Car repair problems entail the largest group of consumer complaints in the country. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that consumers lose billions of dollars every year due to unnecessary or substandard auto repairs. While most car repair shops are legitimate, there are some dishonest car mechanics running shops in many parts of the country. It is very simple for crooked car mechanics to compel car owners that unnecessary repairs are required because the average Joe knows nothing about cars. People do not realize that they are being scammed. This makes proving car repair fraud cumbersome. Even those customers who suspect that they have been gypped by a crooked car mechanic do not know what to do in order to make their case.
In this article, we will describe the various car repair scams. Familiarize yourself with our advice the next time you take your car into a repair shop. We will also provide some advice on how to reduce your chances of becoming a victim to a crooked car mechanic or repair shop.
This is one of the oldest car repair scams in the book. These “highway robbers” own or work for service stations. They prey upon drivers who stop to pump gasoline, get air or water, or use the bathroom. There are various tactics they use to part the unsuspecting driver from his money. They have been found spraying oil or dripping it under a car then claiming that there is a leak from the driver’s car. They have also been found slashing tires and cutting water hoses and fan belts so that the driver will be forced to purchase new ones. These robbers target the danger that the driver faces if they attempt to drive off without making the necessary repairs and many times charge hefty prices.
Repair Estimate Fraud
Customers who do not get repair estimates in writing experience the consequences when they come to pick up their cars. When the customer drops off the car, he gets a reasonable quote, but at the end of the day, the customer discovers that the repair shop has jacked up the final bill from the original verbal quote. This may seem legal, since many car mechanics find more problems under the hood once the work begins. Car mechanics and repair shops have been known to leave blank the estimate amounts when they have customers sign repair invoices. After the customer leaves, they fill in an inflated amount or an elaborate description of the problems.
Maintenance Hook Fraud
Repair shops will advertise tune-ups or preventive maintenance service at very affordable rates. Crooked repair shops will then use these maintenance specials to “hook” or “snag” and deceive their customers. A simple oil change and lubrication order can turn into very costly repairs. Some mechanics will purposefully damage the vehicle during an inspection to inflate the bill and “uncover” other car problems.
Willful misrepresentation of repairs
Today’s vehicles are sophisticated, high-tech cars. The average Joe is not cognizant on how to fix or maintain their car. For this reason, it is very simple for crooked auto mechanics to gyp the customer.
This makes it difficult for the car’s owner to decide on whether or not to have the car repaired. Be cautious of a mechanic who seems very adamant at explaining the problem with your car. Always seek a second opinion and definitely get an estimate of repair costs before signing off on any repairs.
Part replacement problems
Many crooked mechanics have been known to charge customers for parts that were not even bought or installed. Furthermore, the mechanic will charge you for the labor cost to install a part that does not even exist. This is definitely scamming the customer. The old parts swap is another common parts scam. Used car parts are often times installed in your vehicle, yet the mechanics charge you as if they are new parts. Always ask for your old or damaged part back after it has been replaced. This will help maintain integrity in your car mechanic.
Fake car parts
To cut down on costs, some crooked car mechanics use fake or counterfeit car parts in place of quality replacement parts. The price difference can be significant but you will not see the savings. The repair shops will charge you the full amount of a genuine part and will “forget” to inform you of this. This business practice can endanger you out on the road. Fake car parts, in general, wear out sooner than genuine parts. Determining the fake from the real car parts is difficult because the product counterfeiters often replicate trademarks or change them slightly that it takes an expert to tell the difference. If you believe that counterfeit car parts have been used in lieu of quality parts, file a report with your state attorney general’s office or local Better Business Bureau.
Bait and Switch Repair Scams
Many car repair scams start off with an ultra-low price on a specific repair job; i.e. the bait. The repair shop reels in a customer with an advertised price on shocks and then finds ways to jack up the repair invoice with several other repairs; i.e. the switch. Imagine that you bring your car in to take advantage of the special. Once there, they will tell you that you need this, this, and this. This is a classical bait and switch scam. The only difference is that you will receive the advertised special, but you will also end up paying a shotload of money on repairs you did not expect.
Tips to follow when getting your car fixed
- Ask for a written estimate before you sign off on repairs. Most states require that a repair shop give an estimate in writing. If the repairs are expected to be greater than the estimate, they must call you for your approval.
- Ask for a written guarantee Get all guarantees in writing. Make sure that the shop honors its guarantees.
- Do a background check on the repair shop Contact the Better Business Bureau if there are any complaints made against the shop by other customers.
- Do not get gypped into paying for unnecessary repairs Do not tell a repair shop what repairs to perform unless you are certain that you need the repairs.
- Get a second or third opinion You may have to pay for the estimates, but you could save yourself a bundle of money by searching for the best deal.
- Look for a repair shop that employs certified car mechanics before the time for repairs comes You can take your time in shopping for an honest repair shop, and you will not be hasty.
- Ask them to provide you with your used car part Be sure to ask that they provide you with your used car part so that you can rest assured that they are being honest about installing a new or reconditioned part.
- Be sure that the repair shop honors any existing warranty on your vehicle If so, the parts and labor may be covered by the factory’s or extended warranty.
- Look for cleanliness and professionalism in the repair shop Good repair shops are usually kempt and organized. Their staff’s demeanor is very professional. Legitimate repair shops will not pressure you into making unnecessary repairs and will take the time to answer any questions you might have.
There are many forms of consumer fraud going on nowadays. It is up to you to educate yourself on what is or is not legitimate. Hopefully, our advice will minimize your chances of becoming a victim of the crime of car repair fraud.