"I never felt that women seemed to be any less savvy customers than men. After all, unless you're an ex-mechanic yourself, you're in the same boat with everyone else. You're depending on an 'expert' to diagnose your problem and tell you what fixing it involves," said Arthur Comings, a one-time mechanic in Berkeley, California.
So whether you're a gal or a guy, it feels better to walk in prepared. Use these tips to talk with your mechanic man-to-man.
Establish a relationship with your mechanic before you need one — you'll feel much more comfortable going there when something goes wrong. Matt Allen, owner of Virginia Auto Service in Phoenix, Arizona, has an easy way to do that.
"Ask your friends and family who they recommend for car repair and take your car in for an oil change," he said.
It's important to have a good understanding of why you're bringing your car in. Be prepared to explain exactly what your car is doing wrong and when it does it.
Howard Fleischmann of Community Tire Pros & Auto Repair said there are several things you need to take note of.
"For instance, what kind of noise, where is it leaking, what color is the leak, does it smell? Have as much information as possible," he said.
Comings agreed that knowing the issue is key.
"Think very hard about how the problem presents itself. Only on bumpy roads? When you turn the steering wheel? When it's cold and rainy outside?"
He added that you should never clean anything up, such as leaks and dust. "You might be destroying evidence."
You know that strange sound your car makes? The one it only makes when no one else is around? That's probably an important clue to what's happening. Believe it or not, Fleischmann said it does help when you do your best imitation of the sound (even if does make you feel like an idiot!).
"It helps tremendously," he said. "In fact, ask the technician if they would like to hear the noise before you leave the car. This way, the technician or service adviser knows exactly what noise you are after. Your car may have several noises, [and] diagnosing noises is difficult, so duplicating the noise for the shop will lessen the amount of time the technician will spend diagnosing the issue."
Sometimes, it sounds like your mechanic is speaking a foreign language when he or she is trying to explain what's happening with your ride. This is not the time to nod and grin — you need to ask questions.
"Always ask if you don't understand," said Fleischmann. "There is no dumb question, and the technician or service adviser is paid to explain these things to you. If you do not receive a response in a positive and respectful manner, or if they are unable to answer your question, you might think twice about the shop you have chosen."
If you receive a hefty quote, your first reaction might be to haggle or argue. Most mechanics, though, agree that this is never acceptable.
"Ask the mechanic to prioritize the fixes that should be done, but if you don't like their prices, you should go elsewhere," said Comings. "After a few such visits, you should have a good idea of about how much this should cost. Since you now have a good description of the problem, you should be able to compare prices over the phone."
Allen said your mechanic is probably more willing to work with you than you think.
"We understand that people are on budgets. The best question in regard to price is 'What can we do to reduce the cost of this repair?' A good shop will present you with options."
It's incredibly frustrating to get your car home from the shop and then realize it still has a problem.
"A reputable shop will offer a guarantee," said Allen. "Make sure you know what it is ahead of time. If you're not happy with the service, tell the manager or owner first and give them the chance to remedy the situation."
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