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20 Signs Your Mechanic Doesn’t Know What He’s Talking About

Posted in Maintenance, Mechanics, Repair by Ryan | October 13th, 2008 | 20 Responses |

We’ve all been in this situation before… your car begins smoking or making noises you only thought were possible when small animals die, and now you’re stuck trying to find a decent shop. You’ve heard all the horror stories, you’ve seen the outrageous amounts dealerships charge, so you’re looking for a nice local shop where you won’t get taken for a ride. One problem…most of the local shops are run by gang members or men so old you’re pretty sure they have no idea how to operate Microsoft Paint, let alone try to delve into the computer issues on today’s vehicles. Here we have assembled a list of 20 easy-to-spot signs that you may be better off having your 3 year-old attempt a fix than have work done at such a shop.

1. Your friends have had bad experiences at the shop. Okay so this may seem like a no-brainer, but in all seriousness when you need to choose a shop for work on your car, ask your friends. Let their experiences help you in finding a good quality place and a good price.

2. The shop requires you to pay before the work is done. Most reputable shops will give you an estimate, perform the work, and then charge you after you’re sure the problem is fixed. This is the only reasonable business practice that makes sense, because having you pay before you can be sure the problem will actually be fixed just screams shadiness.

3. The mechanic is not certified by any national association. While certification certainly does not ensure good work and there are good mechanics who don’t bother with these things, as a general rule of thumb, shops which have mechanics certified by national organizations such as the ASE (Automotive Society of Engineers) generally provide a better level of service.

4. The parking lot is full of cars that don’t appear capable of movement. This may also seem like a dead giveaway, but many people in the search to save money will end up at a place like this. The general appearance of the shop, including the cars outside, can give you good insight into the quality of the service performed. Do you want your vehicle lined up among the sea of dead vehicles? I think not.

5. The mechanic attempts diagnosis based upon your broad description. Most of the time one symptom can have a wide variety of underlying causes. While listing a variety of possibilities is not a bad thing, a mechanic who seems to know exactly what is wrong based upon your simple description probably has no idea what is going on and is just guessing at this point. Without a thorough diagnosis, it can be very difficult to pinpoint exactly what is wrong.

6. The shop has lots of bad reviews online. In today’s internet age, it is very easy to research a place of business and find reviews by other customers. A few minutes spent online at a search engine could save you time, money, and hassle later on.

7. The mechanic does not appear to have specific knowledge of your make and model. Some repair shops specialize in certain brands, while others attempt to do everything. Either way, they hopefully see a large volume of customers, and because of this should have some knowledge of your car’s specifics without needing a manual or computer first. Simple things like a knowledge of engine size, which wheels drive the car, and approximate model year, among many others, can let you know that this mechanic has worked on cars like yours before and will most likely do a better job.

8. No estimate of time for repair. Shops which cannot provide an estimate of the time it will take to fix your car most likely have not worked on a car like yours before or simply are backed up and should be avoided.

9. Time for repair seems unnecessarily long. If the shop has quoted you a time for your repair which seems incredibly long, call around to other shops first and ask how long it would take them. If the repair estimate is unreasonable, finding another shop is a great idea, as the one you are at most likely has no clue what they are doing.

10. The shop is very new or has very little history in the area. While every shop needs customers to build up a history, newly opened shops may not be the best place to find good quality or the best deal. Shops that have been in the community a long time have to be doing a good job, otherwise they would have gone out of business a long time ago.

11. The mechanic tries to suggest a myriad of other services for you at the time of your repair. Preventative maintenance may be the best way to avoid long-term hassle, but many times these offers of additional service (for a fee) are unwarranted and just attempts to get more of your money. Read your owner’s manual and know the timetable for services so that you can avoid being suckered in by a shop that is only out for your pocketbook. Shops that try to get you to purchase all sorts of extra services are not looking out for your best interests, and this applies to the quality of their repairs as well.

12. The mechanic suggests fixes which don’t add up. Even though the average consumer does not have an extensive working knowledge of an entire automobile, some fixes just don’t make sense. Use your judgment and common sense to question the mechanic if something seems out of place. For example, if you were having air conditioning issues and the mechanic suggests an exhaust problem, you may want to pack up and leave. Once again, use the internet as a resource to research possible problems before going to the mechanic so that you can be at least educated enough to spot someone trying to pull one over on you.

13. The shop tells you you need to fix more things than you came in for, without a thorough explanation. While diagnosing one problem it is not uncommon to come across one or more secondary problems. For example, you need your brakes fixed but they suggest new tires, suspension fixes, or steering box problems. While it is very possible that while doing one job the shop may come across other things that need work, they should be able to explain this all to you in a manner you understand.

