I love that word:  bamboozled. It fits so well into so many applications. Card games, touch football, and auto repair.

Yes, you heard me right.

There are thousands of qualified mom and pop shops out there. They are active in our communities. Their kids and you kids go to the same school. They’re one of the first to get to work and the last to leave. They care about the quality of service and make sure to fix the vehicle right – the first time! It’s the love and life of an independent shop owner and technician.

But, that’s not who we are talking about. This month’s spot light is on that bad apple in the bunch. That unscrupulous mechanic  with the “free” services to get you into the door by promising lower-than-normal pricing, to make you believe that you are getting a good deal. You know who they are: That shop that offers the $19.95 oil change coupon. The auto center that promises “buy-one, get one free.”

The automotive bamboozle.

Let’s visit the “free” safety inspection with oil change. I had a customer who was visiting relatives out of state. They had to visit the local garage to get a tire puncture patched. While the couple was sitting in the lobby, a service writer approached them and advised that their window sticker indicated that the oil change was overdue. And, the repair center provided “free” safety inspection with every oil change. Not wanting to jeopardize their engine, they agreed. The tech performed the oil exchange and performed the “free” safety inspection. Of course, the service writer reappeared to tell the couple of concerns that the mechanic “found.” One of those was the poor condition of the front pads. That’s when the customer put the brakes on. He recently had that material replaced, just before his vacation north. He made sure to let the service write know this fact, too. The customer noted on his bill that there was no comment regarding the brake condition.  Enough said.

That’s why it is so important to keep records of maintenance, repairs. And, ask questions. A lot of questions! I always stress for the consumer to remember the word: why.  As in, “Why does my car need brakes? Show me why the car needs brakes.” And, the other popular word that should be in every car consumer’s vocabulary: how. “How will this repair affect my vehicle’s performance? How will it affect my wallet?” These two simple words will keep you out of trouble and keep money in your wallet.

Speaking about oil changes, what about those oil change coupons that the mail has delivered to our post box lately? I tell people to take advantage of these coupons, but beware!

They promise an oil, lube and filter, tire rotation — plus fluid top off — all for an auspicious price of $24.95. What a deal. But, before you take advantage of such a coupon, do you homework. Are their disposal and shop fees? Does it include tax? Are their extra fees if your vehicle requires extra oil? You need to know before signing on that dotted service order. That’s right. You need to know the out-the-door price for the entire job.

Another ploy to watch out for: the services needed strategy. You know the drill: “Mrs. Smith, you vehicle needs a radiator flush.” “Mr. Jones, you vehicle needs a transmission service.” That’s right, kids. This is how these shops make up for the discounted price of $24.95. Logically think about this price. How can the company keep the lights on, the water running, the employees paid for $24.95? The math doesn’t work, does it? They have to sell more than the oil change to make that service bay profitable. And you’re the person to do it. Right? Not anymore. You know better on how to keep your vehicle costs down. And, if you are second guessing your decision, get a second opinion at a reliable, ASE Blue Seal shop or dealership.

I had a customer test drive one of these specials. Her four cylinder vehicle stayed within the offer boundaries regarding oil amounts and fluid top-offs. But, before the car came off the lift  — you know where this is going —  the service writer presented the customer with a $1,200 grocery list. But, she knew better and brought the recommended repair list to me. The vehicle didn’t need anything except a wiper blade exchange – the other shop missed that on their check list!

Talking about keeping costs down, there is nothing more tempting that the “buy one, get one” sales ploy. As in: “Buy one tire, get the second one free!” Again, let’s think about this logically. How can a tire manufacturer sell one tire and give another one away? It can’t. Therefore, there are “tire install packages” and required alignment checks or services to make up the bait and switch. Another popular fee is the used tire disposal. Some auto centers charge up to $5 per tire to get rid of your old sneakers. Again, before approving any repairs, ask for the “out the door” price tag.

I had a radio listener email me his “buy one, get one” tire receipt. The only way he could take advantage of the special offer was to purchase a “tire install” package and “lifetime” alignment package. If he did the math before making this purchase, he would have realized that quite a few other shops would have beat the auto center’s “special.” Comparison shop – apples to apples – and it will save your auto repair budget.

Now, you’re on the road to becoming a savvy, car consumer. And, one less consumer that an unscrupulous shop can bamboozle.

About The Author

Pam Oakes is a shop owner, ASE-certified technician, automotive author, automotive speaker, and syndicated radio host of “Car Care for the Clueless” on CBS Radio, CoachMeRadio, and AOL Radio -- LIVE@5 p.m. every Friday. And, yes, she still “turns wrenches.”

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