The second in our series on Auto Repair Shops and You, is going to deal with how to know you’re not being taken advantage of. It’s not uncommon for people to tell you horror stories about being ripped off at a dealership or even an independent repair facility. For every honest shop, there are probably four more that will lie, cheat, and steal every chance they get. Is this only an issue in the field of auto repair? Absolutely not. Any type of service industry is going to have people that take advantage of you for their own benefit. Doctors, lawyers, heating and air, builders, accountants, etc. The list is endless. The question is, what can you do to prevent being taken advantage of?
There are plenty of things that you can do to help prevent being taken advantage of. We are always busy, but we should never be too busy to ask questions. The great thing about technology is that there are multiple ways to communicate to customers about their vehicles. If you don’t have 10 min at work to ask via phone all the questions and concerns you have, don’t be scared to ask the shop to email you a detailed report on what’s wrong and what it will take time and cost wise to fix it. Also what the urgency of the repairs are. Now this is where having a trusted shop (and that will take multiple trips over time to feel that you can trust) is priceless. You know they aren’t trying to tell you that you NEED to replace your brakes when you still have 10k miles before you have anything to worry about. But you also know that if they tell you that you need tires NOW, you are lucky you haven’t had an issue/blow -out.
Trust takes time and repeated exchanges with great results. Don’t be scared to ask the shop to keep the old parts they replace. If they are honest this shouldn’t be a big deal. Now some parts, like a remanufactured alternator will have a core charge, so while they can show it to you, they will have to send it back to the parts supplier to get the cost of the core charge back. If you have an issue where they have to repair wires, or weld something, don’t be afraid to ask if they can send you a couple pictures of what they are doing. Again, everyone has cell phones so snapping a couple pics isn’t an inconvenience. There are actually a lot of times I’ve wished our manage software had a way to upload pics to the invoice.
A check engine light can open another can of worms. Scanning and pulling codes from the engine computer shouldn’t cost you anything. Almost every auto parts store can do this, or you can buy a cheap OBD II scanner online for under $40.00. DO NOT confuse pulling codes with diagnosing the code. These are not the same thing. However, vehicles today have more and more modules and computers and that cheap scan tool may not be able to access the codes that are in an ABS module, Transmission Control Module (TCM), or many of the other modules found in cars and trucks today. This is where some shops may charge a fee to pull codes. This reason for this is the expense in purchasing and regularly updating professional level scanning equipment. $3000 + for the scanner, then anywhere from $600 on up yearly or in some cases quarterly, for updates. This coupled with the need for more than one brand scan tool, since some brands won’t do everything with some cars, and you can see how much it costs just to have the ability to communicate with your car. In addition, vehicles older than 1996 that are not OBD II, will likely incur a charge to retrieve codes since it takes a tech more time than just plugging in to get codes.
Before you bring the vehicle to the shop or before authorize any work, ask what the plan of action is and what the cost is for that service. Some shops will want you to approve up to an hour of diagnostic time up front. This is so we can address the code(s) or customer complaint(s) noises, strange feeling, running bad, etc. and then have a definitive diagnosis to give to the customer. Be firm in telling the service writer that if time goes over a certain amount that you want to be contacted beforehand. I’ll again get more into this in part 3.
The long and short of it is that for anything more than a test drive or a quick peak, expect to pay some kind of charge for the time invested in finding your problem. Technicians are no different than anyone else and they expect to be paid for their time and knowledge. But just because you don’t have their knowledge, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t explain to you the problem to you in a way that you can understand.
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