AAA Car Care Month Advice: Top Ten Auto Repair Rip-Offs to Avoid

HAMILTON – Thousands of consumers each year complain about car repair rip-offs. And in these tough financial times, it’s more important than ever for motorists to protect their cars and their wallets. AAA Mid-Atlantic is observing National Car Care Month in October by warning motorists about the top ten car repair rip-offs and advising car owners where to find trustworthy automotive services.

In 2010, the Better Business Bureau received over 12,500 complaints against auto repair mechanics. “Fortunately, there are ways to spot and avoid shoddy service,” says Tray E. Noble, spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

According to AAA Mid-Atlantic, here are the top ten car repair ripoffs to watch out for:

  1. Flushing the engine or transmission, when it is not called for in the normal maintenance schedule. Usually, engines do not need to be flushed other than for routine coolant replacement, and the transmission only should be flushed according to the recommendations in your owner’s manual.
  2. Some shops assume you need the car’s severe-use maintenance service, which typically involves changing filters and fluids more frequently than the regular schedule recommends. Again, check your owner’s manual for the recommended service intervals. If you do a lot of stop-and-go driving and short trips, you may indeed need more frequent oil changes – but again, check first.
  3. Does the mechanic keep charging you to replace different parts to solve the same problem? He is probably having trouble diagnosing your car. Ask the mechanic to refund the cost of the first (probably unnecessary) repair. Multiple failures of the same part or even in the same area are rare.
  4. Is the shop replacing the same part over and over? Watch for shoddy workmanship or a poor-quality part. Sometimes particular car models are prone to certain kinds of problems. Check for automaker service bulletins and consumer complaints. If you find you need to return over and over you need a new mechanic!
  5. If you’re being told that only dealerships can perform maintenance – sorry, it’s not true. Legally, you can have maintenance performed by any mechanic without affecting your warranty. Just make sure your mechanic uses the correct fluids specified for your vehicle’s model, and keep thorough records in case of a warranty claim. The only dealership-required service is warranty-related repairs and recalls.
  6. Lifetime muffler promise? Be leery. Some car repair chains may offer free muffler replacements, but it gets you into their shop where they try to sell you expensive exhaust system repairs. However, a good repair shop may offer a lifetime warranty on certain parts such as alternators and water pumps, because those parts should last the life of your vehicle.
  7. Some shops might fraudulently recommend work that doesn’t need to be done at all. Ask them to physically show you and demonstrate the problem part. For example, they should show you a broken fan belt, or turn on your headlights to prove that a light is out.
  8. Suspiciously cheap brake repair deals. Repair shops can’t make money on a $50 brake pad replacement – not unless they use very poor quality parts. It’s likely an excuse to get you to pay for new rotors or other parts you may not need.
  9. Bad attitudes. Does the shop care only about making a quick buck, or do they want to develop a long-term business relationship with you? A good shop will be honest that you don’t need a repair this time around, because they believe you’ll trust them enough to come back when your vehicle really does need help.
  10. The old bait-and-switch. A common scam is to charge you for high-quality parts but actually install cheaper ones. Ask to see the new parts before the shop installs them. With tires, check the information on the sidewall. Still, without expert knowledge, it may be difficult for you to know for sure – this is why it’s so important to find a trustworthy repair shop.

Above all, don’t pay for repairs until you’re satisfied. You have every right to make sure you’re getting what you’re paying for.

Most of all, you can avoid these kinds of issues in the first place when you choose a shop that’s part of AAA’s Approved Auto Repair network. AAA inspects and approves nearly 8,000 auto repair shops in the U.S. and Canada. Approved shops meet tough professional standards for customer service, cleanliness, equipment and training. All AAA members receive a free maintenance inspection upon request in conjunction with any other paid service. Additionally, many AAA Approved Auto Repair shops participate in the AAA Show Your Card & Save program, providing discounts on repair and maintenance to AAA members. A listing of nearby approved shops is available at

One in four American drivers could not pay for a car repair of $2,000 if faced with one today, according to the results of a survey released in August by AAA. More than half of American drivers also said they are holding onto their older vehicle because they do not want the financial burden of a new one. And, one quarter of drivers admitted to neglecting repairs and maintenance on their vehicles in the past 12 months due to the economic climate, which AAA Automotive experts say can greatly increase the likelihood of their car needing a costly, major repair.

“Economic conditions have taken their toll on many Americans resulting in them neglecting their cars and leaving them at increased risk for very expensive repair bills,” says Noble. “So it’s more important than ever to find a car repair shop that you trust.”

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