How To Spot A Shady Auto Mechanic

Learn the signs of a dishonest car shop and avoid getting scammed when you go in for repairs

Taking a car to a new repair shop is an exercise in trust. But, unfortunately, not all car mechanics are as honest as they should be. We all know the stereotype: grease-soaked coveralls, tobacco-filled mouth, oily cap (worn backwards), filthy hands. Finding a good car mechanic can be a grueling task.

To help you weed out the good from the bad, we’ve compiled a list of things to look out for when you take your car in for repairs. If your mechanic starts raising any of these red flags, it’s probably time for a second opinion.

  1. Watch for the Scare Factor.  When a mechanic says things like “I wouldn’t drive this car another mile” or employs other scare tactics to discourage you from leaving the lot, it’s probably a good idea to do just that. After all, the car got you there; it’ll likely make it down the street to another garage.
  2. Look for Certifications. ASE certification, or seals of certification from ASA, AAA and other auto industry groups should be prominently displayed in a reputable shop. These seals inspire a sense of trust and tell you that the shop owner takes his reputation seriously. If you don’t see these kinds of certifications on display, ask why.
  3. Question, Question, Question!  Ask how long they’ve been in business. Ask for alternate recommendations. Ask about the equipment. Any mechanic who says “I don’t need fancy equipment” should be avoided. Go ahead: Ask, ask, and ask. A reputable mechanic will have the answers.
  4. Get It In Writing. Never sign a blank work authorization form. Always get a written estimate before you put your mechanic to work. And don’t forget to ask about warranties!  Any decent mechanic should guarantee his work.
  5. Don’t Do Double Labor. If a mechanic is going to charge two labor costs, ask how long the total job will take. Some will charge you double labor even though they can essentially perform both tasks at the same time.
  6. Ask for Your Old Parts Back. This seems frivolous, but getting back your old parts will ensure that they were indeed replaced—and in need of replacement in the first place.
  7. Don’t Take No for an Answer. No, your check engine light shouldn’t be on all the time. And it isn’t “probably a loose gas cap.” Any mechanic who shrugs off an indicator like this should be dropped—fast.  If the check engine light is on, there’s a reason. And you should find out what it is.
  8. Don’t Fall for the Flush. We see this one all the time. Coolant flushes and power steering flushes are commonly offered by quick lube shops and touted as necessary repairs. But check your owner’s manual: Chances are your fluid was designed to go 100,000+ miles without needing a flush. Also, fuel injectors never need to be cleaned by a mechanic (there are additives for that). This falls under the category of car care you can do yourself.
  9. Consult Your Dealer! Sometimes, a faulty part will be covered by a warranty or recall, and can be repaired by the dealership for free. Run a check before you give a mechanic the go ahead.
  10. Do Your Homework. Shop around. Get a second opinion. Hey, Google it! Just because a mechanic shows you metal shavings from your transmission doesn’t mean it’s done for. (Those metal filings are probably a result of normal wear.) A little bit of due diligence will help keep you safe, your car in tip-top shape, and those shady mechanics at bay.


Guest blogger Jody DeVere is the CEO of Inc, a website, blog and marketing agency providing automotive education to female consumers.