Relying on a shop to tell you what's wrong with your car and fix it right the first time and at a fair price seems simple enough, but almost everyone has a tale of woe or even terror.
Since I like to get readers involved in making life better for all of us, I looked for solid advice and tips to help make your service experience as pleasant as possible, since shelling out money for auto repairs is not something we would like spending money on in the first place.
As Rod from Orange County, California, writes, "Sometimes it takes a little shopping until you find a good garage."
Oh yeah, taking your car to a garage can be a bit of a gamble . you need to know when to walk away.
But, perhaps more importantly, how do you know when you've struck gold?
Here's a compilation of the advice that you, dear readers (many of whom are service managers and technicians yourselves), had for everyone - not only women - out there.
Get it in writing, twice
Reputable service folks will be more than happy to do this, writes a service manager from a Honda dealership.
Another reader backs that up by suggesting getting a second opinion before having any work done. In a free-market society, there's nothing wrong with simply saying you want to be sure and that you're going to get a second opinion. Many competitive shops expect this, actually.
If the vehicle is still mobile, take it to another garage and ask for another written estimate. After you get the second estimate, compare it to the first. See if both shops identified the same problem. If they didn't, or if the estimated costs greatly differ from one to the other, go ahead and get a third opinion.
Avoid victim syndrome
The best way to get good auto service is to educate yourself. And with the amount of money spent on vehicles these days - and the associated repairs - there's no excuse for not knowing at least the basics of your vehicle's anatomy.
Drop a couple of bucks on a repair manual for your car. Pay close attention to the chapter called "Troubleshooting." It will list symptoms and possible causes of problems for virtually every system in your vehicle.
"If you save yourself money and/or stress, it's money well spent," surmises one letter writer.
Say, "Ah . I don't think so"
Verify the repairs and costs. Do this when you get your second opinion. Or if a repair has already been done and you want to double-check that you were charged the right amount, get it checked.
Keep all of your estimates and receipts.
For example, it'll be easy to actually see if your alternator was changed if your bill states it was changed.
You should also call your local auto parts store to double-check and compare the going retail price of the part(s) with the shop's estimate.
If you don't feel comfortable about the repair, go somewhere else.
"It's easier to pay a check-out charge than a repair that might not be needed," says one reader.
Don't be afraid of confrontation
Although disreputable shops are a rarity (word gets around and they usually don't stay in business long), don't be afraid to raise objections and ask for clarification.
Be tough when the going gets tough. If you think you're a victim now, just think how big a victim you'll be if you just sit idly by and say or do nothing. Start right at the top with the shop manager, says our Honda shop manager letter writer, and if you get nowhere, The Better Business Bureau is your next stop. Also, look around the shop. If you see things like "Member of the Whoseville Chamber of Commerce," contact the chamber of commerce.
Don't forget the dealer
Dealership mechanics/technicians should be familiar with your vehicle since they work on them every day.
Presumably, the mechanics at most dealerships have had some training on your vehicle, the dealer will have the specific shop manuals and the dealer will usually make extra efforts to ensure the repair is done right.
After all, it's their brand of vehicle and they want to preserve their reputation, so, hopefully, you come back and buy another car from them. However, that's not an excuse to be complacent.
"Still ask the hard questions and make 'em prove the work they've done. It's your money and your right."
Caveat Emptor or "Let the buyer beware"
You wouldn't sink your hard-earned cash into a stock or bond without some research. Why should buying a car be any different? Finger through consumer guides for issues involving reliability and fix-it costs.
A car that seems like a bargain is really no bargain if maintenance bills are eating you out of house and home.
Really, if the repair is going to cost $1,400 and your car isn't worth much more, it's time to make a decision: do you really want to keep the heap? What can you get for it, as-is, by trading it in for something more reliable?
Ask for references from the service shop
"This is perfectly acceptable," says one of our letter writers.
"Remember, this is your money, your vehicle, and your peace of mind."
Thanks for the advice, guys . the cheque is in the mail.
Courtney Hansen is the author of The Garage Girl's Guide to Everything You Need to Know About Your Car, the host of Spike TV's PowerBlock: HorsepowerTV, Trucks!, Muscle Car, Xtreme 4x4! and Search & Restore!, the former host of TLC's Overhaulin' and a writer with Wheelbase Communications.
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