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Car Repairs Mechanics Will Try to Scam You On

Brake Repairs

How many times have you brought your car into a mechanic (or even an oil change), and they recommended brake repairs? Probably every time. One of the best scams in the book is getting something with your brakes replaced, usually the most expensive parts.

Even if you need repairs, most of the issues can be resolved with new brake pads, cleaning, or turning of the rotors. Some mechanics will jack up the bill by charging you for new rotors, calipers, and the works. No one wants their brakes to fail, and that’s what scammers count on – our fear.

Verbal Estimates

This one goes for any industry, but especially mechanics. Whenever you call or visit a mechanic, they’ll likely give you an estimate of how much they’ll charge you for the service. We’re sad to say, that isn’t binding.

The mechanic can quote you much lower to get you in the door, do the service, and then, jack up the price. At that point, you have no choice but to pay them! When in doubt, get everything in writing. That way if they come back to fight you, you have evidence on your side.

Engine or Transmission Flush

The good ol' engine and transmission flush! Sure, getting a flush is necessary during maintenance intervals, but this is the only time you should let a mechanic do it. The grime and gunk that collects on unchanged fluid acts as friction material in an aging clutch pack.

An old transmission can fail if you replace the fluid. The transmission could begin slipping or refuse to shift out of gear. Refer to your manual to determine when is the best time to get a flush. As far as engines go, that gunk has to go somewhere, and that could cause the engine to clog up (similar to a clot in a vein). 

Using Cheap Oil

We want to do the best for our car, truck, or SUV, right? So, getting synthetic oil is the best bet – at least, that’s what the mechanic suggests. Unfortunately, not every mechanic is trustworthy, and they could swap the synthetic for cheap oil. That means you’re paying top dollar for garbage.

Using cheap oil could cause a number of issues from costly engine repairs to increased fuel usage. Sometimes, cheap oil can also void your car’s warranty. When in doubt, ask for the bottle that the mechanic used just in case they decided to do a switcheroo.

Fuel Injection Cleaning

Yes, fuel injectors can get clogged, and yes, cleaning can help. That being said, do you need to have a fuel injector cleaning service done every time you go to the mechanic? Not really. You would know if your fuel injectors were clogged because your car would have less power, issues starting, and very poor gas mileage.

If you aren't experiencing any of those issues, don't bother with a fuel injector cleaner. Some say you should use it as a preventative measure, but this can easily cost you $100 or more (for a 15-minute, $9 job). If you have time, just learn to do it yourself.

Not Replacing Filters

Replacing filters sounds reasonable. After all, a dirty cabin filter can lead to awful smells every time you turn on the AC. You should 100% get your filters replaced for a variety of reasons but know how to check them after getting them done.

Some charge you without giving you the filter, netting pure profit. Checking the filters to make sure they were replaced is a 10-minute task (if that), and you’ll have peace of mind. You’ll also know whether or not your mechanic is trustworthy.

Charging for Washer Fluid

Don’t get washer fluid added at a mechanic. You definitely should replace it, but it isn’t hard for you to do it yourself. An entire jug costs around $2, and the reservoir is usually easily accessible when the hood is lifted (just make sure the car is cool).

Meanwhile, a mechanic can charge whatever they want for something that costs a little bit of time and a couple of bucks. If you don't know how to change the fluid in your car, look at the user’s manual or find a guide on YouTube.

Repairing with Used Parts

Some mechanics won’t even touch your car if you come in with a part, much less one you got from pick-and-pull. So, it goes to say that mechanics should be using brand new parts to get the job done. Unfortunately, some of them don’t do that.

Used parts risk damaging your vehicle further (and causing you to go back to the mechanic). Whenever you get your car repaired, ask for a parts invoice if they don’t automatically give you one. If there’s ever a question, you can make sure the correct part was installed.

Non-Existent Repairs

Most of us don’t keep a detailed record of our car repairs (even though we were taught to do so). This means we may not remember the last time we got something fixed. Mechanics use this to their advantage, charging you for things that may not need repairing just to squeeze out a few extra dollars.

For example, you may have an issue with your car that requires the fuel pump to be replaced, but the mechanic also tells you the water pump needs fixing. Turns out, the water pump was fine! This scam is mostly used on anyone that seems like they have zero clue about cars.

Inflated Bills

If you don’t know anything about cars, this is one that’s probably hit you a few times. There’s a joke that goes around that says, “Your headlight fluid is low!” Well, the joke is that there’s no such thing, but some people have fallen for the joke. That proves this point.

Mechanics will often use diagnostic dialect and technical lingo to confuse you or to make the issue sound more expensive than it really is. Another common way to inflate bills is by not grouping repairs when the mechanic is working in the same area, i.e. double charging for labor.

Alignment Requirement

Alignments aren’t something you need to get done every year, despite what some mechanics may tell you. Usually, you only need to get them done if you’re noticing some sort of change in your steering. Some manufacturers suggest you get an alignment every three years or so.

An alignment can cost anywhere from $75 to $150 depending on the place, and that’s money that could be spent elsewhere. Even worse: they don’t really need to do anything for that money. If it doesn’t need an alignment, there’s nothing to align!

Counterfeit Parts

One of the scariest scams that mechanics can do is putting a counterfeit part in your car. These are poor, substandard parts that may look like the real thing but put your life at risk. In fact, counterfeit parts are becoming such a rising issue that government officials are looking into it.

Some of the most common counterfeited parts include engine and drivetrain components, airbags, brake pads, and even automotive body parts. Always ask for a parts invoice so you can check whether or not the part is the real thing. If you ever have a question about recent work, take it to a new mechanic.

Unsafe Car Repairs

One of the best ways to upsell a person – particularly one without knowledge of mechanics – is through the “unsafe car” method. This is when a mechanic tells someone “I wouldn’t drive this car if I were you,” implying they could get harmed by not getting a repair completed.

This happens most often when they’re trying to sell tires. Always check the tread on your tires yourself. Another way to prevent this scam is by getting multiple quotes from different mechanics. This will help you determine whether it’s as dangerous as the original one said.  

Leak Fixes

A truly bad mechanic may take advantage of their customers in really terrible ways – faking a leak. They can spray coolant on a part to make it look like you have a leaky radiator, which needs replacing. Take it back a notch and ask them to show you the leak, not just fluid.

Fixing a radiator will bank them a lot of money, and they may not even have to replace it! However, a seal can be as little as $10 to $15. Never take a mechanics word until they prove they’re telling the truth about repairs. Even then, be a little suspicious.

Changing the Spark Plugs

Back in the day, cars needed spark plugs all the time. It was basically an annual event, but now? Engines burn way more efficiently, meaning plugs don't get filthy and caked with carbon buildup. This means you won't have to replace the spark plugs until at least 80,000 miles in.

Changing the spark plugs is a bit of a controversial issue, with many experts saying replacing them before the 100,000 mark means something is wrong with your engine. The best way to tell if they need replacing is to pay attention to the signs. You may need new spark plugs if your engine light comes on, the car has trouble starting, it’s using a lot of gas, or if it idles roughly.