13+ Things Your Car Mechanic Won’t Tell You

Real mechanics give you the inside scoop on the tricks of the trade.

1. Watch out for scare tactics.

Admonitions like "I wouldn't drive this another mile" should be viewed with suspicion.

2. Check for...

ASE, National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, or AAA (America Automobile Association) certification, as well as a state license. Reputable shops are proud to display them.

3. Ask, ask, ask...

...for recommendations, years in business, warranties offered, licenses, and the type of equipment used. Look for a clean garage. A floor cluttered with empty oil cans, worn tires, and dirty rags is a red flag.

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4. Never sign a blank authorization form.

Always get a signed work order with a specific estimate for each job and warranties that apply.

5. It's nuts to take a car with engine problems to a shop without a good engine analyzer and scan tool.

 Any mechanic who says "I don't need fancy equipment" should be avoided.

6. Synthetic motor oils may cost more...

...but you'll get a lot more miles between changes.

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7. When you go for a second opinion...

...don't tell the mechanic what the first diagnosis and price were.

8. Coolant flushes and power steering flushes...

...are very common gimmicks at quick lubes. Check your owner's manual; many cars have fluid that is designed to go 100,000 miles. And cleaning fuel injectors is a waste of time and money. There are additives on the market that do a great job.

9. Always ask for OE (original equipment) brake pads or at least equivalent material.

 A $49.95 brake job will usually get you the worst friction material you can buy—it's the difference between stopping short and causing a pileup on the way to work.

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10. Ask about your new tire's "build date."

 If you're getting an unusually good deal, you might be receiving three-year-old treads, which is especially risky for snow tires.

11. Lifetime mufflers?

 What would ever make you think a muffler will last a lifetime? Yes, they'll give you free replacements, but they'll hit you over the head for expensive pipe repairs.

12. Consult your dealer...

 ...before you have work done on a catalytic converter or emissions parts. Some of these items carry a very long warranty, and free replacement is often required by law.

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13. It's not okay for your "check engine" light to stay on all the time.

 It's probably not "a loose gas cap."

14. Don't be duped by double labor.

If a mechanic offers to change your timing belt and water pump, question how long the job will take. Some will charge you double labor even though the second task is essentially done once the belt is removed.

15. Always ask for your old parts back.

This way you’ll know they’ve been changed, and you or a friend can tell if they’re worn.

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16. Be careful with “road hazard” warranties on tires.

The shops may give you a free tire here and there, but eventually they will soak you with unnecessary alignments or suspension replacements.

17. All brakes are not equal.

Ask for estimates on brake jobs. Many mechanics will use very cheap parts and mark them up. Good mechanics who understand cars will never skimp in this area.

18. Have your car test-driven.

A good test-drive is just as important as a regular service — it might mean the difference between simply needing brake pads and having a complete rotor replacement.

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19. Find expert mechanics.

Good mechanics, like good customers, are hard to find— communication is key. A good mechanic will explain repair phases and give you choices.

20. Be wary of certified pre-owned cars.

Usually in this business the only thing that’s certified is that someone owned the car before you. Very little ever gets done on these types of cars.

21. Go early in the work week.

Don’t bring your car in on Friday afternoon, because the mechanics might rush the job to get out for the weekend.

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22. Don't make a rookie mistake.

Beware of a mechanic who shows you a transmission pan with metal particles in it and recommends a major job. The shavings are usually a sign of normal wear.

23. Familiarize yourself with tire tread.

Before buying new tires, know what your state’s tread specifications are. Then have the mechanic measure the old tread with a gauge.

24. Beware of false promises.

Watch out for ads promising $100 brake jobs. No mechanic can make money on that.

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25. Weed out scams.

Transmission flushes are one of the biggest scams going. Manufacturers don’t recommend them, and your car almost never needs one.

26. The market is being flooded...

...with cheap parts from China. Request a name-brand replacement and ask to see its box.

SOURCES: Gary Montesi, owner, Montesi Volkswagen, North Haven, Connecticut; Domenic DiSiena, manager, Bedford (New York) Shell; Bob Sikorsky, automotive writer, Tucson, Arizona; anonymous mechanics in Minnesota and New York
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