You’ve heard a funny noise in your car, so you go to the repair shop.
But you’ve got a nagging feeling the estimate you’ve gotten is higher than it should be.
This week’s In Your Corner attempts to answer the question: “I think my current auto repair shop is bothering me. How can I find one I can trust?”
George Iny, director of consumer advocacy group Automobile Protection Association, said there are a few basic steps you can take to reduce the chance you’re getting ripped off.
The first one is a bit counterintuitive: Ignore recommendations from your friends and family — unless they happen to be a car expert.
“A non-expert who just uses a shop for a routine service might have a good name for you,” said Iny, “but they’re just as likely to be unreliable.”
If you don’t have a car expert in your family or circle of friends, you can find what Iny calls a near-expert. Someone in a local car owners’ association, for example.
By the numbers
Value of the auto repair industry in Canada in 2022.
Average per visit spend at dealerships in 2022.
Average per visit spend at aftermarket repair shops in 2022.
“There are clubs, people who are car fans,” said Iny. “Sometimes they’re unreliable, but if they have an unusual make vehicle, they may have already had to have that experience of finding the right two or three shops in town.”
Taxi or car service drivers can sometimes be helpful but they’re far from a guarantee.
“They often want the cheapest repair. You’d think someone in their cab all day long might be good, but they might have different objectives,” Iny said.
Some car owners are unknowingly giving repair shops the verbal equivalent of a blank check, he added.
“You wouldn’t go to a restaurant and tell them ‘give me anything on your menu,’ but people will go for a car repair and say ‘do a tune-up,’ which is basically saying ‘give me anything on your menu ,’ it’s whatever they want to sell you.
“It might be helpful to make your way through the owners manual and see what’s required at a particular time and mileage.”
Getting a written estimate is also a big help, said Iny.
One surprising suggestion that’s a surefire money saver, according to data from several studies, says Iny? Going into the repair shop later in the day, rather than the first thing in the morning.
“The risk of oversold parts goes down by about 9 per cent an hour,” said Iny. The reasons? People working the front desk at a repair shop typically have a sales quota to hit for the day, and there’s pressure to lock it in earlier in the day.
While it’s also a good idea to know your legal rights under Ontario’s Consumer Protection Act, Iny said that’s no guarantee you won’t get overcharged.
“There’s no real good system of correction or discipline for overtreatment,” said Iny. “The laws are good, but nobody enforces it.”
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