How To Know If a Mechanic Is Ripping You Off

Do you ever feel like your mechanic is ripping you off? 

There are signs you can easily spot to figure out if your mechanic is trying to pull a fast one over you.

Note: It’s one thing to get your car repaired when it’s necessary, but it’s another thing to be up-sold on repairs you don’t actually need.

And that’s what we’re trying to do here: avoid unnecessary repairs, and learn about the indicators to determine whether your mechanic is trying to rip you off or not.

Before continuing on, if you’ve already been scammed by a mechanic, check out this post to learn how to file a report against auto repair fraud.

Also check out this video to learn how you can test your mechanic. Any beginner can do this to find out if their mechanic is legit or not.

We’ll break this down into two categories:

There are two types of indicators you need to look out for when you think a mechanic is trying to scam you.

We’ll call this the front-end signals and the back-end signals that you need to look out for.

The front-end signals are easier to spot to help you avoid being conned by the mechanic. If you notice any of the red flags mentioned here, you simply just walk away. No damage done.

However, the other half of the battle occurs when you have to deal with a mechanic who might scam you on the back-end. Those are more difficult to assess and spot tale tell signs of. That’s because you usually have to wait until your car is on the hoist or completely repaired to know what the results will be. 

But you’ll learn here how to protect yourself against any front-end or back-end tricks that mechanics may use against you.

So make sure to grab a cup of coffee or something refreshing to drink. This post will be a comprehensive list of determining whether or not your mechanic is ripping you off.

1.

Front-End Signals to Look Out For When a Mechanic Is Trying to Scam You:

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1a) The shop not willing to give you a quote in writing.

Before starting any work, it’s standard for the shop to give you a quote before fixing your vehicle.

Now, all shops will give you a quote orally, but are they willing to give you a quote in writing?

If your mechanic hesitates or refuses to give you a quote in writing, this is a huge red flag.

Solution:

If the shop refuses to give you a “quote in writing”, refuse to give them your keys;  walk away.

No quote in writing; no way I’m complying.

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1b) Spraying your parts with oil or puncturing new holes, then pretending you need new parts.

There are crooked shops out there that will use deceptive tactics in order for you to agree to expensive repairs. One tactic is to puncture holes inside rubber boots of your car components like a power steering rack, and inject dirty oil in it to appear as if your car is leaking power steering fluid.

Or they’ll spray oil onto your strut/shock absorber to make it appear as if your strut is leaking and needs a new replacement.

Once this is done, the mechanic would call you and claim that he found oil to be leaking in those places. Then he would recommend that you fix these problems asap.

Without you realizing the con, you can fall into the trap and agree to these bogus types of repairs. That can be an easy ~$100 up to ~$1,000s out of your pocket. And the worst part is, you’d probably never find out about it. There are some sneaky bastards.

Solution:

If you think you might be paying too much, hold off on any extra repairs you didn’t initially come in for. Tell the mechanic you want to think about it.

Then go ahead with the repair work order you came in for at the beginning.

After the service is done, use your car for the next month or two regularly and see if you continue to see leaks where the mechanic pointed out to. If not, you know the mechanic was trying to dupe you.

Or if you’re getting really bad vibes, you can refuse service all together and walk out the door.

You could shop around to get a second opinion from another shop.

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1c) The mechanic has problems telling you what type of parts he will use.

The mechanic doesn’t have to tell you what price he got his parts for, but he is obligated to tell you whether or not he will use OEM or aftermarket parts to repair your vehicle.

This is important because OEM parts are usually double the cost of regular aftermarket parts.

Then there are junkyard parts not mentioned on this list. They’re cheaper than OEM and aftermarket parts, but they’re a hit and miss when it comes to quality. Sometimes you can get good parts cheap; sometimes you just get cheap parts.

The problem here is when the mechanic installs junkyard parts, but charges you OEM / regular aftermarket prices without telling you.

Solution:

Get the mechanic to put everything down in writing; whether or not he will use OEM, aftermarket, or junkyard parts. Get all that information down on the quote in writing.

