Are there specific times during the year when you’re more likely to get ripped-off? Yes, yes there is. While it is always important to keep an eye on car repair costs, it pays to be especially alert during the months of January, February and March.
The automotive repair industry can be quite turbulent, but it almost always experiences a slump from January to March – even April. There are a number of reasons for this, but the simple answer is that most folks service their vehicles in the spring and the fall – not during the icy cold months of a new year. For this reason, your mechanic, service advisor, and/or shop owner can get very aggressive in their repair suggestions.
There’s nothing wrong with suggesting repairs and vehicle maintenance – provided the work is needed. The trouble comes when the work is being suggested because your particular shop is slow.
Here’s how it plays out in real life at a car dealership, for example. You drop your vehicle off for an oil change. Your service advisor may make some service suggestions right away, or you may get a phone call that sounds something like this…
“Yeah, hi, Mr. Jones – this is So-and-So from So-and-So Chevrolet. I wanted to let you know that we have your car in the shop and the technician noticed that your front brakes are junk and that you need two new tires (they’re badly worn) and an alignment (which is way out) – your car’s not safe to drive. Do you want us to take care of this while it’s here?”
Now, remember that you drove your car in and it felt fine. Nevertheless, according to the experts – you’re in danger. Your vehicle may indeed need work of which you are not aware; however, this example highlights the all-too-common story that few know about and no one talks about.
Here’s what really happened with your car on that cold February afternoon. The flat rate technician (someone who only gets paid by billing labor hours) looked over your car extra carefully, looking for anything that will help bill hours. While it’s true that your brakes are worn – perhaps 75% – they are far from “junk.” They may even last until the spring. The tires, only “slightly” worn, may just be due to lack of rotation – not an alignment issue.
Should you agree to the above recommendations, the technician will add approximately 4.5 hours of labor to his pay check, the service representative gets his commission and you’re out a grand – conservatively.
What to do…
First, ask questions. Do not assume that because your service representative sounds professional and/or authoritative that he or she is telling you the “whole” truth. Ask for alternatives.
For example, ask if they can just rotate the tires for now and come back for the brakes in the spring. Ask them to prioritize the repairs. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion from another shop, or ask to speak with the service manager. Also, watch out for vague language like “junk” or “way out.” Get specifics.
Too often, car repair customers are bamboozled into doing work immediately when it could be spread out over months, or even years. Of course, there are many cases where the work wasn’t necessary at all – except to profit the repair facility during the slow season.