14. Lack of sufficient explanations. Following from #13, ANY instance at a shop where they suggest a repair but cannot thoroughly explain not only the reasoning but the procedure behind it should be a red flag. If a list of problems suddenly jumps up from their “master technician”, ask them which ones are the most important and which could hold off. In most instances, if your car has been running fine for quite a while, it is unlikely that there are multiple serious failures lurking underneath, and the shop should be able to explain if that is the case.

15. The mechanic gives you a line like “good thing you brought this in, the car probably would not have lasted another 50 miles.” Man, what are the chances that you happened to bring your car in at just the right time, to just the right shop! Lucky you! WRONG. Chances are, if you have been driving your car around for a little while with a warning light on or a noise, it was not very close to total failure. Shops which say things like this are just trying to make you feel lucky for their services and will undoubtedly overcharge you for their services.

16. The mechanic suggests one fix first, then when that doesn’t work, claims they “know” what has to be wrong this time. Sometimes shops have a few go-to fixes for things (alternator + battery for electrical problems, for example) and will jump to these first, then look for other problems later. If a shop charges you for a fix but it doesn’t actually fix the problem, they should be willing to refund at least some of your money, if not all, because after all, you have trusted them with fixing the problem, not playing trial-and error games with your money.

17. Insisting they are the best in town without awards or recognition from the community to back it up. Most any business will try to tell you that they are the best for the job, but look for proof. If a shop has been in the area for a while, look for local recognition (newspapers, chamber of commerce, etc.) to back it up. Without proof these claims might as well be thrown out as garbage.

18. The shop installs a new part, it fixes the problem but then fails soon after. There are cases of new pieces being defective from the factory, but it is also possible that the shop installed the part wrong and this caused it to fail. In general, if the shop is not willing to replace the part free of charge, they should be avoided in the future.

19. The mechanic won’t wait on you to call around to other shops or take the car other places to get estimates. Often times, if the repair is a major one you might want to call several places and get estimates to make sure you are getting a good deal. If the shop you are at tells you you can’t leave your car there for a few hours while you call around, they’re not worth your business.

20. The mechanic cannot understand your explanation of the problem and asks you multiple times to repeat or rephrase. Shops which have knowledgeable staff and provide good service should be able to understand the problem as told by a common person. You might not use the same technical terms, but if they cannot understand your explanation, there’s a good chance they won’t find the right problem. If you can’t explain it in words, ask them to come look at the car or take a short ride with you, if they want your business and are really interested in providing you with the best service, they will agree.

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20 Responses

  1. Matt says:

    I’ve a problem with some of your “misguided” information. Here’s a list, and reasons why:

    #2. The shop requires you to pay before the work is done. Generally a bad business practice, but if your business is in a low-income area or a rough neighborhood, this can be required. Simply put, low-life scum like to steal their cars back after the work is done. Sometimes, people will have you perform work, only to leave their car at your shop for months on end, taking up valuable parking area/storage space.

    #5. Attempting diagnostics based on a description. We call this a “guesstimate.” It’s preparing the customer for an idea of what their problem is going to be. It’s NOT A DIAGNOSIS. When you’ve been a professional for many years, you learn things. You know that it’s very common for a “thumping noise while turning” to occur on a 2003 Chevy Impala, the source being the slip-yoke. You learn that when the windows on a VW Passat become inop, it’s typically the Comfort Control Module being destroyed by moisture. The list goes on and on. I think you need to clarify your suggestion; brainstorming, guesstimating, and actually finding the problem are all related, but only the last one is what they pay for.

    #12. The mechanic suggests fixes which don’t add up. Yes, today I fixed a car that had no A/C at stop lights. It was a 98 Mazda 323 4-cyl. It needed an idle control motor. Why? Because the A/C compressor was making the engine idle too low, so the computer shut off the A/C compressor to prevent stalling. No codes or indication of failure, aside from the obvious fact that it was stuck (not capable of increasing/decreasing idle speed). You would also be intensely interested in the many ways a failed computer on a PCI/CAN bus can affect any other computer’s function. For instance, if the CMP (Cam Position Sensor) short-circuits on a 2004 Dodge pickup with a 4.7l engine, it will make the technician completely unable to retrieve data from ANY computer. You need to specify “The mechanic suggests fixes which don’t add up, and cannot explain why.”

    #15. “The mechanic gives you a line like “good thing you brought this in, the car probably would not have lasted another 50 miles.”" Generally, this is said by a smartass technician. But, beneath all jokes is a bit of truth. We’ve seen ball-joints literally fall apart when the vehicle has been lifted. we’ve seen lug nuts being left loose by a negligent technician, we’ve seen engines with NO oil in them being driven to us because they “lack power,” and we’ve seen tires with not only the steel belts worn, but the nylon, too. We’ve seen timing belts that are literally shreds of cord with bits of teeth keeping the valves from contacting the pistons. If the technician is bold enough to say something like that to you, he’d better be right in saying so, and a good technician usually is.

