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Taking the Scare Out of Auto Repair

Savvy Consumer: Taking the Scare Out of Auto Repair

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Taking the Scare Out of Auto Repair
Presented by the Federal Trade Commission, the National Association of Attorneys General
and the American Automobile Association

The best way to avoid auto repair rip-offs is to be prepared. Knowing how your vehicle works and how to identify common car problems is a good beginning. It's also important to know how to select a good technician, the kinds of questions to ask, and your consumer rights.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the American Automobile Association (AAA), and the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), this kind of information about your automobile may help you keep a lid on mechanical mistakes.


How to Choose a Repair Shop
What should I look for when choosing a repair shop?

How to Choose a Technician
Is one technician better than another?

Repair Charges: Unlocking the Mystery
Before you arrange to have any work performed, ask how the shop prices its work. Some shops charge a flat rate for labor on auto repairs. This published rate is based on an independent or manufacturer's estimate of the time required to complete repairs. Others charge on the basis of the actual time the technician worked on the repair.

If you need expensive or complicated repairs, or if you have questions about recommended work, consider getting a second opinion.

Find out if there will be a diagnostic charge if you decide to have the work performed elsewhere. Many repair shops charge for diagnostic time.

Shops that do only diagnostic work and do not sell parts or repairs may be able to give you an objective opinion about which repairs are necessary.

If you decide to get the work done, ask for a written estimate.

What should a written estimate include?

What should I know about the parts to be repaired or replaced?

Parts are classified as:

What do I need after the work is done?

Preventive Maintenance
What are the consequences of postponing maintenance?

What maintenance guidelines should I follow to avoid costly repairs?

What warranties and service contracts apply to vehicle repairs?

Service Contracts
Many vehicle dealers and others sell optional contracts - service contracts -issued by vehicle manufacturers or independent companies. Not all service contracts are the same; prices vary and usually are negotiable. To help decide whether to purchase a service contract, consider:

How do I resolve a dispute regarding billing, quality of repairs or warranties?


The more you know about your vehicle, the more likely you'll be able to head off repair problems. You can detect many common vehicle problems by using your senses: eyeballing the area around your vehicle, listening for strange noises, sensing a difference in the way your vehicle handles, or even noticing unusual odors.

Looks Like Trouble
Small stains or an occasional drop of fluid under your vehicle may not mean much. But wet spots deserve attention; check puddles immediately.

You can identify fluids by their color and consistency:

Smells Like Trouble
Some problems are under your nose. You can detect them by their odor:

Sounds Like Trouble
Squeaks, squeals, rattles, rumbles, and other sounds provide valuable clues about problems and maintenance needs. Here are some common noises and what they mean:

Squeal - A shrill, sharp noise, usually related to engine speed:

Click - A slight sharp noise, related to either engine speed or vehicle speed:

Screech - A high-pitched, piercing metallic sound; usually occurs while the vehicle is in motion:

Rumble - a low-pitched rhythmic sound.

Ping - A high-pitched metallic tapping sound, related to engine speed:

Heavy Knock - A rhythmic pounding sound:

Clunk - A random thumping sound:

Feels Like Trouble
Difficult handling, a rough ride, vibration and poor performance are symptoms you can feel. They almost always indicate a problem.


Ride and Handling

Brake problems have several symptoms. Schedule diagnosis and repair if:

The following symptoms indicate engine trouble. Get a diagnosis and schedule the repair.

Poor transmission performance may come from actual component failure or a simple disconnected hose or plugged filter. Make sure the technician checks the simple items first; transmission repairs normally are expensive. Some of the most common symptoms of transmission problems are:


Car trouble doesn't always mean major repairs. Here are some common causes of trouble and techniques to help you and your technician find and fix problems:

For more information, contact:
Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Response Center
Washington, DC 20580
TDD: 202-326-2502

The main office of your local American Automobile Association (AAA) motor club, listed under AAA in the telephone directory.

Your state Attorney General
Office of Consumer Protection
Your state capital

Many Attorneys General have toll-free consumer hotlines. Check with your local directory assistance.

July 1996

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