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How to spot common car repair scams and save money

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Posted at 12:00 PM, Nov 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-09 07:42:39-05

TULSA, Okla. — Used car complaints rank high for calls coming into the Problem Solvers.

They can save you money, for sure, they can cause expensive headaches too, as we continue our month-long look into common car repair scams.

For nearly a couple of months, the used car Shawna Carter bought, was in and out of the shop, and the only way she could get around town was with the help of her daughter.

"I feel like I'm being played and I'm not sure what to do at this point."

It's the same story the auto experts at YAA, Your Advocate Alliance, hear all the time.

Especially now that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult and more expensive to find a decent used or new vehicle, and even the parts needed to make some repairs.

"One of the things we're seeing now is what is called "rough condition" vehicles that are being sold," says Zach Shefska, one of the experts at YAA, which streams auto information shows every week.

He strongly recommends having a used car inspected by a trusted mechanic before you buy. But it's never too late.

"If you didn't get a chance to do that, being proactive and even getting an inspection done after purchasing a vehicle, especially a used one, is something we really recommend right about now."

That can catch issues that may be less costly to repair now, but much more costly down the road, if the problem gets worse.

But be careful about what some shops many times recommend, services and repairs aren't always necessary, and only jack up your cost.

Examples include replacing the cabin filter. Ask to see it. If it is dirty, it's a quick and cheap fix for a do-it-yourself.

New tires. Not all flat tires need to be replaced, many can be patched. Ask the mechanic to show you the tire damage, and explain why a new tire is necessary, as opposed to repairing the old one.

And if new parts are recommended, make sure they're actually replaced with high-quality parts. Ask to be given the old ones.

Also, experts say, be leery of transmission services. If you're not noticing a particular problem, wait until the manufacturer recommends it.

"Looking at your Maintenace and scheduled maintenance manuals, wee when things actually need to happen, " Shefska says.

As for Shawna, her car was finally repaired and she'll be much more careful when buying her next used vehicle.

"I would definitely take it to a mechanic to have it looked at first."

Here are more details on how to keep from spending too much on car repairs as compiled by the Reader's Digest consumer division:

New tires

Believe it or not, not all flat tires need to be replaced.

“As long as the puncture is not on the sidewall, the tire should be able to be repaired,” explains Lauren Fix, also known as the Car Coach.

Before blindly agreeing to an expensive new tire (or two), she suggests, “ask your service advisor to show you the damage to your tire and have them explain completely why a new tire is being recommended versus a repair.”

If you do need a replacement, check out these 12 tires car experts buy for their own cars.

Cabin filter replacement

Sure, cabin filters are necessary, but they’re not usually among the most urgent repairs your car needs, notes automotive educator Chaya M. Milchtein, founder of Mechanic Shop Femme.

Translation: Don’t let a mechanic try to talk you into a “critical” change because a slightly dusty cabin filter has been pulled from your vehicle.

“While important to change regularly, it’s not immediately detrimental to the proper functioning of your vehicle,” says Milchtein. “Simply put, if you are deciding between a safety item and a cabin filter, or even an oil change and your cabin filter, take care of the cabin filter last.”

Here are the other car repairs you’ve probably wasted money on at some point.

Not actually replacing parts

Let’s say you went ahead and agreed to let the mechanic buy and replace the parts.

You could be in for an added surprise: “You may find that the parts weren’t even replaced in the first place because, in truth, they didn’t need to be,” says Lowe.

Alternatively, a mechanic may replace the parts, which are expensive when bought new, with used or aftermarket parts that are also damaged. As a result, you may end up returning to the shop a week later with the same issue—and more repair bills.

Avoid this by servicing your vehicle at a certified mechanic with a good reputation. Check out these 30 things your car mechanic won’t tell you.

Transmission service

Of course, we all want to keep our transmissions humming along. The good news is that unless there’s a visible problem, yours is probably fine.

“The majority of modern vehicles already have transmission fluids that will easily last 100,000 miles or more,” says ASE-certified master technician Steven Greenspan, an instructor and education manager at Universal Technical Institute in Lisle, Illinois. “Manufacturers also have eliminated dipsticks and drain plugs due to the fact modern transmissions are designed to not be serviced.”

What does that mean for you?

“The only time you need to have your transmission checked is if there is a leak or the transmission is not operating properly.”

Next, find out the 15 things you’re doing to your car that mechanics wouldn’t.

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