    #18. “The shop installs a new part, it fixes the problem but then fails soon after.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a customer “cheap-out,” after a thorough explanation that a “quick fix” WILL fail soon after, and then they get upset when it fails. If a technician gives you an option and says (bearing failure in a rear differential) “Yes, but to properly repair your differential, you need a complete differential ring and pinion set, costing $520, in addition to the bearings.” Then the customer goes “is there any way to temporarily fix it until I get the money?” and the tech says “I can make it work, for $120 labor and $90 in parts, but it WILL break again as soon as that bearing gets metal in it from your damaged gear set.” And the customer says “do it.” Then they come back, wondering why it failed and acts like they weren’t explicitly informed of the imminent failure! There’s a saying amongst technicians, that “no good deed goes unpunished.” It’s true.

    #20. “The mechanic cannot understand your explanation of the problem and asks you multiple times to repeat or rephrase.” One person’s grinding noise might be another person’s thumping noise. One person’s whirring might be another person’s squealing. These problems are exacerbated when the noise can’t be demonstrated by the customer. There’s an obvious difference between being a derelict moron incapable of comprehending speech, and a good technician trying to get a good definition of what he’s about to be paid to repair.

  2. Krazd says:

    Also, avoid dealership for any kind of maintenance if you can!

  3. Cody says:

    I’ve worked on cars as a hobby for a long time and one of the things I see most often are people making incorrect assumptions about what is wrong. If you take your car to a shop, don’t try to diagnose the problem yourself, let them do it. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say they think they need an alignment because their car shakes at freeways speeds or pulls to one side during braking. If the shop is trustworthy they’ll try to diagnose it themselves in spite of what you tell them to make sure the right thing is getting fixed, but often busy shops don’t have time.

    Conversely, if the shop gives you any attitude for anything (providing you’re being a pleasant customer) pull your car the hell out of there. You’re paying for a service and any attitude does not fit the bill.

  4. livesunkept says:

    For the most part I agree with this list but 16 made me cringe. I am a computer tech and My friend a mechanic and we often compare the fact that our diagnoses are sometimes wrong due to unreliable customers. For example a car came to him the other day in which it had came to a halt and would simply not run properly. The engine was very loud. Anyway all signs pointed to the client putting ethanol fuel which was higher than 20% in grade (E85.) He asked the client and she said she had never done such a thing 4 hours later the problem was still there after going with far more complex fixes. Finally he pulled the gas out for a test and ran the lines dry… When he took the gas sample in a plastic bottle and shook it … it was 85 % ethanol (it separates when adding water.) Often techs are lied to or get the wrong information and fixes which could of been simple take a long time … otherwise great list.

  5. M says:

    Wow. That might have been a good article were it not for the large, mostly irrelevent images you threw in between every goddamn item. Seriously, for some of them it looks like you pulled a word at random from one of the items on your list, and took the first google image result for that word. Look at numbers 7, 11, and 15 especially (Though they’re all pretty bad). In what fantasy world did you think those contributed in any way to the article, or had anything to do with car repairs?

  6. I’ve experienced #18 fortunately when I took it back to them they replaced the part for free and threw in some free tires.

  7. Bill says:

    I have to agree on the images – I would rather see an article with no images than completely irrelevant (and somewhat cheezy) images.

    Also – there are some great services to help determine the quality of a shop such as angieslist and BBB – these should have been included.

  8. Randy says:

    Your reference to ASE being the Automotive Society of engineers is totally wrong. NIASE (ASE for short) is an independent testing service and actually stands for National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. Makes me wonder if the author of this article knows anything about the innformation he is printing.

  9. John Jones says:

    Excellent article and very informative.

    Jiff
    http://www.privacy.de.tc

  10. [...] 20 Signs Your Mechanic Doesn’t Know What He’s Talking About [...]

  11. Mathew says:

    A good list overall, though let me just add my quick bit that mechanics know that being a complete shonk/hack/pain/ will cost them their business – they have acquired a nasty reputation overall that is largely undeserved in the 21st century.

    Here’s a good tip for everyone that works especially well with motorbikes: if there’s JUST ONE part of the vehicle thats giving you troubles, lets say, the alternator, just take that part out and take that to the mechanic. Of course, that doesn’t really work so much if its a V8 engine or steering column.

    Mabye understanding how to fix your mechanical problems is too much beyond you, which is fine. However, learning the basic cause/effect type principles of what makes your car run is a useful base of knowledge to have, and might make a big difference if you break down in a remote area but know enough so that you can hobble it to help.

