TAMPA BAY, Florida - Your auto mechanic will tell you it's time for an oil change, new tires, or sometimes even a car wash. But the experts you trust with your most expensive and important machine won't tell you everything.
To better educate you about an industry that's such a mystery to so many consumers, here are the five things (and a few others) your auto mechanic won't tell you:
1) Fluid flushes are one of the easiest ways to run up the bill.
"A lot of mechanics...work on commission," said Joe Milano, a mechanic at St. Petersburg's Old Northeast Garage with 32 years experience. "So they're going to sell you on whatever you'll buy...the machine does the work and he gets paid a commission for it."
Milano says many mechanics will recommend a flush of brake fluid or transmission fluid even if your car doesn't need it. He suggests sticking to the recommended maintenance in your car's manual and if you have questions about a mechanic's advice, get a second opinion.
"Just say no" to any service you've got questions about, says Duane Denniston from Preventative Maintenance Service Center, with 23 years experience. "You can go back and get it next week."
2) A blind second opinion may be in your best interest.
Even the most scrupulous mechanics would rather make a small profit on your business than no profit. And you make the estimate challenge job easier for him or her by showing your first quote.
"He's going to do his best job to beat that price (by) just enough to where it's worth it for you to bring your vehicle to him," Denniston said without a specific mechanic in mind.
"You (should) probably not tell them anything and see what (the mechanic) tells you," echoed Milano, suggesting you keep your first opinion secret.
However, if the second quote was for the same service as the first but at a higher price, feel free to give the mechanic a chance to beat the first price.
3) Discount oil changes or tire rotations almost always lead to additional services.
Both Milano and Denniston say cheap oil changes or free rotations are big garages' way of finding other things wrong with your car.
"It gives them a chance to take your tires off and look for something wrong with your brakes," said Milano. "They'll lose money on a promotion for an opportunity to checklist your car."
If you don't have a good relationship with a trusted mechanic, it may be hard to tell if that suggestion for new brake pads or new tires is truly necessary.
Just remember: a courtesy check from an experienced mechanic can be a life-saver if you've got a problem developing. But also, you're never committed to performing any service at any time - you can always drive away.
4) Lifetime warranties are nice insurance for you...and the garage.
Lifetime warranties give the consumer protection against poorly-performing parts, but they also give the garage insurance you'll come back to them for service.
"The parts are guaranteed for life, but not the labor," Denniston pointed out.
Milano added labor charges often dwarf parts charges and - much like a free rotation - your return visit gives the garage an opportunity to discover more problems to fix.
5) Some of the best shops don't advertise at all.
"Advertising is just a way to get people in the door," Denniston said.
Word-of-mouth is the best way to find a trusted mechanic. And there's a good chance one who has a healthy customer base without advertising keeps everyone happy.
More things your auto mechanic won't tell you:
- If you don't ask for synthetic motor oil (lasts a lot longer), you could get stock oil during an oil change.
- You should ask for the original part back so you know the mechanic actually replaced it - and there was actually something wrong with it.
- Air filters are the one thing you can always change yourself. You'll save $7-$10 per change and it's virtually fool-proof.
Discussion: Which mechanics Tampa Bay moms use.
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