What Can I Do To Protect Myself
From Getting Ripped Off?

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Every consumer can do a few things to better their odds of receiving good, honest service from a repair shop.

First, always write down your symptoms, not your diagnosis. If you tell them what to fix, you can't hold the shop responsible if the repair you requested didn't fix your problem. If they tell you what needs to be done to fix your problem, it's a lot easier to hold them responsible.

Take two copies of your list to the shop with you. Give one to the service writer and tape one to the rear view mirror for the tech who ends up working on your car. Put your daytime telephone number on both papers. Tell the tech to call you if he needs some more information or he's having trouble identifying your listed concerns.

Second, make sure to ask that they call you with an estimate and you understand what the shop's minimum charges are. Ask them, is this repair a guess or a fix?     (FAQ # 10)

Third, tell them you want your old parts back. In the event you end up with the same engine miss after a new distributor cap and rotor were installed, you can ask the shop to put your old parts back on (if you asked for them back) and credit your bill. It would also allow you the opportunity to see the old parts and educate yourself on what was wrong.

Besides, having your old belts or old hoses in the trunk under or next to your spare tire can be a lifesaver if you get caught in a remote area with a broken belt or hose.

Last, pay with a credit card. Later, if you feel as though you were cheated, you can refuse to pay the bill and the credit card company may look into your complaint. I say "may" because I'm not sure all credit card companies would, but I have never seen one who wouldn't.

The most important thing not to forget is that a shop may look perfectly acceptable yet have a terrible business record. I know of two repair shops who do a booming business that fit in this category. One has been suspended from the BBB for unethical business practices and the other never answers any customer complaints. What happens if your car has not been repaired properly by the second guy? What is he saying by refusing to answer his customer complaints?

But no matter what, please remember, you'll most likely get . . . what you give. So in the event of a dispute, be polite but firm. Yelling, cursing, and name calling will almost always build a brick wall. Almost every complaint I've arbitrated has started with a lack of communication between the customer and the service writer. Generally, there's lots of blame to be spread around. Do your part by giving the symptoms, make sure the shop knows what you want to accomplish, tell them what you expect of them and if there is a problem, give them an opportunity to make it right.

The absence of proper communication is at the root of 95% of all disputes relating to car repair.

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