Consumer Reports: 'Beware of unscrupulous mechanics'

Spot scams used to get you to pay for unnecessary repairs

It’s a common experience: You take your car in for routine maintenance or a recall service, and the mechanic tells you there are much bigger problems that need attention. Be skeptical.

Mark Rechtin, Consumer Reports’ auto editor, says: “Part of the reason mechanics may pressure or mislead you is because cars are more reliable these days, and fewer repairs mean lower profits for those garages. Some mechanics may even lie about what they find under the hood when you bring your vehicle into the shop.”

Some common scams:

  • Putting drops of coolant on your engine to mimic a leaking radiator.
  • Recommending a full brake replacement with rotors and calipers, when simply replacing the brake pads and resurfacing the rotors will do.
  • Calling for a transmission flush, which under certain circumstances can actually cause damage.

Also check your owner’s manual for your car’s maintenance schedule, especially if you suspect that a mechanic is trying to trick you by suggesting that you replace an expensive piece, like a timing belt, before it’s really necessary.

For any repair, be sure to get an estimate in writing. If you still question the repair, seek out a second opinion from a trusted mechanic. And be on guard if you get a recall notice. Some unscrupulous dealers may refuse to do the fix free unless you agree to other expensive repairs or maintenance.

Refusing to provide service after a recall until you have other unrelated repairs done is unethical and against Department of Transportation regulations. Dealers who do so should be reported right away. Go to safercar.gov and click on “File a Complaint.” (Direct link to file a complaint)