Maybe your car got totaled in an accident, and you need to find a reputable body shop ASAP. Or maybe you simply need a tune-up. Given the potential expense involved, you'll want to know you're getting your money's worth. So how do you know you can trust your mechanic?
Scams to look out for
While the majority of mechanics are honest and good at what they do, many repair bills contain elements of fraud, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). There are a variety of types of body shop fraud, and scam artists often display a dazzling amount of creativity and stealth. Here are three common scams identified by NICB:
1. Adjuster-assisted fraud.
In this case, a body shop works with a crooked insurance adjuster to scam insurers. The body shop pays the adjuster a kickback for providing fraudulently high estimates.
2. Air bag fraud.
Insurance companies pay body shops handsomely for replacing air bags -- between $2,500 and $3,000, according to NICB. To take advantage of this, scam artists will replace air bags with salvaged, malfunctioning or even stolen ones that they purchased for just $100 or $200 on the black market. Air bag fraud creates public safety hazards -- and the car owner may not discover the air bags are faulty until it's too late.
3. Falsified documents.
A mechanic may lie about the labor, the parts used and the sales tax. Other schemes include deliberately damaging parts and offering to fix them, exaggerating the need for repairs or performing intentionally low-quality repairs.
Tips for finding the right mechanic
Look for mechanics certified by trusted organizations, like the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). And go with your instincts. ASE provides some guidelines for recognizing bad mechanics -- and good ones.
- Ask people you know and trust (like friends or co-workers) for recommendations.
- Look for a repair shop long before you need one so that you won't have to make a rushed decision for emergency repairs. If you can, bring your car in for a minor job to see whether a shop can be trusted.
- Is the repair shop tidy? It probably won't be spotless, but it should at least be organized.
- Have a look at the parking lot. Are there cars similar in value to your own? Or just gutted clunkers?
- Glance around the waiting room. You'll want to see certifications, awards and trade school diplomas hanging on the walls.
- Pay attention while talking with the staff. They should be courteous and willing to answer your questions.
- Don't be afraid to ask for customer references before making your decision. A good mechanic should have no qualms about referring you to satisfied customers.
Making the wrong decision can drain your pocketbook -- and not just for the immediate repairs. By patronizing a place that scams insurance companies, you'll be contributing to rising auto insurance premiums, including your own.