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How Women Can Avoid Car Repair Ripoffs

Know your car and do your homework to get the best service


Caring for an automobile can leave some women feeling at the mercy of car repair shops. Maybe you didn’t handle your family’s auto repair issues in the past, so you need some tips on how to safely navigate your way through the maze of shops, parts and terminology.

Nowadays, women are likely to be the main consumers of auto repair services. “Women represent 50 percent of the repair market for automotive service shops, so it’s likely that the individual who takes primary responsibility for vehicle maintenance is female,” said Tony Molla, vice president of the Automotive Service Association, a trade association for automotive service owners and managers.

If you don’t know much about your vehicle but want to avoid getting ripped off at the repair shop, you need to do your homework. “There are plenty of shops out there who take advantage of customers, especially women, because they assume women do not know about cars,” said Andrea Campbell, mechanic and owner of Andrea’s Auto on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

To complicate matters, today’s cars are more sophisticated with computerized modules and often inexplicable dashboard lights and codes. And certain repairs may cost more than in the past.

The price of automobile repairs could have significant impact on a budget. According to a recent study from Ally Financial, many Americans could be at risk of a financial emergency from just a $500 car repair, and data provided by the Federal Reserve indicated that 41 percent of American adults could not pay a $400 emergency expense without going into debt.

“Vehicles have changed tremendously over the years and so has the way you service them,” said Jeff Cox, president of the Motorist Assurance Program of the Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association, which establishes service standards for the auto repair industry. “Many of us are familiar with $20 oil changes, but with today’s engine design and the oil required, you might have an oil change that costs over $60.”

Be a Savvy Consumer         

Unfortunately, overcharging and taking advantage of customers unfamiliar with cars often feels rampant in the auto repair world. If you don’t know what to expect, you can be a victim of poor service. Consumer Reports offers suggestions on how to avoid being ripped off by a mechanic.

Be on the lookout, it says, for shops that:

• Suggest or perform unnecessary repairs or maintenance that don’t match the scheduled maintenance recommended in your car’s owner’s manual

• Charge you inflated or excessive fees

• Replace parts that don’t need replacing or use poor-quality parts

Know Your Car

How can you get up-to-speed so you can ask intelligent questions at the repair shop? One way is to educate yourself about cars.

A good start: Read Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide  by Patrice Banks, a mechanic and founder/owner of Girls Auto Clinic in Upper Darby, Pa. who wrote the book to help women learn how cars work and the systems that make a car run.

To empower yourself about your particular car, read your owner’s manual. Then, open the hood and get familiar with what’s there. Teach yourself to check fluid levels:  oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid and windshield washer fluid.

Ask Car Repair Questions

“An educated consumer cannot be taken advantage of,” advises Molla. “Ask questions. If you don’t understand the answer or if the shop you are dealing with cannot explain everything to your satisfaction, thank them for their time and find another shop that can.”

How can you make sure a shop uses quality parts? “Before approving any work, ask if the parts meet or exceed OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) specifications. If there is doubt, ask to see the packaging the part came in,” Cox said. “OEM parts exist because certain companies manufacture auto parts as subcontractors to vehicle manufacturers and use specifications of those manufacturers.”

Molla suggests inquiring about the shop’s warranty policy on parts and service, too. “Again, the key is to ask questions,” he said.

Find a Quality Car Repair Shop

Before you visit a repair shop, watch this Car Care Council video.  And read up on the right questions to ask here.  

Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), which qualifies automotive service technicians, has two good tips for choosing a repair facility: look for a shop before you need one and ask friends for recommendations.

“Look for things like certified technicians, a clean and professional facility, friendly service consultants who are able to explain what is being done to your vehicle and why you need that service and membership in professional organizations like the Automotive Service Association,” Molla said.

Cox suggests finding a repair facility that participates in the Motorist Assurance Program. “The Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association’s Motorist Assurance Program creates standards for the automotive repair industry,” he explained. “Ask your service provider if they participate in the program or look for a decal on the front door.”

A reputable auto service provider won’t try to take advantage of customers and can make a living on dealing honestly with the public. “I’m sure I don’t make as much money as I could by taking people for a ride, but that is one ride they don’t need to take, in my opinion,” said Campbell.

By Debbie L. Miller
Debbie L. Miller has been a freelance writer, playwright and actor for more than 25 years. She writes in Brooklyn, N.Y., and won the 2017 Mona Schreiber Prize for Humorous Fiction and Nonfiction.

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