Finding an Honest Mechanic

courtesy of Bob, The Auto Answer Man


Hi Bob,
My family feels like it has always been cheated by mechanics and oil change "experts" and whoever else seems to have made money off our cars. I'm at the point of thinking we are just paying (a lot) for our ignorance. I am totally baffled when the bill comes back and I wonder if the mechanic is charging the right price for whatever he's done! How does one determine the right price for things? How does one know if the mechanic just filled more oil instead of draining the car and putting in new oil? Another example, we got our front brake pads on our 91 Toyota Celica replaced twice in the last three months. We suspect the first mechanic installed them incorrectly. How does one "check up" on a mechanic's check-up to see if they did CORRECTLY what they charged you for? And can you recommend any books for the hopelessly confused when it comes to cars?
Lynn I.

Lynn,
You are like so many other people. There really is not a book or anything that I could recommend. If you just are not "into it" then, I can't basically say anything that really won't mean much to you... and basically that is what some mechanics are doing... Now, probably what they are saying is true, but maybe not to the extent. How do you know? Well, basically you are trusting their expertise in the situation.

So now who can you trust? Well, one way is to drive around, when your car is working, and see who's lots are full. This is usually an indication that they are doing something right. Whether their prices are cheap, they work fast, or they do it right the first time (hopefully all of the above).

Another way is by calling your local office of consumer affairs. See who has complaints against them and not go there. Next is to try a large chain store. Now, you might remember the situation with SEARS, well, they are now scrutinized very closely, so they only do what you tell them to do.

The next is a place like Pep Boys. I tend not to agree with some of their billing practices, but then I guess what is $20 out of $400??? Well, that might seem a lot.... Hmm... I guess I should just say. I had a water pump job done there. They wanted to change the belts as well... well they charged me to install the new belts... I said, "well you had to take the old ones off to put in the new pump, and then install them again and that is included in your "book" time, so why are you charging me to put in the new belts... that is double charging..." Well he said that some things are not charged by the "book". That brought up my next arguement. How can you do that... you either do it what the job actually took or by what the book says.....

Now, you are probably wonder what "book" I am refering to? There is a book published by I think it is SAE, Society of Automotive Engineers, that basically says how long it should take to change a certain part. This book is based on the average time it took a lot of different mechanics to do the same job. The book is quite large, so I don't recommend getting it (not to mention that it is expensive) There is also software that can handle the same thing.

Well, when he gave me that line, I just had enough! I used to recommend Pep Boys all the time. Now, they are my last place to go... No, not the LAST, but the last good place that I recommend anymore. Okay, so back to your situation. If you are really concerned about getting the job done right, try going back to the dealer. There you know that the job is being done correcly, if not, you have more of a recourse. But the down side, is that they usually get top dollar. So it is not really a frugal thing to do. Save money now, save money later?? There are two ways you can look at this whole thing. I wish I could have been more help to you. You should have asked me the meaning of life, it's definately an easier question than this one!
Good Luck!
Drive Safely!
Bob, The Auto Answer Man


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