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20+ Secrets Your Auto Mechanic Won’t Tell You

Before you spend more money on car repairs, get the inside scoop from real auto mechanics on which expensive, unnecessary procedures to avoid.

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MechanicMinerva Studio/Shutterstock

Watch out for scare tactics

Admonitions like “I wouldn’t drive this another kilometre” should be viewed with suspicion.

Watch out for these other car repair scams.

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Ask, ask, ask

Ask for recommendations, years in business, warranties offered, licences, and the type of equipment used. Look for a clean garage. A floor cluttered with empty oil cans, worn tires, and dirty rags is a red flag.

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Read before you sign

Never sign a blank authorization form. Always get a signed work order with a specific estimate for each job and warranties that apply.

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MechanicMinerva Studio/Shutterstock

Tools of the trade

It’s nuts to take a car with engine problems to a shop without a good engine analyzer and scan tool. Any car mechanic who says “I don’t need fancy equipment” should be avoided.

Here’s why you should use sea foam for your engine.

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You get what you pay for

Synthetic motor oils may cost more, but you’ll get a lot more miles between changes.

Check out these smart ways to get better gas mileage.

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When you go for a second opinion…

…don’t tell the mechanic what the first diagnosis and price were.

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MechanicCreativa Images/Shutterstock

Costly gimmicks

Coolant flushes and power steering flushes are very common gimmicks at quick lubes. Check your owner’s manual; many cars have fluid that is designed to go 150,000 kilometres. And cleaning fuel injectors is a waste of time and money. There are additives on the market that do a great job.

Watch out for these other ways you’re wasting money on your car.

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BrakesKietichai charoentrirat/Shutterstock

Give me a brake

Always ask for OE (original equipment) brake pads or at least equivalent material. A $70 brake job will usually get you the worst friction material you can buy—it’s the difference between stopping short and causing a pileup on the way to work.

While you’re on the road, avoid making these winter driving mistakes.

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MechanicMinerva Studio/Shutterstock

Tire check

Ask about your new tire’s “build date.” If you’re getting an unusually good deal, you might be receiving three-year-old treads, which is especially risky for snow tires.

Find out how long you can drive on a spare tire.

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Lifetime mufflers?

What would ever make you think a muffler will last a lifetime? Yes, they’ll give you free replacements, but they’ll hit you over the head for expensive pipe repairs.

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car-salesmenBlend Images/Shutterstock

Consult your dealer…

…before you have work done on a catalytic converter or emissions parts. Some of these items carry a very long warranty, and free replacement is often required by law.

You’ll wish you knew these car dealership tips sooner!

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Light on your dash

It’s not OK for your “check engine” light to stay on all the time. It’s probably not “a loose gas cap.”

Here’s the scary reason you should never put your feet on the car dashboard.

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MechanicAlexandru Chiriac/Shutterstock

Don’t be duped by double labour

If a car mechanic offers to change your timing belt and water pump, question how long the job will take. Some will charge you double labour even though the second task is essentially done once the belt is removed.

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Always ask for your old parts back

This way you’ll know they’ve been changed, and you or a friend can tell if they’re worn.

Don’t miss the red flags that will kill your car’s resale value.

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“Road hazard”

Be careful with “road hazard” warranties on tires. The shops may give you a free tire here and there, but eventually, they will soak you with unnecessary alignments or suspension replacements.

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BrakesJ. Lekavicius/Shutterstock

All brakes are not created equal

Ask for estimates on brake jobs. Many mechanics will use very cheap parts and mark them up. Good mechanics who understand cars will never skimp in this area.

Find out what to do when your car won’t start.

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Test drive

Have your car test-driven. A good test-drive is just as important as a regular service—it might mean the difference between simply needing brake pads and having a complete rotor replacement.

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Find expert mechanics

Good mechanics, like good customers, are hard to find—communication is key. A good car mechanic will explain repair phases and give you choices.

Read on for more common car problems—and how to fix them yourself.

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Car-salesmanBranislav Nenin/Shutterstock

Be wary of certified pre-owned cars

Usually in this business, the only thing that’s certified is that someone owned the car before you. Very little ever gets done on these types of cars.

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When to go

Go early in the workweek. Don’t bring your car in on Friday afternoon, because the mechanics might rush the job to get out for the weekend.

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MechanicCarolyn Franks/Shutterstock

Don’t make a rookie mistake

Beware of a car mechanic who shows you a transmission pan with metal particles in it and recommends a major job. The shavings are usually a sign of normal wear.

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Familiarize yourself with tire tread

Before buying new tires, know what your state’s tread specifications are. Then have the mechanic measure the old tread with a gauge.

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Too good to be true

Beware of false promises. Watch out for ads promising $125 brake jobs. No mechanic can make money on that.

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MechanicSyda Productions/Shutterstock

Scam alert

Weed out scams. Transmission flushes are one of the biggest scams going. Manufacturers don’t recommend them, and your car almost never needs one.

Here’s how often you should change your brake pads.

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Car-partsLeonid Eremeychuk/Shutterstock

Brand name

The market is being flooded with cheap parts from China. Request a name-brand replacement and ask to see its box.

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Onomatopoeia is encouraged

If your car is making weird noises, it’s better to swallow your pride and try to make the noise (no matter how goofy you think you sound) than attempt to describe it. You may think your description of the sound makes perfect sense, but the mechanic hasn’t heard it before like you have. “I’d rather hear a funny noise come out of you than waste time trying to figure out what you mean by ‘buzzing, but it’s like squishy if that makes sense,’” says Ryan, a Winnipeg car mechanic. Chances are, it won’t make sense.

An auto expert reveals the meaning behind nine strange car sounds.

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Things get overlooked

If the mechanic doing maintenance on your car is on a time constraint, they may not get to every little thing. Smaller tasks might get neglected or forgotten, such as “lubricating door hinges or latching mechanisms.” A Colorado car mechanic warns that, if tasks like these don’t get completed, “It doesn’t affect performance at that moment, but it can over time.” You might want to ask to confirm that even the smallest tasks have been seen to before you drive away.

Believe it or not, these are the most popular car colours in Canada.

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Dirty-MechanicIvan Kulikov/Shutterstock

Mechanics get plenty banged up

While grievous injuries are uncommon, mechanics have seen their share of bumps and bruises. Hot oil spills are pretty common, and they’ve dropped heavy tools on their feet. And, yes, they’ve even been bumped by cars during test runs.

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ToolsDon Pablo/Shutterstock

Dealerships vs. private shops

You may be inclined to support a small local shop rather than a massive dealer, but keep in mind that dealers often have access to resources that the small shops don’t. Charles, a car mechanic at a Volkswagen dealer, says, “There are a lot of resources we have access to that an independent place wouldn’t… A small shop isn’t going to spend $15,000 a year [for that data].” While local shops are great, just be aware that some model-specific information may not be available to them.

Next, learn the maintenance tricks that will extend the life of your tires.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest