Award-winning student news since 1978

The Brookhaven Courier

Award-winning student news since 1978

The Brookhaven Courier

Award-winning student news since 1978

The Brookhaven Courier

Expert advises on costly repairs

Automotive Corner

How does one avoid being overcharged by the mechanic?

By Preston Pettit

Contributing Writer


The dreaded tin can clunking sound and the blue smoke coming from the tailpipe sent you to the repair shop, but now the technician has additional recommendations for service repairs. When pinching pennies and watching your budget is important, trying to determine which repairs are necessary is a must. Being informed can keep you from getting ripped off at the mechanic. The key is to ask the right questions.

If your service writer or technician says you need a particular service because it is recommended at a certain mileage, chances are, you don’t, and this can be refused.  The only time you should watch for mileage-related repairs is when it comes to an oil change. The remainder of the time, these repairs are unnecessary and a waste of money.

A practical example of this would be if a technician or even the manufacturer recommends that you change or flush your power steering fluid at a certain mileage. This service is only necessary if it’s bad fluid, at a low level, or is dark in color or cloudy.

Make sure you understand what you are paying for as well as its exact cost, and be familiar with service alternatives.

Repair shops will often try to sell what is known as a fuel system tune-up, which is essentially a process in which solvent is dumped through your fuel system for about $90-$120.

It is important to ask what this process actually involves, because an alternative could be making a trip to Auto Zone for a bottle of STP fuel cleaner for $13 and adding it into a full tank of gas, which works almost as well.

It’s important to understand what a repair will fix as well. I often have customers come in for an alignment only to leave unhappy because their car is still steering all over the place when they brake. This happens when what the customer needed wasn’t the alignment, but rather brake repairs.

Just because a technician is discussing a different service doesn’t instantly signify that you’re being over or up-charged. Talk it out with the technician to gain a better understanding, and take time to research information related to your vehicle’s year, make and model before you make your decision.

Lastly, don’t do repairs before they are necessary. If you feel like you should get new brake pads on your car because they came on the car when you bought it, stop and look at the measurements the tech took as to how much pad you have left.

If you have more than 4mm of pad on the front brakes and more than 2mm of pad on the rear brakes, congratulations. You don’t need brake pads, which means you shouldn’t buy any new ones, nor should you pay to have them put on.

Asking a lot of detailed questions and talking to your technicians and service salespersons will not only potentially save money, it will also create confidence when entering the repair shop in the future.

The more you become familiar with what they are discussing with you, the easier it will be for you to determine whether or not what they say adds up. If it doesn’t, don’t buy it.

Preston Pettit is enrolled in the Automotive Technology program at Brookhaven College and is an employee of National Tire and Battery.


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