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Top 5 Tips for Car Repair

We drive our vehicles every day, and some of us even consider our cars part of our family. Yet, most of us are more comfortable taking our kids in to the doctor's office than we are taking our car in for repairs. Unless you're a car enthusiast or like to tinker around with engines, the chances are good that you've rarely had the opportunity to poke around under the hood.

Many people have had nightmarish experiences at the mechanic's garage or car dealership. Either that ever-present pinging noise disappears when the mechanic takes the car out for a spin, or the phone rings with the dreaded repair estimate that is several hundred dollars more than expected. While there are many, many reputable mechanics and dealership service departments, there are also those that victimize customers who don't know an air filter from a head gasket. Here are five tips that will help ensure that you're an informed consumer who won't get ripped off.

  1. Educate Yourself. Next to buying a house, a vehicle is one of the biggest purchases you'll ever make. While you don't have to become a master mechanic, you should know the basics about your vehicle. There are many great online resources that outline mechanical systems in cars so you can get an overview of how it all works. You should also read the owner's manual that came with your car, and refer to it before taking your vehicle in for routine maintenance or repair. The more you know, the less likely you'll be taken for a proverbial ride when your vehicle is serviced.
  2. Follow the Maintenance Schedule. If the car's running fine, why bother taking it in for maintenance? Aside from the fact that properly maintaining a car will increase its longevity, if you don't follow the manufacturer's suggested maintenance schedule, you could compromise your legal rights. If your car turns out to be defective, the manufacturer could defend a Lemon Law claim by saying that the problem was due to owner negligence.
  3. Get Referrals. We ask friends and family members for referrals for hair and nail salons, roofers, doctors, and restaurants. Why not ask them for recommendations for mechanics and service departments? A good mechanic can be an ally for life, so it pays to ask around and find the best.
  4. Get a Second Opinion. If you suspect that your engine doesn't need the major overhaul suggested by the service department, don't authorize the repair. Instead, get a second opinion from a different mechanic. If your vehicle doesn't need the repair, the cost of the second opinion will be worth it; if it does need the repair, you'll rest easier knowing that you're not being taken for a ride.
  5. Get and Keep Service Orders. When you take your vehicle in for repair, you should be provided with a description of the work to be done and a cost estimate. If one isn't offered, ask for it. You may end up authorizing additional repairs over the phone; if so, make a note of the date and time of the call, the name of the person you spoke to, and the repairs you authorized. When you pick up your car and pay for the repairs, you should receive a detailed itemization of repairs. Take the time to read through it and make sure they performed all of the authorized repairs. In many states, you are also entitled to see or take parts that were replaced. (That's one reason why it's important to have sufficient knowledge of your car's systems and components.) Keep all of your service orders in a folder; should you have to file a Lemon Law claim, they will help substantiate the number of times you've taken your vehicle in for repair.