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11 Things a Car Mechanic Doesn't Want You to Know

Unhaggle logo Unhaggle 2016-05-19

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While we all want our cars running smoothly and trouble free, the majority of us rely on mechanics to diagnose and repair our beloved machines. Although most mechanics are just trying to earn an honest living, there are a few sore thumbs who try to take advantage of a customers’ lack of experience and gouge them on repair costs. If you want to avoid being overcharged the next time you take your car for servicing, keep reading to uncover the 11 best-kept secrets of the auto repair industry.

You Don’t Need to Bring Your Car to the Mechanic for Every Repair

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As it stands currently, the automotive repair industry is worth $150 billion a year, with minor repairs accounting for a large portion of this amount. The industry doesn’t want you to know it, but there are a lot of things you can do on your own with a little help from minimal tools and some helpful online videos. Air filters, for example, are relatively easy to change yourself and only require a few minutes and minimal effort to replace. Depending on your car and your willingness to get your hands dirty, you may also try changing your own oil or spark plugs which can prove to be a very rewarding experience, not to mention that it can save you money.

Strangely Good Deals on Tires May Not Be So Good After All

Much like food, tires actually “expire.” Well, kind of – tires have “build dates,” which are the last four digits of the DOT code. The first two digits represent the week of manufacture and the last two digits represent the year. For example, if the last four digits are 0216, the tire was manufactured in the second week of 2016. If you’re getting a strangely good deal on tires, ensure that the mechanic isn’t trying to pawn off old tires before they become unsellable. This is especially important for snow tires where having good tires could be the difference between being involved in a pile-on or getting to work safely.

There is a Guide that States the Correct Labour Charge for Every Repair

No, it doesn’t take 45 minutes to change a wiper blade. There are several books published every year which outline the exact number of hours that it takes to perform each repair. Your mechanic probably doesn’t want you to know this because it’s a common practice for mechanics to charge what they feel is appropriate rather than the accepted standard. To avoid being overcharged, ask to see the breakdown for labour hours before the mechanic starts work on your car, then cross-reference the billable hours with the guide. If a mechanic doesn’t want to give you a breakdown or starts making up excuses when you bring up a discrepancy with the number of hours it takes to complete a task, it might be best to take your business elsewhere. 

Rebuilt and Recycled Parts Can Be Just as Good as New Parts, Just Less Expensive

Rebuilt parts can cost significantly less than new parts and work just as well. Unlike used parts, however, most rebuilt parts come with some sort of warranty which ensure that the parts have been rebuilt to a certain quality standard. Do your research when you buy rebuilt or recycled parts and make sure that the part you are buying is compatible with your vehicle and your specific situation. For example, if you’re buying a recycled front bumper, ensure that the connector clips are intact as the cost of purchasing clips in addition to the used bumper might come out to the same as purchasing a new bumper. You should also be aware of the fact that most mechanic shops do not offer warranties on labour in the event that a user-supplied part is defective. 

You’re Allowed to Ask for Your Old Parts Back

It might happen on purpose, it might happen by mistake, but it’s possible that mechanics don’t actually replace the part that was supposedly worn out. By asking for your old parts back, at least you’ll know whether or not the part was actually worn out and whether or not it was replaced. In the event where the mechanic refuses to return the part and gives you the classic “I threw them out” excuse, get suspicious and question the integrity of your mechanic.

Not All Check-Engine Lights Need to Be Repaired

Most people driving a car that’s five years or older will be faced with a dreaded check-engine light at some point in their vehicle’s life – but a check engine light doesn’t tell you anything more than the fact that the engine has to be checked. While a mechanic might charge you around $40 to diagnose a check-engine light, you can save yourself the money and travel time by investing in an OBD or OBD-II scanner tool, available at most automotive shops for under $100. This will allow you to read Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTC) just as easily as mechanics. What mechanics don’t want you to know is that many check-engine lights don’t prevent your engine from running smoothly or even affect gas mileage. There are several websites that are great at determining which repairs should be addressed including Funny fact, the most common reason for triggering a check-engine light is that the gas cap is not screwed on tight enough.

Some Types of Rustproofing Cause Rust

The first thing to know when it comes to rustproofing is that there are several very different methods of rustproofing a car; some involve spraying tar on the underbody and wheel wells while others involve drilling holes into the car’s doors and fenders. Unhaggle’s Andrew Tai goes into more details about rustproofing alternatives here. While most car owners would agree that a rusting car looks junky, it’s important to consider whether rustproofing your vehicle is actually worth it. Most new vehicles come with rust and corrosion warranties, which vary from three years to 12 years. Be sure to look into all rustproofing alternatives before proceeding, because a little known fact is that rustproofing might actually increase the chances of rust, as ice and road salt have a tendency to stick to the rust proofing coating underneath the car.

You Might Have Been Charged for Double Labour

One of the oldest tricks in the book is your mechanic suggesting a water pump replacement when you go in to change your timing belt. This is where some knowledge about car mechanics (or the ability to use the internet) might come in handy. Those who know the placement of these two items will know that the second job is essentially done when the first one is completed, and that mechanics who do this are charging for double labour are taking advantage of their customers. To avoid such a situation, make sure to get a detailed work order with all billable hours before giving your mechanic the go-ahead.

A Fluid Flush Might Be Flushing Money Down the Toilet

While this might not have been true for older cars, most fluids such as brake fluid and transmission fluids are designed to last up to 160,000 kilometres in modern vehicles. That said, if you own a fairly new low-mileage car and the mechanic suggests a fluid flush, he or she might be suggesting to do some pre-emptive maintenance or might just be trying to increase your bill. Check your vehicle handbook for more details about fluid replacement mileages. Also be aware of mechanics suggesting fuel injector cleanings as this is just another unnecessary expenditure – there are many additives that go straight into your gas tank and can take care of this for you.

Beware of the True Price of Car Parts

Seeing as most garages either get a percentage of part sales or have a friend in the parts business who they try to support, expect a high markup on prices when buying parts from a mechanic. If you want to save money, you can often get cheaper OEM parts by doing some shopping online. That said, be sure to get your parts from a reputable source because most garages won’t give you a warranty on labour in the event that the part you supply is defective. The availability of cheap parts have also allowed mechanics to increase profit in recent years. One way to ensure you’re getting a quality part installed on your vehicle is by asking for the original box that the part came in.

A Mechanic is Not Obliged to Tell You If a Repair is Under Warranty

Most mechanics running independent shops will agree that the less you know about your warranty the better it is for them. It’s in a mechanic’s best interest not to tell you if a repair is under warranty or recall because he or she can charge you for it. If you own a newer car, it’s in your best interest to read up on your warranty information to avoid paying for something that should be fixed for free.


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