Auto Repair Scams

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Auto Repair Scams - Don't Be A Victim

  Before you (especially women) have your vehicle serviced at any auto repair shop it is vital to examine the waiting area (the service writer location) and look for the "hourly labor rate".  If this sign is missing, get out of that shop and never return.  Why?

1.  This shop is purposely concealing its inappropriate business practice of billing you artificially high labor rates on the final invoice bill.  Here's how it works.  I bet you have been scammed before and did not realize it!

A.  You walk in and speak to the service writer and they give you a "verbal estimate" never a written estimate describing the cost of parts and labor.  You agree to have repairs performed then when you come pick up the vehicle you are slammed hard with an outrageous and unmerciful bill that will bring tears to your eyes and drain your bank account.  You are shocked and appalled that the repair could be so expensive and not what the service writer promised you at all.  Welcome to the Great American Way of Doing Business where the businessman will rob you for his success. 

B.  The job actually may have only taken an hour, but they split the mechanic to perform three jobs or more at once, so you end up waiting six hours for a job that only takes one hour.  But, they now bill you $1,000 for an hour's work.  Since you waited six hours to get your vehicle psychologically you assume the repair took longer than expected (which they will remind you, by the way) and you pay the bill.  On the bill you notice that the hourly rate for labor is missing.  What they did was bill you $700 labor for a one hour job! 

C.  They get away with this deception all because they do not post an hourly labor rate on the wall in the waiting room, and those that do will intentionally delay the job to pump up the labor on the final bill, but they can only do so for six hours.  Example:  Posted labor rate is $80 hour.  The shop should only charge you $80 for that one hour job, but they charge six hours at $480.  The honest repair shop won't do this.  However, the guy who does not post any labor rates will make you wait six hours and bill you at any rate he so desires and you get a $1,000 bill.

D.  Avoid repair shops where you can't observe the mechanics performing work.  This is how they conceal with greater ease delaying your job to increase labor rates, pretending that it took more time to do the job than they thought it would.  Does this excuse sound familiar to you?


1.  Always look for the hourly labor rate chart on the wall.  Protect yourself and get out of the shop if none exists.

2.  Always get a "written" job estimate breaking down the parts, supplies and labor.  This way they must come close to the actual estimate; read the fine print on the estimate about this.  A scam artist avoids giving his customers a written estimate, so beware of this.  If you don't get a written estimate for the repair get out of that repair shop for you will be cheated and robbed. 

3.  Hang around and watch the mechanics if you can.  Many respectable repair shops have glass windows where you can observe work being done, but keep an eye open for delays, distractions, lunch breaks, interruptions, rest breaks.  The manager may not be so kind to stop the clock for you and that's how the labor rate is inflated.  Yes, it is outright cheating and illegal and it is performed with blatant, arrogant business as usual  on a routine basis.  If you get a huge bill then complain about the hourly rate being inflated if you see that it was.  Many shops bill by the hour even if they are just a minute over the hour so you can be billed two hours for a 1.1 hour job. 

4.  But this minor inflation of the bill is nothing compared to the shop that gives no written estimate and has no hourly billing chart posted on the wall for customers to see in "the waiting room" so these are the two things you need to see before you agree to have any shop perform any work on your vehicle.

5.  The written estimate is a legal contractual agreement.  The repair shop must abide by it.  The shop that gives no written estimate is bound to nothing but to inflate his bill and rob you unmercifully.  It's his way of saying, "Thank you, stupid." 

6.  Do not be a trusting soul anymore.  Sure, the service writer may be cute, kind and polite but his boss isn't and he sets the rules you have no idea is designed to scam each and every customer.

7.  Watch television and listen to the radio.  The shops that "advertise" are the very ones you need to avoid.  Why?  They are ripping off so many people they are losing word of mouth recommendations and referrals and they must advertise to "drum up more victims".  Cynical? It sure is, but true.  But that does not mean to let your guard down just because a shop does not advertise.  But a red flag warning to all who do advertise.  And that goes for every sort of business you can imagine!  The only acceptable advertising is corporate ads. There's a huge difference. 

