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9 Common Auto Repair Scams To Avoid

By Aaron Crowe

Finding a great auto mechanic can be as good finding the perfect babysitter for your children. Once you find one you like, you’ll want to keep them for as long as you have small children — or a car.

Like the babysitter who naps while your children are watching TV, you may occasionally get ripped off by a mechanic or auto repair shop. Whether it’s high prices, problems not fixed properly or repairs that don’t hold up, there are some auto repair shop scams that consumers should be aware of. Some may be innocent and may just be overzealous salesmen trying to make sure your car is extra safe, while others may be simple fraud.

Here are nine auto repair scams to avoid:

1. Buying new tires for a flat. If your tires are in good condition and you get a flat, think twice before buying a new tire or a new pair of tires, recommends Stan Markuze, founder of PartMyRide.com, a used parts marketplace. “As long as your tread is in good shape, most punctures can be fixed with a patch,” Markuze says.

A tire patch usually costs less than $20, compared to $100 or more for a new tire or more than $200 for a pair. Don’t let a repairman convince you to buy a new tired when a patch will do the job, as long as the tread is still good.

2. The upsell. This is common at many businesses. Ever buy a drink and fries at a fast-food restaurant when you first asked for just a hamburger? That’s an upsell. Auto repair shops do the same thing, adding services that you may not need, Markuze says. Going in for a routine oil change is a typical time when an upsell is offered.

“A common technique used by auto mechanics is to tell car owners they need to replace the coolant in the radiator,” he says. “In reality, coolant doesn’t go bad or wear out the way oil does. While it might make sense to replace your coolant after 100,000 miles of driving, it’s not necessary for routine maintenance.”

If you’re told that more work is needed than what you came in for, go get a second opinion if you can drive away without it being a safety problem.

3. Dirty air filter that isn’t yours. This can be another upsell while your car is in the shop for another repair or regular maintenance. According to Angie’s List, a mechanic may bring out a filthy air filter to show you that isn’t from your car, but is kept to trick unsuspecting customers. Always make sure the filter you’re seeing is from your car, and know when your filters need replacement, Angie’s List recommends.

There are two types of air filters. The engine air filter keep dust and debris away from essential moving parts. You can buy one at an auto parts store and can likely install it yourself. It should last a year or about 15,000 miles.

The second air filter is the cabin air filter that’s attached to the car’s HVAC system and cleans air coming into the car to cool the driver and passengers. It’s usually found in the glovebox or under the dash of the front passenger’s seat, and most car owners should be able to replace it themselves every 15,000 to 20,000 miles.

4. Dirty fuel injectors. A repair shop mechanic may tell you that fuel injectors need to be cleaned every 15,000 or 20,000 miles. Not true. Gasoline contains detergent to keep fuel injectors clean. Someone may show you a dirty fuel injector, but don’t believe that it’s yours. Check your owner’s manual, but most fuel injectors are recommended for replacement once a year or at 35,000 miles, and even that may be too often.

5. Used parts passed off as new. If you’re paying for new parts, you should get new parts. Ask to see them before they’re installed. Check that they’re new, brand-name parts approved by the manufacturer, called Original Equipment Manufacturer, or OEM, parts.

6. Engine flush. Spending $200 on an engine flush is wasted money on a service that’s not part of normal maintenance unless you’ve neglected your engine and don’t change the oil when needed. An engine flush gets rid of sludge in an engine, which is something your engine won’t likely need if you’ve taken care of your car. Look in the oil filler lid for deposits and other gunk. A flush could break loose such sludge that could get into the engine, though you’re unlikely to see such sludge buildup.

7. Nothing lasts a lifetime. Don’t pay extra money for transmission fluid, filters, brake pads or anything else that is supposed to last for the car’s lifetime. A “lifetime” transmission fluid is only good for 35,000 miles, so don’t fall for the hype.

8. Frequent oil changes. If you go to a shop that specializes in oil replacement for your car, you’ll likely get a reminder sticker to return at 3,000 miles. That may have been accurate 20 years ago, but cars now run better and don’t need oil changes as often. Most manufacturers recommend 5,000 miles for an oil change. Check your owner’s manual for details. Also make sure you’re getting high quality oil that’s recommended by your car’s manufacturer.

9. Broken axle boot. These can be expensive, and should be repaired if it happened from normal wear and tear from driving. However, some mechanics will cut the rubber boots that cover your axle. Ask to see the damage before approving the work. A legitimate tear will be jagged and dirty with grease. If it’s not, then the mechanic may have cut it and the auto shop should pay for it.

Whatever work you get done on your car, get a written estimate and be sure that no work is done before you approve that it proceed. In the meantime, go look for a good mechanic who you can trust. It will be a relationship you’ll never regret.

Aaron Crowe is a journalist who covers the auto industry for CheapCarInsurance.net.