Seven things your auto mechanic may not tell you

Linda Melone
Unless you're an auto mechanic, bringing your car in for repairs can be intimidating.
Unfortunately, there's really no way to tell whether your car has been properly repaired, says Kevin Alsup, vice president of insurance at Foundation Insurance Services in Florida.
If you crash your car as a result of a mechanic using improper parts, your auto insurance may be your savior. If you carry optional collision coverage on your auto insurance policy, you're covered, Alsup says. If you just have mandatory liability insurance, you're out of luck.
"To avoid such issues, it's best to use a garage you trust or one recommended by your insurance company," he says.
Are you getting the whole truth and nothing but the truth about auto repairs? Mechanics spill the beans about what people in their profession may not tell you.
1. Your car's illuminated brake light doesn't always signal an emergency.
If your car's brake light is flashing red and you take it to a repair shop, you may be told you need new brake pads, says Victor Broski, service manager at Newport Motorsports in California. "The truth is, you can safely drive for another 5,000 miles before you need new brake pads," Broski says.
Typically, the brake light goes on when the brake pads are worn down to about 25 percent of their original thickness, Broski says. "Wait until they're worn down to about 10 percent," he says, "and save yourself the $300 repair."
2. You should question everything.
If you're told you need a repair, always ask why, says Matt Allen, owner of Virginia Auto Service in Phoenix and a member of the Better Business Bureau's Automotive Advisory Committee. For instance, question whether the recommended repair is normal for the age and mileage of your car, Allen says.
Sometimes there's good reason, such as recommending changing fluid that's supposed to last a lifetime. "We recommend a 50,000-mile transmission fluid change, even though BMW says their transmission fluid should last a lifetime," Allen says.
3. You should keep quiet about doing price comparisons.
Calling a shop for a price quote immediately signals that you're shopping around, Broski says, and that you're probably not interested in a long-term relationship with the shop. A better approach? Say that you're looking for a good mechanic.
"Talk for a little while to let the mechanic know you're interested in building a trusting relationship," Broski says.
4. You may be lured into a shop with a "bait and switch."
A reputable auto repair shop won't do a "bait and switch," Allen says. That's when customers are "baited" with low prices to lure them into a shop. Once you're in the shop, you may find out the offer doesn't apply to your car or be told something else is wrong with it -- something that may not need to be fixed.
The best way around this: Develop a strong rapport with a repair shop.
5. Your car's oil leaks don't always require repair.
Most oil leaks don't require repair, Broski says. Normal oil leaks can be caused by worn-out rubber seals.
"A puddle of oil under your car usually looks worse than it is," he says. "Oil is hot and thin, so a small amount looks like far more than it is because it spreads out quickly."
Exceptions that require repair are when engine oil leaks onto the exhaust pipes, which then can catch fire, or oil leaks around your vehicle's spark plugs.
If you take your car to your mechanic for an oil leak and you're told repairs are needed, ask what would happen if you don't get it fixed, Broski says. "It could cost upwards of $500 to $1,000 to fix," he says, "so it makes sense to wait if you can."
6. You need to get all the details in writing, even if nothing was done.
If your car's under warranty and you bring it to a shop for a funny noise, make sure the mechanic takes note of the visit, even if he finds nothing wrong with your car, Broski says. "Often, they won't write up anything if they find nothing wrong," he says.
By creating a written record, a follow-up repair may be covered by insurance if it's related to the original noise, Broski says.
7. You may be able to bundle more than one service.
If you're told you need a major repair, ask whether other work can be done at the same time, such as routine maintenance, Allen says. That can save labor costs.

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