Verifying needed auto repair

It may seem that every time you go to your local auto repair shop that you are bound to spend more than the twenty five dollars you planed on spending for your oil change.  

I am sure you have heard this line before from your friendly auto repair center. While we were doing the oil change on your car we noticed other saftey repairs that are needed.
In allmost cases this is not the auto repair shop being nice and looking out for your best interest or for your safety but instead a way of increasing the shops A.R.O.
Average repair order is the measurement of total sales per repair order. The shops goal is to increase the amount each person pays on every visit. The auto repair shop uses this to keep track of their employees to measure their performance on the art of up selling.
The mechanic and service advisor work together on this project because it also increases the amount they both make along with the auto repair shop.
The way it works is the auto repair mechanic finds profitable repairs to be done like a brake job and brings it to the service advisors attention.
The commission based service advisor then hard sells this repair as a needed critical safety repair.
I can’t help but break into a story about one of the sharpest most evil service advisors I ever met. This man would go through your vehicle and find out as much as he could about the vehicle owner.
He would look for bank statements past due bills and any thing he could get his hands on to find out what your financial position was. He would go through the trunk, the glove box under the seats he was relentless.
One time he came out to my bay and started going through a vehicle and I asked him what he was doing. His reply was making us money. Then He yelled out bingo. I said what did you find.
He said the best thing of all a baby seat and baby toys. He then said this vehicle needs brakes. I said I didn’t look at the brakes yet. He said it didn’t matter what it needed it only mattered what they were getting.
Now in this case the brakes were about 25% remaining so selling brakes to this person didn’t hurt anyone. But the service advisor asked about the baby to set up the sale for family safety reasons.
If the customer hesitated to buy, the service advisor would explain it was for the safety of the baby and how if she performed an emergency stop the vehicle would take longer to stop with worn brakes and he was looking out for her baby. This guy was a shark and pulled down more than $100,000 a year just for selling service.
I tell you this story so you can be on guard if you run into a shark. The shark will start asking you personal questions while you are waiting for the vehicle to be brought into the auto repair shop.
Not because he cares about you. He is trying to paint a picture of you so he can find the button he needs to push to make a sale. And don’t forget to clean out the inside of your car including the glove box. You must protect yourself!
Now how to defend against the mighty shark. Lets use a common scenario as an example. You bring your vehicle into a chain type service center for an oil change.
The mechanic talks with the service advisor and he starts clicking away on his calculator. Then he calls you over and says you need front brakes and an air filter. Lets start by asking questions and controlling the negotiations.
First we should ask if we can go to the vehicle and be shown what is needed. Even if you don’t know what you’re looking at you still want to act like you do know what you’re looking at.
If the service advisor says your not allowed in the auto repair shop for insurance reasons or safety reasons this is a red flag that they may be hiding something. The auto repair shop may have policies against customers being aloud in the shop but you still have the right to inspect the needed auto repairs.
If the auto repair shop flat out refuses to show you then instruct them to just finish the oil change and you will get a second opinion from another shop. Even the most cold hearted service advisor will have trouble pointing to what he knows is an obviously good part and calling it bad.
If they take you out to the vehicle ask to see the air filter and try to verify its out of you’re vehicle and it does look dirty.
The service interval for air filters is about once a year or every 20,000 miles depending on your driving conditions. If the filter looks dirty and it’s been awhile then approving the air filter replacement should be ok.
But don’t forget to ask for a part and labor breakdown. Usually the shop will install the air filter for free and just take their 30% profit on the part.
Now onto the brakes you want to ask how bad are the brakes. Opinions vary on when brakes should be replaced. My preference on my own vehicle is 15-25% remaining. 25% remaining could mean 5,000 miles left of safe driving.
You can start buy asking if the brakes are metal to metal meaning that there is no brake pad remaining and the brakes are at 0 %.
Using the above term also notifies the shop you know about brakes and may not be the easy sale they thought you were.
His next response is important. If he says the brakes are 30% worn or higher you can wait on the repair.
If he says they are 25 % or lower ask if you would be able to see the brakes. On some vehicles you can look right through the wheel and see the brake pads. Some vehicles the wheel has to be pulled off which is no big deal.
You can also use these guidelines on brake pad wear. On average you can get about 35,000 – 45,000 miles from a set of brake pads.
The more city driving or stop and go driving you do the faster the brakes will wear. For example a taxicab may need brakes every 25,000 miles due to severe stop and go driving.
So if the shop is recommending brakes on your car and it’s been 35,000 miles since its last brake job then you probably need them.
 If they show you the brakes and your wheels are covered with worn brake dust and the brake pad looks thin about a quarter inch or less lets talk about doing a brake job.
I will go more in depth about common scams in the next chapter but for now lets get a price on the brake job. This is different than our earlier examples with water pumps and alternators.
Brake jobs are sold in a package price form to compete with other shops. Brake jobs are easy to perform and have a large profit margin so shops work hard for the coveted brake job.
The price may vary from model to model but a fair price for a front brake package on a car or light truck is around $110.00 – $175.00.
When in doubt go for a second opinion. Many chain shops offer a free brake inspection if you buy a brake job or low cost brake inspections if they are not needed.
This will give you a chance to compare notes from the 2 shops and see if the stories match.

Related Reading:  Common auto repair scams and rip offs