Avoid auto repair problems

I'm pretty skeptical when it comes to mechanics. To an extent, I think we all are.

I blame (and thank) my father for my suspicions.

Two things he taught me were: Don't be afraid of cars or getting dirty fixing them.

It's not brain surgery after all, my dad would say, and generally only requires a jack, some socket wrenches, an old pair of jeans and a T-shirt.

I grew up watching him do everything from change the oil to replacing the water pump (which I recall as being very complicated).

And though I've learned to fix a number of my own car problems, at times I've had to venture into the world of mechanics.

I think we distrust them because they work in a world unknown to us: that of internal combustion engines.

That, along with a coordinated mishmash of rubber tubes, wires, and metal parts, is pretty scary because most of us have no idea how any of this stuff works.

There's a certain leap of faith we take when we leave our vehicles at the shop. We hope mechanics know what they're doing and we won't be ripped off.

The American Automobile Association, the motorist advocacy group, recently found that one in 10 consumers were dissatisfied with their mechanics. Those customers found that their mechanics were unable to fix the problem on the first visit, unable to diagnose a problem properly, took too long to do work and that the work was of poor quality.

"Many disputes between consumers and repair shops are the result of misunderstandings over what was supposed to be repaired and what was actually done," said John Nielsen, director of the AAA Approved Auto Repair Network.

To help, AAA has come up with a checklist that motorists can use to ensure they aren't getting ripped off:

When finding a mechanic, ask friends, relatives and co-workers for recommendations.

Most vehicles can be repaired and maintained by a full-service repair shop, but a major problem with a specific vehicle system might require a specialized shop or a dealership's repair facility.

If avoidable, don't just drop in. Make an appointment. If a manager has a rough idea what the problem is, he or she will most likely assign the right technician.

Don't just say what needs to be repaired unless you know for sure. Some symptoms can point to several different problems with your automobile.

Read the repair sheet and make sure it's specific. Beware blanket statements such as "check and correct transmission noise" or "fix engine." Never sign a blank repair order or ask the shop to fix the problem without knowing how they plan on doing it.

Ask for a written estimate. Oral estimates can be disputed or forgotten.

Insist on a call if repair costs will exceed the estimate.

Don't agree to every add-on repair unless the mechanic can make a clear justification. You may want to defer those repairs until you can get a second opinion.

Ask to see the replaced parts. This will help to ensure that the part is actually replaced. Replaced parts and a repair order can help if there is a problem later.

Take a test drive. If a problem remains or the vehicle does not run properly after it's picked up, return to the shop immediately.

Get a detailed copy of the repair order. Make sure the costs of labor and each part is specifically spelled out. Ask for the facility's warranty in writing if it's not on the bill.

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call the Road Warrior at 387-2904, or e-mail him at roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com or fmccabe@reviewjournal.com. Please include your phone number.