A recent encounter during a routine car service reinforced my cynicism when it comes to mechanics and the auto repair industry in general. I had forgotten about the challenges of dealing with mechanics and the auto center sales staff, thanks to driving a company car which was covered under a corporate service agreement where all I had to do was drop off and pick up the car from a preassigned and prepaid service center. However my wife’s car (which we own personally) had just come out of warranty and so the cost of getting it serviced would come entirely out of my pocket. After seeing the dealership service rates, I thought I could save some money by looking around for a cheaper non-dealer servicing option. I finally settled on a well known national service chain for which I had a coupon that could purportedly save me more than 50% of what I would pay for a service at the dealership. If only it were that simple.
When I got to the service center and presented the coupon to the “customer-liaison” they immediately tried to up sell me a number of services and repairs I really didn’t need claiming or implying in many instances that this is required for safety and is a must have. I am no car expert, but I know enough to realize when someone is trying to sell me services and parts I do not need. Full brake service, preventative air filter replacement, 3 year service plan etc it got to the point where I told them I just wanted a standard factory recommended service required for the given mileage (I even gave them a printed sheet from the company’s website which stated what this was). However this was not the end of their attempts to try and fleece me of some more of my hard earned money. While the car was being serviced I received another call from a different representative asking me again if I wanted the services (and some more) that I already said no to. What’s worse they then called my wife (whose number I put on the service form as a backup) a short time later trying to get her to approve the additional options because they “apparently” could not reach me. My wife, not up-to date with my discussions with the mechanic/sales staff, agreed to the add on services and parts because she was told that they were strongly recommended. The sales rep had got her hook, line and sinker.
When I found out, I was extremely angry and talked to the manager as soon as I got to the service center to pick up the car. They of course tried to brush it off saying that my wife was told all the extra services/parts were optional. So why then did they call her? After a heated discussion and refusing to budge, I finally got them to give me a 50% discount (per the original coupon) on the add on services which had already been done. Yet, the $200 service which I had planned for ended up costing me north of $400, but it could have been much worse. With this experience in mind and research from around the web here are five tips to avoid getting ripped off the next time you are at the mechanics:
1. Research beforehand to get an idea of what you need. Before you take your car in for a scheduled service, just spend a few minutes researching what service your car actually needs. To determine this use the mileage on your car and do a Google search with a phrase like “Recommended Servicing at 45,000 miles” and you will get a number of search results linking to independent sites that provide details on the kinds of service/inspections you should get. For even more details you can go to your car manufacturers website.
2. Use Competitor Coupons. Most auto service chains and dealership service centers will accept competitor coupons even if they don’t advertise it. Just call them up before hand to ask. The biggest benefit of this I found is that you can still go to the service center of your choice but enjoy the discount offered elsewhere. In this economy most business are desperate for the business, so if they don’t want to accept a competitor’s coupon just tell them you will go elsewhere for the two cars you plan on getting serviced (you can exaggerate a little) and 9 out of 10 times they will change their tune.
3. Get references. Talk to your coworkers, neighbors, auto insurance company and even ask at the local dealerships who the best mechanics or service centers are. Going to a referenced mechanic gives you two main benefits. Firstly you know that someone has recommended them so they must be half decent. Secondly if you tell the mechanic that you were referenced to them by person XYZ, they will be less likely to try and rip you off because they do want to harm their reputation with existing customers. You can also apply the reference logic backwards (time permitting) by calling mechanics and asking them to give you some references for their work. This could be particularly useful if you are planning a lot or expensive repair work
4. Too cheap to be true. Some coupons and deals claim to save you 50% or provide ultra cheap servicing deals. However this is just a gimmick to bring you in to the auto-repair center and “up-sell” you more services. Like I found out in the experience above, if it is too good to be true then it probably is. Brand name dealerships are more expensive than service centers, but only to a certain point. If you can get a comparable price (with coupons) at a brand name service center I recommend going there as they tend to be more customer focused.
5. Be firm and do not believe everything you are told. This is perhaps the most important tip. The sales staff at the repair centers will try and sell you as much extra parts and services as they legally can because most of their margin is made on these “extra” parts and services. Hardly any money is made from a standard oil change and inspection. Most sales staff operate on commission so their pay is determined by how much they can sell and hence are motivated to try and sell as much as possible. Unscrupulous sales staff, like the one I dealt with, will try various tricks to make you say yes to the extras. So before you go into the service center, be firm on what you want and keep the above points in mind. Also make sure you only give one point of contact to handle any calls/question and don’t be forced to making a decision on the spot. If you are not sure of something ask questions and if needed tell them you will get back to them with an answer after doing some of your own research.
If you know of anymore useful tips do leave a comment. I hope that my experience and the tips above will ensure that you avoid getting ripped of the next time you get your car serviced