Auto repair scams

A trustworthy auto repair shop is vital to the safety of every motorist. Your shop can keep your vehicle running smoothly, fix dangerous crash damage, save you money, and protect you and your passengers from life-threatening harm while on the road.

Most body shops are honest and professional, but some will try to defraud you and your insurance company.

The scams

The price you pay

Fight back

The scams

Padding charges. Shops may offer reasonable verbal repair estimates, but present final bills that are far beyond the estimates. Or a mechanic may leave the estimated amount blank when you sign a repair authorization, then secretly fill in an inflated amount.

Needless repairs. A shop may pad bills by “repairing” mechanical problems and damage that don’t exist. True story: A motorist on vacation noticed his car was leaking oil. He stopped at a local car dealership whose mechanic said he needed a new vacuum pump for $1,820. Stunned, the driver bought a seal for just $13 from an auto-parts store.

Counterfeit or used parts. Some dishonest shops install parts that are counterfeit, substandard or used, but charge you for expensive new parts. These parts can give out when you’re on the road, putting you and your family at risk. Used parts are viable for some repairs, but crooked body shops will bill you for new parts but install used ones.

Shoddy work or none at all. A shop may cut corners by doing quick and shoddy work. True story: One mechanic held car parts together with nothing more than bailing wire. Sometimes the mechanic also does no work at all, but bills you and your insurer for a full repair job. You may have to return several times—wasting your valuable time and causing needless headaches.

Specials and maintenance hook schemes. Dishonest repair shops advertise super-low prices on specific repairs or check-ups, then use these specials to bilk their customers. A simple oil-change-and-lube job can turn into expensive and unneeded repairs.

The price you pay

Fraudulent repairs cost you in many ways:

Lives & safety a risk. Your life may be in danger every time you step into a poorly repaired vehicle. True story: A mechanic fixed a damaged steering assembly with only a coat hanger. When the driver went back behind the wheel, the hanger broke. The car veered off the road and crashed into a house.

Stress & wasted time. Nothing is more frustrating than getting repairs repaired. Avoid the headaches and wasted time. Get it done right, and safely, the first time.

Higher insurance premiums. Inflated charges and unnecessary repairs can raise your auto premiums—and premiums of every honest driver because the costs of fraud are passed to all policyholders.

Fight back

Develop a longterm relationship with a repair shop you can trust. You’ll find fair prices and fewer headaches. But more important, you’re protecting yourself and your family by ensuring your vehicle is safe to drive.

Seek recommendations. Your insurer should have a list of preferred body shops in your area. Also ask friends and relatives. When checking out a shop, ask management for references and see if the local Better Business Bureau has complaints on file.

Get a written estimate. This should include parts and labor—and get the estimate before you authorize repairs. Also make sure the shop agrees, in writing, to contact you for approval before performing work that exceeds a certain dollar amount.

Watch out for waiving the deductible. Be leery if the shop offers to help you recover or “waive” your deductible. For example, a mechanic might suggest installing a used part, billing your insurance company for a new one, and passing on the illegal cost savings to you. This is insurance fraud. It’s a crime that can put you in jail and ruin your family.

Ask to see repairs. You want to see exactly what was done. Have the shop point out what parts were replaced or repaired. You should also see the old parts that were replaced.

Final bill higher than the estimate? Ask the shop to explain the extra charges. And make sure the invoice itemizes all work done, including parts, repairs and guarantees. If a problem occurs later, you can prove that service guarantees covered the repairs.

Does the shop seem professional? A good repair shop should have a neat and well-organized service floor, and modern equipment. The staff should be courteous, and willing to answer all of your questions. Also look for updated certifications such as the Automotive Service Excellence Seal, the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, and the Automobile Association of America certification.

Still not happy? Explain your problem and have the shop correct it. If you still aren’t satisfied, complain to your local Better Business Bureau. If you suspect insurance fraud, contact the insurance company covering the repairs, and your state insurance fraud bureau.