How do you know your car is getting the repair work it needs at a reasonable cost? Shops like Merton Auto Body have built a reputation for quality over decades of service, while other shops may be new but have experienced personnel. Then there are shops that base their business on trying to get money out of customers regardless of the repair work done. How can you learn the difference and protect yourself from scams?
Learn the Basics
Judging the need for and quality of a repair is a lot easier if you have some idea about how your car works. Read your owner’s manual, check out some DIY sites, and books and do a quick Internet search about common problems you may be facing before you set foot in the shop.
Look for Certifications
Membership to these trade organizations is a good indicator of shop quality:
The Automotive Service Association (ASA) acts as both a representative of the auto repair industry and a support system, providing training for technicians and managers alike. Its members are primarily family-owned shops working together to improve the industry’s level of service.
Technicians who are Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certified have at least two years of experience or at least one year of experience plus one year of education. To keep ASE certification, the technician must pass written tests related to their area of expertise every few years.
For auto body shops, there’s I-Car Gold Class certification. To keep this certification, the technicians working at the shop have to pass through a series of educational courses followed by periodic updates so they can stay on top of new vehicle technologies and repair techniques.
If you have friends and family who know cars, ask them who they take their cars to. If you have something unusual like a classic car or exotic European model, ask local car club members who they take their cars to.
Internet reviews should be taken with a grain of salt: there’s no way to prove the reviewer is speaking the truth, or if they’ve even done business at that shop. Your best bet is to check the attorney general’s state office, local consumer protection agency, and the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints made about the business.
Be Wary of Low Advertised Prices and “Lifetime” Warranties
Why is a shop able to offer a service far lower than anyone else? Usually, they’re leaving out important steps or replacement parts that have to be added, making the final cost high. For example, you may be able to get a paint job for a few hundred dollars, but if the vehicle surface isn’t properly repaired, the results will look little better than if you sprayed your car with some aerosol cans in your backyard. Add in the labor and materials for sanding and cleaning and the final price will likely be more than an all-inclusive paint job.
A lifetime warranty usually comes with the caveat that labor costs aren’t covered. This usually makes warranty repairs almost as costly as the initial service.
Be Suspect of Maintenance Not Specified in the Owner’s Manual
The most common scams involve convincing customers to get work they don’t need. Usually, this involves changing oil more often than needed or showing the customer a “dirty” air filter that could still go thousands of miles. When in doubt, check the owner’s manual for service intervals.
There are also two services that rarely need to be done. Fuel injectors don’t need to be cleaned at regular intervals because detergents in modern fuel and the high filtration rate of fuel filters keep the injectors working correctly. Likewise, coolant flushes are a good idea when the coolant is changed, but engine flushes aren’t necessary if you’ve kept up on oil changes and other maintenance.
Make Sure You Have Approved of Any Work
After your car has been inspected, the technician or service writer should be able to explain why repairs need to be made and what will happen if they aren’t. This gives you some options, letting you choose which repairs should be done first if you’re short on cash.
Once you’ve agreed to have work done, the shop must do it at the quoted price and cannot add work or parts unless they get your approval. In Wisconsin, any auto repair estimate over $50 must be put down in writing, giving you proof of the agreement. This estimate should also specify if the parts used are new, rebuilt, or salvage.
Make Sure the Work was Done
It’s easy to see if you have new tires on your vehicle, but other repairs may not be so clear. Ask to see any parts that were removed during the repair, but keep in mind that some used parts like transmissions and batteries are returned to parts stores for rebuilding, so they won’t be available for inspection.