  Example:  Ford advertises their new vehicles and tells you to go to their dealer to drive and buy one.  That's okay.  A bad advertiser, who is likely an accomplished con artist, is a dealer using his own money to generate his own ad to get you to come buy his product.  Or an ad like this, "Come to Uncle Joe's Auto Repair, we fix all Ford's, gas or diesel engines our specialty."  And the bold ads to beware, "Dyno Diesel, we are the best, nobody beats our service." 

  My advice?  Run like hell.  Do not trust any dealer who advertises.  Why?  There are dozens to hundreds of repair shops in your city all doing just fine without advertising, but these "advertisers" spend big bucks to entice you to come dangle in their web to be eaten alive.  They advertise because they need the money for they are constantly losing customers from their incompetent, awful service and inappropriate billing practices. 

8.  Even if the advertiser has no complaints on the Better Business Bureau web site it only means nobody bothers to complain to the BBB as often the advertiser is a member of the BBB and nothing will be done to discipline that repair shop anyway for the BBB has no discipline power to enforce any laws.  So disregard any plaque or fancy certificates on the wall that brags of the shop's belonging to the BBB or any other organization like the "Chamber of Commerce" another useless organization that will not protect the consumer.  The more trophies on the wall like this that you see is a clear sign to get out of that business before you pay dearly for the education you will soon learn.

9. Never explain to anyone at the shop how much you need your car or truck to get to work, etc.  Your desperation is a signal tapping the spider's web to inflate your bill.  A desperate person is temporarily blinded to what is going on around himself and makes it easy to inflate the bill.  The person is so happy to have the vehicle fixed they run out of the shop happy as a clam, but saddened at the expense it cost, yet not realizing he has been scammed hard.

10.  The business that is overly nice to you is suspiciously working you for more business and to earn their trust.  Beware of a repair shop treating you too nicely.  Also, beware of a shop where the employees are aloof and distant.  They generally hate customers and will have no mercy on you, so get out of that place and get your vehicle fixed elsewhere.

11.  Is the car dealership the place to go like a Ford or Chevy dealer?  It can be!  They do follow rules and produce written estimates and warrantees.  They generally have higher labor rates, but they can work on every part on your car.  If you are willing to go out of town you should ask the dealer for a 15% discount for out of town business.  You can get a discount.  The shops are clean and have well trained mechanics so a lot must be said of this in their favor, but watch out anyway as the auto repair industry is inherently crooked and rotten to the core.  It's a matter of pick your poison.  But I do give the edge to the car dealerships as you often have recourse to complain to the manufacturer for complaint resolutions and following rules make the game even for both parties.

12.  What about small claims court?  You can take a shop to court, but what is hard is getting a "professional witness" to verify facts.  The automobile repair case will have so many variables and loopholes it is hard to win, unless laws were clearly in violation.  You also need a written estimate contract as verbal contracts are too loose and the shop can wiggle through it with excuses.  The best defense is find a reputable repair shop.  They do exist, but there are more dishonest than the honest in this industry. 

13.  What about the Department of Consumer Affairs?  If they exist they can help enforce the rules or laws in your state, but good luck.  I have found most of these agencies are not effective.  But some businesses have been prosecuted for violating laws and put out of business so it pays to at least file your complaint as evidence to be built up against a rip-off business.  You can get your money back if you complain, so it is worthwhile to do.  Plus, you help protect other people from the same fate you experienced.        

14.  If your vehicle is running good now is the time to shop around for a good repair shop.  Don't wait until you are desperate.  Look for exceptional cleanliness, labor rates clearly posted in waiting area, ask if they give written estimates on each job. 

  Examine the atmosphere and the attitude of the employees.  Do you feel comfortable?  Can you see the mechanics working behind glass window?  Do you recall that they heavily advertise on the television or radio?  Ask for a blank copy of their written estimates so you can read the fine print and warrantee guaranty.  Do they have a nice waiting area?  Is bus service nearby so you can take off shopping?  Do they have a complimentary shuttle service? 

  Do they work on diesel engines if you have a diesel?  Will they work on your model and brand of car?  What will they not fix? Transmission?  4-wheel drive transfer cases? Air conditioning?  You want a repair shop that can work on your entire car, not just some items.  The dealership has an edge here. - © by James Russell Publishing All Rights Reserved.

 Read our free article: How To Buy a Pick Up Truck  (advice on diesel and gas engines included)

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