Or request the mechanic to take picture or video of all new parts he will use to replace old parts. Then tell him to send you those pictures before agreeing to any repair work. 

Communicate by text SMS so you can protect your behind if the mechanic claims he never agreed to your request.

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1d) The mechanic wont let you see the condition of your car when he recommends a repair

If the mechanic calls to tell that you need other repairs done to your vehicle, it’s only natural for you to want to know what the problem is.

You can confirm if you need these ‘other’ repairs by asking the mechanic to take photos or videos to show you which parts need to be replaced for your vehicle.

Or if you’re already in the shop, you can ask to go inside the garage and see for yourself why you need an additional repair.

If the mechanic refuses to take pictures or video, or even to show you in the garage why you need ‘other’ repairs, that is another red flag. 

I wouldn’t even care if it was the dealership enforcing their safety policy not to let you in. They can still take photos or record video at the least and show that to you. There’s always a work around these kinds of policies.

Solution:

Walk away and find a mechanic who is willing to work with you.

If they can’t take five minutes out of their schedule to just snap some photos for you or to let you into the garage, chances are they don’t really care about your business.

Nor will they care about doing a good job of repairing your vehicle.

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1e) Your Mechanic is Upselling you on basic services

You go for a routine oil change. But one day, the shop you go to is recommending you get a bunch of extra services done.

They might suddenly recommend an engine oil flush or some other type of flush.

The mechanic will claim that the extra services will help extend the life of your vehicle and improve things like drivetrain and fuel economy.

Most of the time these services only make the car worse, and at the same time they charge you more to perform the service.

So you go in for a basic oil change but now you drive out with an engine oil change, an engine oil flush, and additives treatment. That goes from $60 to now $220.

Solution:

Tell the mechanic to show you where in your maintenance schedule it says you need all these recommended services. If it doesn’t show up in your service manual, refuse to have the extra services done.

If the mechanic keeps insisting and pressures you, ask the mechanic if he knows more about the vehicle than the engineers who originally manufactured it. 

You push for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer until they say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Sit back and enjoy an interesting conversation unfold in your favor.

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1F) Not addressing obvious issues but focusing on expensive repairs

If you come in with an issue for one thing but the mechanic quotes you for something completely different, that is a red flag right there.

For example, I’ll share what happened to me.

I had an engine oil leak and I went to the dealership. I asked for a diagnosis to determine where the engine oil leak was coming from.

Later that day they called and said that ‘I needed a new power steering rack because there was leakage coming out from the tie rod boot.’

Funny, I didn’t have any issues turning my steering wheel on the way to the dealer. My power steering was fine. And more curious is that they mentioned nothing about the engine oil leak I came in for.

They practically did a half-ass job addressing my concerns and couldn’t be bothered to find the cause of the engine oil leak. And then they have the nerve to quote me $2,300 to replace the power steering rack. 

They don’t call the dealership the ‘stealership’ for no reason.

Solution:

I said, ‘no’ and walked away. I told them ‘I wanted to think about it.

Which was the right move. I drove the car regularly for a month and saw that the power steering had stopped leaking from the tie rod boot. My power steering reservoir also never dropped in fluid level during that whole time.

It is clear that the dealer injected dirty oil into the tie rod boot to try and trick me out of $2,300. Sneaky pieces of poop.

Now you know the front-end signals to spot when shady mechanics try and scam you.

The common theme above was to be willing to walk away when you get the feeling you’re being scammed. This takes a bit of intuition and critical thinking to make the right call, but it is the easiest solution when dealing with front-end scams the mechanic is trying to trap you in.

Now to move unto the next category; the back-end scam. 

This is where walking away may not be the best solution for the new types of situations you’ll be facing.

Because, these are things you can’t just walk away from. Such as if the mechanic damages your vehicle, or gives you a higher bill at the last moment with your vehicle in his garage.

2.

Back-End Signals to Look Out For When a Mechanic Is Trying to Scam You:

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2A) Overcharging you for your auto repair

If you go to pick up your car and find out you’re supposed to pay 10% more than what was initially agreed upon, this is a problem.

