you can think of. Fords, Nissans, tires, airbags, we’ve got it all.
Get multiple estimates: When faced with a potentially expensive repair or service, obtaining various estimates from different mechanics is wise. This allows you to compare prices and identify any major discrepancies.
Ask questions and request explanations: Gutierrez suggests, “Don't hesitate to ask the mechanic questions about the recommended repairs or services. Request detailed explanations of what needs to be done, why it's necessary, and how it will address the problem."
Understand your rights as a consumer: “Educate yourself on consumer protection laws specific to auto repairs in your region or country. Knowing your rights can empower you when dealing with potential scams or fraudulent practices,” Gutierrez added. This webpage from the FTC might come in handy.
Stay vigilant for warning signs: Be alert for red flags such as excessive pressure tactics, vague explanations, unnecessary upselling of additional services, or refusal to provide written estimates.