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Top 5 Mistakes Made When Getting Cars Repaired

When you drop your car off for repairs you might feel like all the cards are stacked against you. It’s not an environment in which you have a comfort level much less feel knowledgeable. The whole process impacts not only your transportation needs but also your finances.

So don’t misplay your hand by making mistakes that put you at a further disadvantage. Here are five common errors to avoid when leaving your car for repair.

Don’t Diagnose: That’s what you are paying the technicians to do. Although you may have suspicions about what is wrong with your car as a result of research or a talk with your neighbor, don’t divulge that to the shop. Save that information for the time when they make their diagnosis and see if it sounds plausible in light of what you know. Once the shop has decided what is wrong with the vehicle, they have taken ownership of the repair process. On the other hand, if you tell the shop what is wrong you have given the repair facility their first excuse if things don’t work out.

Insist On Layman’s Terms: Don’t be buffaloed by the sea of acronyms that are major part of the automotive mystique. If EGR, MAP and O2 are not in your regular lexicon, ask questions and have things explained, the worst thing that can happen is that you will learn something about your car. If you are told that you need a new brake caliper, ask for an explanation of what that part does, why it failed and what the expected life of the replacement is.

Avoid Vague Descriptions: Be very specific when explaining the problem with your car. Symptoms should be detailed as far time, place and intensity. For example, if your car has a leak, your advice to the shop would sound something like this: “My car is leaking something red at the front of the car on the left side. I see a steady drip while the car is running, but it stops when I turn the engine off.”

Establish The Ground Rules: Don’t leave the shop without knowing at what level of cost the management will be contacting you for approval. It’s OK for the regular maintenance items to be pre-approved for convenience sake, but don’t just say “replace the brakes” without establishing guidelines. There are $250 brake jobs and there are $1,200 brake jobs. A statement like “Call me for approval if it’s anything more than just brake pads and rotors.” might work. However, you must also expect to give the facility enough latitude to accurately diagnose your problem.

Stay Available To Respond: Nothing is more aggravating to the shop than not being able to proceed with a job. A car repair operation is a pressure packed environment in which many things need to come together for you to be able to pick up your car at the end of the day. The day’s events include diagnosis, approval, parts removal, parts acquisition, parts replacement and road test. This assumes that everything works the first time. The second step in the process is the customer’s responsibility and nothing can proceed without your OK, so try to keep yourself available.             

Your comfort level with auto repair may always hover somewhere close to that of a dental visit. You may, however, be able to reduce the probability of a bad outcome if you avoid these five mistakes that are commonly made when getting cars repaired.

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Comments (10)
  1. John, this is excellent advice, and worth taking a fresh look at before any kind of repair or maintenance work.
    And those who know a bit more about cars, and the mechanic can sense it, can especially get themselves into trouble with your first tip. Many years ago, I headed to my mechanic certain that my CV joint was going bad. Well, turned out it was a brake pad that hadn't seated properly. Even though I split the difference with the mechanic (the CV joint had been leaking anyway), it was a very expensive lesson!

  2. Setting the ground rules and the next step sounds like a must...

  3. Finally-a short and helpful article. Even though we should think before we print, I am making a copy AND sending it to my friends.

  4. This is GREAT advice, well written and sensible. Very valuable.
    One caveat: Make sure athe mechanic agrees that if the cause he diagnoses does NOT repair the problem, you will not be charged the full cost of the ineffective repair. I had a suspension clunk that got diagnosed as a ball joint that turned out to be a bad CV joint. The dealer swallowed all but $50 of the unnecessary replacement ball joint.

  5. Excellent advice, I usually hit the forums to try and get an idea of what could be wrong before going to the mechanic especially if I have to chose between taking it to the dealer or to my regular mechanic.

  6. What do you do, if you don't understand the layman's terms or believe them?

  7. #4 is crucial. (Speaking as someone whose former mechanic not only didn't fix a problem but made it worse. )

  8. Dim Sum, if your car guy can't explain things that's a problem. If you don't believe him pay the diagnostic charge, cut your loses and get a second opinion.

  9. Good advice. I would add you should always ask the repairman to show you what he's done when you come to pick up the car. Even if you don't understand it all or can't really evaluate if he's done a good job, it's good to show you are interested.

  10. 97 dodge Caravan Sport stopped firing. Other electrics good, fuel good, turns over fine, bot holding a coil wire to a coil terminal, I get no spark

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