It is my personal belief that the majority of auto repair shops out there are good, honest shops. They are staffed with trustworthy mechanics who take pride in repairing your vehicle competently at a price that's a value to you. If you have a mechanic you trust who explains things to you adequately, takes care of your car problems, and charges you a fair price, stay with them. They deserve your loyalty.
The only way our industry can shed its sometimes-negative reputation is by honest shops being rewarded for their ethical behavior. You vote with your dollars and your loyalty.
Education means empowerment. To this end, we hope to educate you on some of the sales tactics we have seen used in the auto repair industry which we feel are less-than-honest, and not in the best interest of the customer or the industry as a whole.
Hopefully through this kind of education, you will be helped in making the important decision of where to bring your vehicle when you need service or repair, and how to proceed once you get there.
1. Scare Tactics
Any shop claiming to be the only one that won't rip you off, usually is. Any shop claiming they are the only shop able to repair your car safely, probably isn't. When we see repair facilities using these scare tactics, it makes us sad, because it's playing into the fears of the customer.
We believe the fear comes from not understanding your vehicle, what's happening to it, or why. If you are helped by your mechanic to understand your vehicle's situation until you feel comfortable, you are much less likely to feel you are being lied to or misled, and much more empowered to make decisions regarding your vehicle.
2. Bait and Switch
This is an advertising technique commonly used where the repair facility advertises services for a low dollar amount, for example, the "$49 Brake Job", "$50 Strut Special", etc. to get you in the door. The fine print of these advertisements often say something to the effect of "Actual repair cost may be considerably more than advertised", "Additional parts and labor may be required at additional cost", or "Price is per axle."
The bottom line is, there is no such thing as a $49 brake job. Not any brake job that you'd want, anyway. The expectation the ad sets up is almost always unrealistic for any given repair. Which leads us to . . .
3. Unrealistic Expectations
You've all seen the ad for the "$49 Tune-Up Special". It seems like a logical assumption that if your car is running poorly, you might need a "tune-up". While a "tune-up" is actually a relic of the past when cars had adjustable carbureted engines and adjustable timing, the modern day "tune-up" generally refers to replacement of the spark plugs, spark plug wires, air filter, fuel filter, and pcv valve.
If you read the fine print in these ads, you'll see that the "$49 Tune-Up" usually only includes replacing your spark plugs, refers to cars with only 4 spark plugs (while many cars these days have 6 or 8). They also almost always say "Transverse engines extra" because the spark plugs on the back of transverse engines are more difficult (and more expensive) to replace, and almost all modern vehicles have transverse engines! While spark plugs often partly contribute to a vehicle's poor running, there are a myriad of other things that likely contribute to your problem.
A more honest way for a shop to deal with a customer wanting a tune-up is to ask more questions, such as, "What is your car doing? Is it not idling properly? Are you getting poor acceleration? Is your engine stalling?" It is unlikely that spark plugs are the problem. Your expectation when you go in for the "$49 Tune-Up Special" is that your car ran poorly going into the shop, you're going to pay $49, and your car is going to run smoothly when you get it back.
Unfortunately, this is almost never the case in these situations. You get baited in at the $49 price and then end up getting hit with the real bill. Additionally, a shop should be presenting you with a "tune-up" as part of a regular maintenance interval. Replacing plugs and filters should be done routinely.
When a customer comes in with a poor-running problem, mechanics often have to "catch-up" on undone maintenance such as plugs and filters before getting to the actual root of the problem. Keeping up on maintenance saves you time and money.
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