    As an added bonus, your ‘canik won’t have to have another car cluttering up their premesis, gets the job done quicker cutting labour costs, and gives you a bit of their hard earned respect, leading to less attitude and shonkiness (shonkidity, shonkination, shonkophilia, these are all real words).

  12. Chris says:

    So we all agree that there are some sleazeball mechanics out there..but honestly, I can’t COUNT the number time a customer/ friend has come to me with a problem, and because of their inaccurate/ incomplete description, it took me a lot longer to fix whatever it wound up being.

    If you’re honestly a concerned consumer, you won’t use this guide. there are a lot of good, honest mechanics out there who have to deal with customers who 1) lack the necessary communication skills to explain the problem fully (like, it only happens during a cold start, or at idle), or 2) “cheap-out” on parts. there are a COUPLE good points you make…but, as customer, i know there are some horrible shops out there, and as a mechanic, i know there are some people out there who are just out to screw a mechanic over.

    if you’re in the field, TELL ME that last line isnt true.

  13. eric says:

    it appears he got ASE and SAE confused. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_of_Automotive_Engineers
    SAE’s website is http://www.sae.org/servlets/index.

    Seems like an honest mistake.

  14. Chris says:

    ASE certifies people to work on certain components of a car….they have tests for steering and suspension, general engine, electrical, AC/ heating and a few others. ASE certification isnt mandatory to work on these components, but they are pretty difficult to pass, and people study for months for these tests, which is are standardized (think AP/ SAT tests from high school).

    Check for ASE certification from your mechanic…the more ASE’s the better. Its not a guarantee that he’s going to be a good mechanic, or that he wont screw you over, but its a good indicator that he knows the theory behind your car.

    SAE, among other things, helps standardize parts of the industry for the benefit of the mechanic (all manufacturers have to use the same symbols on their schematics so anyone at any shop can read them, and so forth). This is why your oil containers are SAE rated…the SAE standardized exactly what constitutes a 5w30, versus a 0w10 oil, and so forth.

    hope ive been some sort of help.

  15. [...] RideLust have assembled a list of 20 easy-to-spot signs that you may be better off having your 3 year-old attempt a fix than have work done at such a shop. [...]

  16. Stanleye says:

    Pretty good article, but my question is (maybe this is another article ) is what happens when a mecahnic screws you and you find from another mechanic that you’ve been screwed.

  17. D says:

    Speaking as a nationally certified mechanic, I offer this advice:

    Mechanics:
    1. Hey guys (and ladies), you didn’t want to sit and do ‘boring’ stuff like a book keeper, so keep the customer’s ignorance about driveability, mechanical and electrical issues in perspective; you can’t stay awake long enough to read your entire tax return at one sitting, many people aren’t as passionate about cars as we are.
    2. Keep your hands clean when you greet your customer, this is the beginning of mutual respect.
    3. If you get a grease spot on the carpet, spend two minutes of your life cleaning it up properly, knowing that the grease spot left behind will never return with that customer.
    4. Be honest in your diagnosis. If you aren’t certain, find the right people to assist you in the diagnosis. The last all-knowing, omnipotent mechanic died in 1971. For the rest of us, it does wonders for your reputation when a customer can trust you to find the correct answer by asking some of the right people when we are in a pinch.
    5. Driveability issues – many manufacturers offer downloadable forms for the customer to fill out. They ask just about any imaginable question to assist you and your customer in a quick diagnosis.
    6. No, the customer isn’t always right when it comes to diagnosing the repair. However, be tactful in this.
    Customers:
    1. Get to know your mechanic.
    2. If you don’t trust your mechanic, find another one. Sometimes, it may be as simple as a personality conflict that sets it off. Love/hate relationships don’t work in this business.
    3. Be honest with your mechanic. It is shameful to know just how many times in the past twenty-five years of my career the number of occasions a customer did not tell me what they were doing originally when the issue started. For those that mislead me, they pay the ENTIRE bill.

    “Do you want me to do what you want, or do you want me to fix the problem?”

    4. Shop supplies and your old parts. Shop supplies are a necessarry evil; however many states and provinces have specific outlines as to what and how much can be charged for. Sometimes, it is a percentage, other times, you must pay for thing in their entirety (like a full can of brake cleaner). Your old parts: if you have doubts about your repair, ask to see the old parts. You bought new ones and the old ones are your property unless you inform the mechanic to throw them out or items have to be returned for core (rebuild at manufacturer).

  18. Dee Hall says:

    on 7/12/11 My car lost power and failed to start I had the car towed to a mechcanic. He said the timing belt broke. I gave him a $100.00 in advance for parts. i thought my car be finish with repair by the next day or two. He found out that my car was having other probelms and says the crank shaft need to be repaced, it seems heis unsure what the problem is? He has had my car for 3 weeks now? what should I do? Im mad as hell please help? I am ready to tow my car from there and find a better mechcanic help!