Car repairs -- advice to avoid getting scammed?

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  1. I'm having some car troubles, and I'm one of those completely clueless girls -- I know NOTHING about cars! I'm 23, and shamefully, I've always had my dad take care of any car repairs, oil changes, etc. simply because he was much less likely to get scammed. But now I live 800+ miles from home, and my car is making awful squealing noises (maybe a belt issue?), the check engine light is on, and today I think the power steering went out for a minute (it was really hard to turn the wheel...I almost had to throw my weight against it to turn it!).

    So...I've found a Meineke shop near me that has really great reviews online (yahoo, All of the reviews talk about what great guys work there and how they won't scam you. So, I think I'm going to bring it in there!

    Any tips on how not to get scammed? Questions to ask, things to do, etc.? Is it standard to get an estimate in writing, or just verbally?

    My car is pretty old -- it's a 1996 Mitsubishi Galant with 140K miles on it, and I've NEVER had a problem with it until now, and I've had it for over four years! I'm aware that makes me very, very lucky! But since I got the car used for so insanely cheap, I'm not sure how much money in repairs it's worth to me. But I'm a poor law student who really needs a car to get to class, so cross your fingers for me. :smile:

    I'm going to try to drag my boyfriend with me to the repair shop, and he does know quite a bit about cars, so hopefully he can do that talking for me.

    Share your tips/experiences please!!
  2. 140K miles is a lot. At some point, you're going to start needing to replace parts, and that can get very expensive depending on what's wrong with the car. To me, it sounds like you have several issues with it and you should definitely NOT be driving it if you have problems with the steering. Also, you don't need to bring your boyfriend with you - if he can't diagnose and fix the problem himself, then it's not like he's going to be any more help to the shop than you are. You're the one driving it, so you know how it's been running/what it sounds like. Regardless, they're going to have to take the car on a test drive to see what's wrong with it for themselves anyway, and it's not like having a guy stand next to you is going to make them not take advantage of you.

    I'm confused why you're going into this with the attitude that you're going to get "scammed." I think it's really unfortunate that the automotive repair industry has this stereotype that every shop is out to steal money from you. Yes, car repair is expensive, but that's because it is a VERY skilled profession that requires extensive training and experience. Labor rates start at around $100 an hour, so you should be prepared to pay a decent amount if the car needs a good amount of work. If the transmission has gone bad, which it sounds like it might have, then the repair will cost several thousand dollars and will not be worth fixing.

    I hope this helps. Good luck.
  3. Thanks, that was definitely helpful!

    I guess I was just always warned from friends, family members to watch out if you don't know much about cars, because it's easy for mechanics to tack on things you don't need or overcharge you. I have NO problem paying what the work is worth -- parts and labor. (Obviously this is if the estimate ends up being a price that would make it worth my while to pay -- crossing my fingers that it won't be a bazillion dollars!) I totally get that it's a skilled profession and I certainly couldn't do it!

    Sorry if I sounded too suspicious. I know there are plenty of honest mechanics out there -- I'm just scared I won't find the right one since I know nothing about cars and I'm living in a place where I have no real ability to ask around to friends who can recommend someone!
  4. I think she means because she is a female and some mechanics are pretty discriminate with women. Like overcharging for repairs or even believing that you dont know anything about cars even when you do.

    I had an experience with that when my windshield cracked. I went to the body shop at my dealers to take care of the problem. Instead of telling me that they dont do windshields, the guy gave me a whole lecture of how a windshield is installed, etc. It was only after the fact did he give me the number to the guy who does windshields to my car's brand.

    the guy who fixed my windshield however, was nice about it.

    when I go to purchase a car or whatever, I usually take my boyfriend or brothers with me. As they are much better at negotiating.
  5. Lots of auto repair people attempt to convince women that they need a new dilithium matrix or warp core. It's not paranoia. If you don't know anything about cars, bring someone who does!
  6. There is a difference between bringing someone who knows a lot about cars, and someone who thinks they do. In my opinion, if you can't fix the car yourself, then it's kind of presumptuous to go to a shop and tell the mechanic they're wrong about how to do it. My dad has dealt with SO many customers who come in with the attitude that he's going to scam them, then try to dictate to him how to fix the car. His answer to them is always the same - if you think you know how to fix it, then by all means do it yourself. Nothing is worse than a 20 year old kid who thinks because he knows how to change his own oil, he knows how to fix a transmission and what's "necessary." Believe me, I've worked in the shop long enough to hear how rude and demeaning it is.

    My point is that the best thing you can do is find a shop with good reviews and then trust them to do their job. If the numbers sound off, get a second or third estimate!
  7. Yeah, I can see how that would be totally annoying to a professional. I have no idea how to change my oil! My problem is that I would *never* presume I knew what the heck was wrong with it, and I'm much more likely to just smile and nod along with anything they tell me. So I'm worried that I'm really susceptible to being taken advantage of if someone wanted to lead me astray. So I'll definitely get another estimate if the one I'm quoted sounds crazy, thanks! :smile:

    I called the shop that had great online reviews and I'm going to bring it in tomorrow. The man sounded really nice on the phone, so hopefully he can work his magic on my poor car!
  8. I just re-read your post - the combination of the squealing noise with the power steering going out probably means that you need a new belt and this typically costs between $60-100. However depends a lot on what's really wrong with the car, so don't take my estimate as anything more than that. What area do you live in?
  9. I live in Boston. :smile:

    I just called my dad and he told me we only paid $1800 for the car originally (almost five years ago!) and we've had basically no problems, so I'd say we got a great deal! I'm hoping it's a belt -- I'd totally be able to pay to get that fixed.

    Even if the repairs are kind of pricey, I think I'd be willing to pay them since I only need this car to last another year and a half. After that, I'll be done with law school and moving to NYC, so I won't need a car there!
  10. It's probably a belt. If you're real nice to one of your mechanically inclined friends (ie offer a free dinner), he/she might fix it for you. They're not that hard to replace.
  11. I would take your boyfriend or some male friend with you.... Do NOT go alone. I think those people that work at these places scam us women. Even if your friend does not know a whole lot. Just being there with you will help your cases. Plus you can always tell the workers that your brother is a Master mechanic in your home state and you want to run whatever they tell you by him before you get it fixed. Then go home and google it and see what you can find.... Good Luck
  12. dirty/low power steering fluid? it's pretty easy to check this before the trip the mechanic. otherwise it's probably a loose belt.
  13. #13 Jan 26, 2009
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2009
    I have never been scammed because I go in the mechanics either knowing what im talking about or sure as heck acting like i do, I ask for proof of everything, get diagnosis and then call another mechanic and ask about the issues and see if the symptoms agree with the diagnosis. I used to drive a school bus and a semi so I really do know engines well but people have tried to scam me too, read as much about your car as you can.

    and I agree it sounds like a belt, those arent to hard to fix. you could also pick up a chiltons manual I fix my own cars by using the manual, Im currently rewiring my son saab he fried it, replaced the starter and the accesories went nuts. lol leave it to my kid to kill a saab.
  14. That's awesome that you can do that!! You have one lucky son!
  15. I have been scammed before so if you know someone that is knowledgable about the interworkings of cars bring them! I have someone like this - in exchange for his mechanical knowledge (and services when he has time) , he gets my financial services for free. lol