5 Questions to Ask a Mechanic to Avoid Getting Ripped Off

An honest mechanic should have no problem giving you this information.

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With their industrial-grade equipment, aura of engine oil, and automotive jargon, repair shops can seem daunting to the uninitiated. By going in with a few questions to ask a mechanic, though, you could save yourself a big chunk of cash, not to mention a lot of stress.

1. What Parts Do You Intend to Replace?

When the repair shop provides you with an estimate for the work, one fo the most important question to ask a mechanic is for an itemized list of the parts they intend to replace, including the part number and price of each item. Armed with this information, you can do your own research online and confirm that the shop is charging a fair price. It’s customary for repair shops to mark up parts since this helps offset the time and effort it takes them to source those items, but this may help you decide between two mechanics if you compare quotes.

Some mechanics allow customers to provide their own parts, which might save you a bundle if you know how to score a bargain.

2. Do You Charge by the Hour or the Job?

Repair shops charge either hourly or set rates for their labor. If hourly, ask how long this job typically takes to give you some idea of the total. The mechanic may come up with a time estimate based on prior experience or provide the vehicle manufacturer’s estimate for the service. A trustworthy shop will notify you before they do work beyond the initial estimate, but you should make that expectation clear when approving the work order with the service advisor.

A by-the-job rate is harder to parse, since there’s less transparency. The mechanic may charge the same amount to perform that service on nearly every model, even if it’s a simple procedure on your car and a complex one on another. It should, however, give you more confidence that the job won’t cost more than the estimate.

3. Do You Use OEM or Aftermarket Parts?

Here’s some industry jargon you should know: OEM stands for original equipment manufacturer, and an OEM part is identical to what the factory installed on the car when it was new. You can rest assured that an OEM part has met the automaker’s standards and should therefore work in your vehicle without issue.

Aftermarket parts aren’t sourced from the original equipment manufacturer but typically perform the same job as an OEM part for less cost. They aren’t necessarily inferior. In fact, in some cases, an aftermarket firm may have come up with a solution to an especially problem-prone OEM part. With rare exceptions, though, aftermarket parts are significantly cheaper than factory parts, and what you pay for a repair should reflect that. You’ll also want to understand why the mechanic chose an aftermarket part over an OEM piece—do they truly believe it will last as long as the factory part, or were they simply looking to keep the cost down to win your business and maximize their profit?

4. Are You Using New or Remanufactured Parts?

Some components—such as alternators and steering racks—fail internally but may be rebuildable. A specialist can dismantle and remake them as good as new for less than the cost of an OEM replacement.

Trouble is, a remanufactured part may lack the long warranty provided with a new part. You may have to do some math to decide if the savings are worth the risk. A repair that involves high labor costs may justify spending extra on the part so you don’t have to pay for the work a second time. At the very least, you’ll want to consider how long you intend to keep the car.

5. What Kind of Warranties Can I Expect?

The parts installed on your vehicle may have some kind of warranty, and you should ask what it is. Expect it to cover the cost of the component if it turns out to be faulty but not the work to remove it and install a replacement.

The shop may warranty its work, too, should a problem arise with the repair itself, such as a loose bolt or a misaligned gasket. The terms will vary depending on the shop, but we have seen mechanics guarantee their work for up to three years or 36,000 miles.

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Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz has had cars in his blood ever since he gnawed the paint off of a diecast model as a toddler. After growing up in Dallas, Texas, he earned a journalism degree, worked in public relations for two manufacturers, and served as an editor for a luxury-lifestyle print publication and several well-known automotive websites. In his free time, Andrew loves exploring the Rocky Mountains' best back roads—when he’s not browsing ads for his next car purchase.