Is my mechanic ripping me off? 4 tricks used by dodgy mechanics

Mechanics at repair shop working on a car engine

Mechanics at repair shop working on a car engine

Mechanics have gotten a rather bad rap over the years. There is no lack of stories; some mechanics intentionally seek to rip off customers by up selling and repairing components that don’t actually need fixing. Others simply don’t know what they’re doing, misdiagnosing problems and causing you big, costly, drawn out drama.

Unfortunately, many drivers have labelled the entire industry as “untrustworthy” and I’m constantly asked by people “is my mechanic ripping me off?”. In answer to that question, below are the top tips on how to spot the dodgy mechanics out there, and at the end… a list of how to avoid them!

If a mechanic wants to rip you off, they usually go for one of the following four options…

  1. CHARGE FOR PARTS NOT REPLACED OR LABOUR NOT PERFORMED

It’s not uncommon for us to attend to a basic service for a new customer where a major service was said to have been performed by their previous mechanic and yet the customer complains of a number of problems that simply shouldn’t be there if the car was serviced well. Usually it’s because the parts that were charged were not actually replaced. Dodgy, right?!

  1. BRING FORWARD SCHEDULED PARTS REPLACEMENTS

Loads of parts in your car will eventually need to be replaced. The trigger is either the number of kilometres your car has driven or time. A mechanic who wants to bump up your bill will often bring forward these major parts replacements unnecessarily.

For example, if a part should be replaced at 100,000km, some mechanics will start recommending replacements at 70,000km. This is also commonplace at roadside assistance operations where staff are incentivised to sell parts, like batteries. These guys will often replace any batteries that are over two years old (even though the normal life cycle is three to four years) regardless of whether the problem was actually the battery or it just needed  recharge.

Ultimately, these mechanics are not thinking about you as a customer for the long term, they’re just trying to make the most out of every service. For a guide on what to service and when check out our article “How often should you service your car?”.

  1. CREATE PHANTOM REPAIRS

If you’re wondering – “is my mechanic ripping me off?” – here’s where things get really dodgy. There are some mechanics who will create repairs out of thin air in order to upsell you. Worse still, because there wasn’t a problem in the first place, they don’t actually do any work for the extra charge.

For example, the mechanic will spray WD40 on your suspension struts. They’ll then bring you in to show you that you have an oil leak and the suspension struts need replacing. You authorise the work, they then go ahead and clean up the WD40 and paint the suspension struts black. When you return they show you your new shiny suspension struts with no oil leak. That will be $1,200, thank you!

  1. LURE YOU IN THE DOOR WITH A CHEAP SERVICE

With thousands of mechanics, workshops and dealerships, the automotive repair industry is super competitive. One of the most common tricks to get customers in the door is to advertise a cheap service. They lure in first-time customers with a bargain headline rate for a service, as low as $99. While this may sound appealing, the problem is that the mechanic just isn’t making any money. With the cost of parts, plus their business overheads, they’re not paying themselves. To counter this they’ll upsell you a bunch of things you don’t need. The strategy is to get you in the door and then bump up the bill.

If you see a cheap service, be prepared to drive out with a much larger bill. A good benchmark is a minimum of $180 for a basic service for a standard, non-European car.

What can you do about it?

The thought of questioning your mechanic can be a little scary— the prospect of speaking to a mechanic in greasy overalls using complex car language is daunting enough, let alone questioning what they’re telling you. Sometimes it’s easier to stick your head in the sand and hope the problem goes away.

But if you follow a few simple rules you can quickly gure out whether or not you’re getting ripped off…

  1. Do your homework: Check out our list on how to find a good mechanic
  2. Stick to your maintenance schedule
  3. Avoid cheap services, $120 is cheap, $180 is average
  4. Get everything in writing
  5. Keep Records, your logbook, a maintenance journal and keep track in your calendar of what’s due and when
  6. Know your car
  7. Check your brake lights
  8. Ask questions and ask for your old parts back
  9. Get a second opinion

Although it pains me to say it, some mechanics are simply not very good, or just plain dodgy. The good thing is that once you know the tricks and mistakes to look out for, it is easier to avoid getting ripped off.

To find a trustworthy, honest and experienced mechanic in your area head to our service areas page.

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Who is Elvio?

Elvio is a seasoned Motor Mechanic with 25 years experience in the automotive industry. Well-known for asking the most obvious questions and his bizarre obsession with Datsuns (having owned more than 10), he seems to think the 70s was the golden era of motoring. Current rumours suggest he owns more than 100 caps, prefers Belgium bier to Australian and has been confused with the real Speedy Gonzalez. Well-known at the racetrack for getting maximum performance on a budget and his obsessive attention to detail, he is now taking his passion for all things with an engine to help his customers in his blog. Ask Elvio.