Monday, 26 May 2014

Avoid these traps when looking for a new mechanic

Are you getting ripped off when you take your car in for servicing?  How do you know?  How do you find a good mechanic when you move into a new area?  These are all questions that most of us ask and very few people have the right answers to.

Finding a mechanic is hard because we don't generally know if we are being lied to or being overcharged

The fact is that most people (including myself) have no idea how cars actually work.  Generally a mechanic will call you before doing a series of repairs and will list all the problems with the car.  If most of us are going to be honest we'd have to admit that:
  1. We don't know whether the problems they are telling us about are actual problems
  2. Most of the time we don't really understand what parts they are actually talking about; and
  3. We have no idea whether they are quoting us an acceptable price or whether we are being ripped off

We also have no idea if our car is being 'over serviced'

I think most people are able to tell when their car is running 'better' but the biggest 'rip offs' come from over servicing.  That is when unnecessary repairs are done in order to inflate your servicing bill.  It is not that they don't do the work at all or do a shoddy is just doing too much work and then charging you for it.

'Fixed quote servicing' doesn't fix the problem either

I recently decided to give fixed price servicing a go.  I went online and found a garage which seemed to have reasonably priced fixed price servicing.  I opted for a higher end service because I like to keep my car in good condition.  However for anyone who doesn't know how fixed price servicing works:
  • The service only covers the basic areas which are advertised
  • Any other problems that the mechanic identifies are an additional cost (and these are the things which they stress need to be fixed)
It is not an issue of false advertising as they actually do what they say they will do for the fixed price.  However most people go into a fixed price service thinking they will pay no more than the fixed price and then discover that the cost of their repair can be double or even triple that fixed price service costs.  

Although the mechanic will ask you before doing the repairs and quote you on the cost because you don't know any better you are left to trust them.

How can you avoid being ripped off?

The best way to avoid being ripped off is to find a reputable garage and stick with them.  The best way to do this is to ask people you know for recommendations
  • Ask them how good the mechanic is
  • Ask them how often the mechanic raises 'extra' issues with their car
  • Ask them how reasonable they think the mechanics prices are
  • Once you find a mechanic that you trust and are happy with then stick with them
Avoid looking for recommendations online.  I did this when I got my car serviced and later noticed that bad reviews were being taken down by the review site that the mechanic was using.

What do you do if you don't know any mechanics in your area?

The fact is that all of us would use a good mechanic if we could find one...but the problem is finding one.  I have a mechanic that I trust but I simply live too far from his workshop now.  I ended up looking at reviews online and going with a 'fixed price' service as mentioned above.  These are some things I wish I had known or done at the time
  • Ask them what their hourly labour charge is (in addition to parts)  
    • This can vary a lot and can be especially high for 'fixed price service' mechanics
    • I was unprepared for a $150 / hour labour charge instead of the $80 - $100 I used to get charged
  • The first time you use a new mechanic don't do a big service with them
    • Get them to tell you what they think needs to be done and to cost it
    • Then take the car to a mechanic that you do trust and get them to do the same thing (it may take you a little longer)
    • Work out what the differences are and whether a) you are being over-serviced or if the quote is out of line.
  • If you have to use an unknown mechanic for a big service and can't price check with a mechanic you trust
    • Wait a month and see how your car is running...if it isn't up to what you would expect ditch the mechanic (and spread the word)
I didn't do each of these things and I wish I had.  I was charged $1600 for what I thought would be a $600 service and the results were very poor.  If you are getting your car serviced in Melbourne and are thinking of using a fixed price car service email me and I'll tell you who I used and who to avoid (they come up on the first page of Google results).

Have you ever been ripped off with your car servicing?  What tips do you have for people looking for a new mechanic?

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  1. Great practical post here 90M, interesting question. I've been very fortunate that a former neighbour of mine services my car for $100 and does any other maintenance work that needs doing. He is highly unlikely to over-service..

    Touch wood I've also had a decent run with my car too :)

    1. Hi Jef! I think we all wish we had your neighbour...I would stick with that arrangement as long as you can. Having an easy to service car also helps. Premium car repairs can be outrageous.