Shop fees and sales tax are expected to increase final price. Or maybe the mechanic had to do a little bit extra work to repair your vehicle because something else in your car was in the way of the repair; that’s okay. It happens.

But if you’re charged more than 10% than what you were quoted for, it could mean the mechanic did unauthorized work or just plain out overcharged you.

Solution:

No matter what repair the mechanic did to overcharge you, as long as you have the quote in writing you can reclaim your money back. 

That means you can approach your local automotive regulators or small claims courts and prove that the mechanic has overcharged you.

Although you may not get your money back right away, that quote you kept in writing will ensure you get your money back eventually. Keeping your quote in writing is very important.

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2B) Over tightening Fasteners 

The mechanic may overtighten bolts holding your components together. This is so that the next time you get service involving that same bolt coming off, it will cause the bolt to become stripped very easily.

Which means you’ll have to pay more in labor costs to the shop to repair or replace the broken bolt they caused to happen. That’s an easy $200 – $300 the shop can pocket in less than an hour from you. A sneaky scam that’s hard to spot.

Solution:

Your only best solution is to find a mechanic you can trust. This will ensure you don’t deal with this type of scam.

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2C) Damaging your car

Some mechanics will either purposefully or accidentally damage your car. It could be a chunk of paint peeled from your vehicle. Or they could break other parts of your vehicle during repair and never make mention of it to you.

Mechanics are required by law to fix anything they damage while working on your vehicle. However, in reality there are some snake oiled covered rats that that will damage your vehicle and deny all responsibility.

They will lie out their teeth to the moon and back claiming to you that they did not cause any damage to your vehicle.

Solution:

Take pictures or video footage of your car before going to the shop. Record yourself test driving the vehicle as well. You can compare pictures / videos before-and-after, to see if the mechanic did his job properly.

This will also increase your chances of proving that your car was fine the day before going into the shop if something else breaks. You’ll have video evidence to recover money for damages caused by the mechanic’s inaptitude.

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2D) Not willing to let you see your old part

Most shops will give you your old part back if you request for it. If they refuse to give your old part back, that is a very bad sign.

Also note that even if the mechanic does give you back the old part, it could be any old part.

Sometimes you can be duped into thinking you got the old part from your car when in fact the mechanic might have just gave you a similar looking part, and never actually replaced your original old part.

Solution:

Again, finding a mechanic you can trust is the best solution for this situation.

Or you can take pictures of your vehicle before going to the shop. Snap photos of the old part if you know what you’re looking for.  Compare the before-and-after photos.

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2E) Mechanic Replaces cheap parts but charges you a premium

This is a variation of the bad sign we just mentioned above. This scam is when the shop charges you full price for low quality parts. 

The mechanic might claim that he used OEM parts to fix your vehicle, but in fact slipped in junkyard parts.

Now you’ve got junkyard part(s) installed that wont last as long as OEM parts, and you’ve paid full price for it. It might not be long before you have to go back to the shop for the same repair to be done again soon.

Solution:

Once again, finding a mechanic you can trust is the best solution for this situation.

Or you can take pictures / videos of your vehicle before going to the shop. Record photos / videos of the old part if you know what you’re looking for. Compare the before-and-after photos. 

The #1 Best Tool to Prevent You From Being Scammed By a Mechanic.

Before agreeing to any work being done always get a quote in writing, even if your repair starts out less than $100. This is your #1 Tool.

80% of the scams can be avoided if you do 20% of the work upfront and keep all documents with you.

Check out this video to learn more about using a quote in writing.

More Importantly Than Having A Quote Is Having A Good Mechanic.

A lot of times you can do all the right things to avoid being scammed, but there are times when a shady mechanic might sneak in a scam or two. He could slip in scams among the other good services he’s provided for you; and you probably wouldn’t even notice.

Which is why it’s important most of all to find a mechanic you can trust. Check out this post to learn how to do that.

But until you find that golden mechanic, keep requesting quotes from the shops you visit and keep your guard up. Use the techniques you’ve learned here to spot the signs that a mechanic is trying to rip you off.

Rinse and repeat until you find a solid mechanic.

Last Update: September 28, 2023