Where should you go for repairs and service – a dealer or an independent mechanic?

Independent mechanics usually charge less than dealerships, therefore they may be a better bet for typical repairs. However, if the repair needed is covered under your warranty, then take your car to the dealer, who should be able to fix it at no cost to you. You should also bring your vehicle to a dealer if there has been a manufacturer’s recall, since a dealer will not charge you for that repair, whereas an independent mechanic will. Another scenario in which a dealer might be preferable to an independent mechanic is if the problem is unusual or unique. Since the dealer should be more familiar with your specific vehicle type, he may be able to diagnose the problem more quickly. But be aware that repair costs can vary greatly, even between dealerships. Get quotes from different dealerships up-front to make sure that you're getting a fair deal.

Repairing your car without getting taken for a ride

According to the Consumer Federation of America, Americans spend billions of dollars per year on faulty or unnecessary automobile repairs. While most car repair shops are reliable, some employ mechanics who are not competent, and there are a number that intentionally try to defraud customers. Auto repair rip-offs can range from charging for replacement parts that are never used to deliberate tampering with or destruction to the vehicle (e.g. cutting water hoses, puncturing tires). Some unethical repair shops will try to hook customers by advertising a super-low price on a particular service. When the mechanic examines the customer's car he inevitably "discovers" additional problems that require repairs. These repairs are, in reality, unnecessary, but end up costing the customer a lot of money.

Here are some ways you can protect yourself from auto repair fraud:

  • Shop around for a mechanic before you need one so that when a car problem arises, you know where to go. Ask friends or family if they can recommend an honest, reliable mechanic with whom they have an established relationship.
  • Look for a repair shop that is endorsed by the American Automobile Association, adheres to the Motorist Assurance Program Standards of Service and has Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certified mechanics.
  • Select a repair shop that is clean, organized and whose staff are professional and friendly.
  • Check out the repair shop with your local Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints lodged against them.
  • Ask if there will be a diagnostic charge.
  • Find out if repairs are guaranteed and for how long.
  • When you take your car in, write down a clear description of the problem and make sure that it's given to the mechanic who will actually be working on your car. One expert suggests taping a copy to the car's steering wheel to ensure that the mechanic sees it.
  • Get a written estimate before work begins.
  • Make sure the estimate states that the repair shop will call you before doing work if the cost will exceed a specified amount of money or if the work will include any repairs that were not previously agreed to.
  • For expensive or complicated repairs, consider getting a second or even a third opinion.
  • Tell the mechanic up front that you want them to return all replaced parts to you. This can help discourage an unscrupulous mechanic from charging you for parts they don't actually use.
  • After the repairs are completed, get a written invoice/work order that specifies what repairs were done, the parts supplied, the cost of each part, labor charges, the date the work was done, and the vehicle's odometer reading.
  • Make sure to get any repair warranties in writing as well.
  • If you use your credit card to pay for the repairs, you can always dispute the charges when your credit card bill arrives, should there be any problem.

If you believe you have been the victim of auto repair fraud, report it to your local Better Business Bureau and to the Georgia Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at 404-651-8600 or 800-869-1123.