By Ramon Elortondo
Pepper Smith, a student at the University of North Georgia in Gainesville, Georgia, recounted what many have felt when having to take their car to a mechanic.
“I got in an accident about a year ago. I knew immediately my car was going to have to be repaired, but I had no idea how much it would cost,” Smith said. “I’d never been through something like this before.”
Few things are filled with as much mystery and anxiety as taking a car to an unknown mechanic for repairs or maintenance. The common stereotype is that mechanics try to sell parts that aren’t necessary to make a bigger profit off those who are not mechanically inclined.
“I think there is a lot of stereotyping, and it depends on who you come across. You are always going to run into people who are honest with you and vice versa,” said Kenny Johnson, an automotive tech instructor at Lanier Technical College.
When asked to rate on a scale from 1 to 10, “how dishonest do you think car mechanics are?” Johnson responded: “I would say a five.”
Such a level of skepticism puts consumers like Smith at a disadvantage.
“I knew even if I went through my car insurance, I knew it was likely my mechanic was trying to take advantage of me some way or another,” Smith said. “There I was, a college student studying business management, (but) he could have told me anything and I wouldn’t have known better to believe him or not when getting my estimate.”
Johnson said consumers should always do their homework before selecting a mechanic by looking up the place of business online and reading the reviews.
“You’re always going to find people that are disgruntled and unsatisfied, but I am always looking for at least 4.5 stars or higher,” he said.
Once at the shop, Johnson said consumers also must be diligent when having a mechanic explain the work being done.
“It is important for the mechanic to show you why your car is being repaired and to (provide) a good explanation of what they will be working on,” he said.
Johnson added that when at the shop, “the best thing a consumer can do is ask to be able to see what is wrong without just taking the mechanics word for it, as well as asking for the old parts back.” Requesting the old parts is one way to ensure that the work was done.
Johnson also encouraged car owners to get to know their vehicle by reading the owner’s manual and understanding what it says about periodic maintenance.
“Most answers to car maintenance questions can be found in the owner’s manual so if you don’t want to take the mechanics word for it, you can always look at the manual,” he said. For example, the manual will explain the mileage when a part should be repaired or replaced.
Finally, Johnson said consumers can avoid being ripped off by getting estimated quotes from more than one mechanic.
“The best thing you can do is call other businesses and ask for several different quotes. You never want to just have one quote,” he said. “You always want to do your due diligence and get at least three quotes to see if they align.”
Ramon Elortondo is a journalism student at the University of Georgia