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Common auto repair scams and rip offs

This is one of those chapters that could be a book in itself. I will try to strike a balance between being brief yet thorough. First a few facts I dug up on the Internet about auto repair scams.

The Consumer Federation of America states, auto repair rip-offs are consistently one of the top five most frequently reported consumer complaints.

National figures indicate $20 billion is spent annually on unnecessary or faulty auto repairs. The California Bureau of Automotive Repair receives around 25,000 automobile repair complaints a year.

Since the only people who file complaints are those who know or suspect they have been ripped off, the actual number of auto repair fraud victims in California is probably much higher.

With that said, I have personally seen so many different ways to rip people off in the auto business that it is hard to pick out the most common scams because each shop has its favorite.

You can see that 1 shop will push a certain service on almost every vehicle that comes in for repairs.

So I will concentrate on the most common scams and rip offs that I have seen and heard about in my 23-year career in the automotive service retail business.

If you feel that a scam was pulled on you and you do not see it listed here please e-mail me your story and I will review it and check it out.

If it turns out to be a scam I can then post it as an update in my monthly newsletter. To get started on the most common scams we have to talk about a few different rip offs as related to brake jobs.

Brake job scams are so popular that whole franchise businesses have been built around them and specialize in just doing brake jobs. These companies have recognized the pure profit potential from performing brake service.

Brake scams are easily sold to the UN educated consumer do to the safety factors involved. We all no the importance of being able to stop the vehicle in emergency situation.

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Once again the shop uses this to their advantage and sells you unneeded services in the name of safety. The most common brake service scam is the complete brake system overhaul.

I will use a specific example to show you how this works. You go into a chain store to have your brakes checked. Maybe you heard some brake squeal or brake noise that concerned you.

So you bring your 1999 Chevy blazer that has 75,000 miles on it to a shop to have the brakes checked. Lets say it really needs front brakes and the pads are worn down to below 20% remaining.

The shop could do a standard brake job or a hang and turn as we call it. A hang and turn is replacing the brake pads and resurfacing the rotors. This service would retail for around $110.00 but the shop would prefer to make more. So they recommend a brake system overhaul.

The brake system overhaul will mean different things to different auto repair shops. In most cases they are talking about overhauling the brake calipers by replacing the seals in the calipers.

A caliper seal kit is very cheap in parts cost and very high in labor costs. The seal kit usually has about 3 or 4 rubber seals in it and cost the shop about $3.00

They then charge you $20.00 for the kit and another 2.0 hours per caliper to install the seals. But here is the scam part.

The caliper seals are internal and it is hard to verify that they were actually replaced. The outer seal known as the dust seal is usually the only seal that will get replaced during this unneeded service. The mechanic then throws away the remainder of the brand new seals. The shop usually includes a brake system flush in this service, which I will attack in a moment.

The first issue to address is do we really need a caliper overhaul. In most cases no.  Why is this true? The manufacturers make fantastic calipers from the factory.

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The reason being it is an extremely important safety related part. The manufacture must be sure their vehicle meets stopping distance requirements.

They must also be sure that the calipers are over engineered to last for the life of the vehicle. The manufacture cannot afford to go to court for lawsuits on brake system failures.

Now with this being said do calipers ever need to be overhauled? Yes on rare cases this is the case. But there are warning signs that the service is required.

When Good calipers go bad

The Number one sign that a caliper is failing is a strong brake pull. To explain, this is when the vehicle pulls right or left during braking only.

The harder you brake the harder it pulls to one side. This is because a caliper is binding on one side or the other. Equal braking force is not be applied.

Tell tale sign # 2 is if the red brake warning light is illuminated on the dash. This can indicate the brake fluid is low and may be caused by a brake fluid leak from a caliper.

In any case the way the caliper service should be addressed is to replace both front calipers at the same time. I do not trust the individual mechanic to overhaul my calipers.

I would rather replace both front calipers with either new or re manufactured calipers. This way you are assured you have reliable calipers installed.

Some re manufactured calipers come loaded with new brake pads and now you have new calipers and brake pads that the mechanic can just bolt on. This requires very little skill from the mechanic and makes for a very reliable repair. Most auto repair shops will do this if requested

There is much more to learn about the auto repair business in my new book A Mechanics Secrets Auto repair Rip-Offs Revealed.