As a mechanic, few expenses hurt my wallet (and my heart) like having to get something repaired. I’ve already paid for the item…and now I have to pay for it all over again, just to keep using it. The more expensive your item is, the more expensive the repair costs will be. Some of the most expensive items people own, such as their car, laptop, and rental property fall right into this max-repair-expense category. And for many of us, our beloved machines (whether it’s our iPhone or the VW Bug we invested in last year) always seem to break down just after all the warranties and guarantees expire…of course.
Now, if there’s one thing that’s worse than surprise repair expenses, it’s the cost of extra “repairs” that, in hindsight, you didn’t need to pay for. While there are some fantastic specialists available, there will always be the stray mechanic, electrician, or builder who will happily lead you down an alarmist path and encourage you to pay more than you need to. The best way to stop this? Learn some of their ripoff tactics, and don’t be afraid to call these so-called “experts” out on their tricks. I’m going to explain the six questions you should ask yourself to avoid the classic traps that hack mechanics lay out to snare unsuspecting car owners.
1. Is it a simple procedure?
One of the biggest tricks people fall for is paying for something that they could essentially do themselves. Have you ever met someone who doesn’t inflate their own tires? Garages charge a pretty penny for this. But you don’t need a mechanic’s degree to do it; all you need is common sense, a pump, sensor, and a good tire pressure chart to read off of.
The same can also be said for your home. A little DIY skill can go a long way towards saving you money. If DIY projects intimidate you, think of it this way: you really wouldn’t pay someone to replace your lightbulbs for you, would you? Consider how often you might need these (hands-on, but very simple) procedures throughout your life; isn’t it worth it to take 10 minutes, pull up a Reddit thread or Youtube video, and learn a new DIY skill to take care of your car? Try learning how to change an air filter for your car — that’s an easy that will build your confidence in your DIY potential. You will be able to save big money each and every time you change the filter yourself.
2. Is It a common problem?
One thing tight-fisted insurance companies love to do is assign blame to excuse themselves from covering the repair expense. If you broke your phone or you damaged the washing machine, then there’s no free repair service. However, often you’ll find that the malfunction you supposedly “caused” is a widespread issue with the product. If you can prove that your car’s engine malfunction is a recurring problem with the model at large, you can use this evidence to counter insurance companies’ claims of non-liability.
A great example? Apple Macbooks once had a habit of cracking. While this could easily be blamed on the user, it was common enough that the company offered free repairs, regardless of whether the device was in or out of warranty. After all, why should you pay for something that wasn’t your fault?
3. Are these parts necessary to the repair, or excessive?
Another common mechanic’s trick is to include extra car parts as part of the “service fee.” I’ve known laptop repairs to come back with some additional parts that I “might need, later on.” It’s possible that I will need these parts; however, it’s not always a good idea to accept them as an up-front cost.
When deciding whether or not to accept these “just in case” parts, ask yourself: what if you do need them, in the future? Can you actually install or apply them in a zero-cost, DIY fashion, or will you need to pay the repairman another service fee to do it for you? Also, keep in mind: convincing yourself that a spare replacement part “might be useful” is the same as assuming that your car (or laptop) will encounter the same issue with the same part, the next time it breaks down. In reality, it’s highly unlikely that the same part will malfunction twice in a row. Think of it this way: spare light bulbs in the home are always useful (because the wattage of your sockets doesn’t change with every lightbulb replacement), but the needs of each part of your plumbing system are much more specific (buying multiple spares of each part isn’t worth the money).
4. Is the mechanic overselling the utility of a certain feature?
If there’s a feature in your car that you don’t really use, does it need repairing? Well…having an all-systems-go car can certainly keep the resale value up. But aside from that resale concern, mechanics often push repairs on non-necessary features to drain money out of customers. It’s called “overselling” a feature, and it’s everywhere. It’s the reason some people have a warranty and pay monthly for an insurance policy that will cover the same non-necessary repairs.
The wiles of overselling are especially true when considering replacement parts. Using car tires as an example: when changing or rotating your tires, the mechanic might easily pressure you into upgrading to a better tire speed rating. Sure, a tire with a “Q” rating can handle 99 mph, but are you ever going to drive at this speed? Why pay more for a feature when you know you won’t ever use it?
5. Are there cheaper options?
Similarly, a brand name isn’t always an accurate sign of good quality – but it is a good opportunity to mark the price up. Car owners are especially vulnerable to this trick when they’re not knowledgeable about the quality of other off-brand items in the wider market (or they aren’t even aware of the wider market).
Car dealerships are a perfect example of brand hoodwinking. Parts made by the original car model’s manufacturer (known as Original Equipment Manufacturer, or OEM, parts) are rarely cheap. Yet, OEM parts are the only kind that car dealers stock. There are a wider range of more affordable parts (that do the same job, at the same quality) available online and in independant garages. I’ve also seen self-declared “car experts” try and sell a set of both summer and winter tires, never once mentioning the possibility that all-season tires will work just as well, in the right circumstances. Why do mechanics and salesmen do this? The all-season or all-size-fits-one part just isn’t as big of an “upsell” for them (they make more money when they sell you brand names and multiple part sets).
How often do you challenge a repairman when he offers to replace your washing machine parts? Not often. But the next time you’ve got a repairman offering you shiny, brand-new parts, remind yourself: if the industry for your product (washing machine, or Honda, or Macbook) is big enough, and your product or part is known for breaking down regularly, then there is definitely a wider market of generic (and therefore cheaper) replacement parts.
6. What’s right for you, and does the repair vs. purchase ratio check out?
When it comes to repairs, there’s always the added pressure of being offered an upgrade. This, in essence, is just another way for a mechanic or salesman to make a commission on selling supplies. The real question is whether or not the upgrade is “timely,” but whether it’s useful to you.
I have a small home, so I don’t need a massive water heater. Yet, when there is a problem with my boiler, the repair company eagerly recommends upgrading to a nice, big, expensive model. Unless I start hosting hot tub parties, this isn’t an expense that will actually help me; what’s more, no one can guarantee that bigger, newer, more expensive boiler won’t also break down.
As one last piece of wisdom, it’s always worth calculating the repair vs. purchase ratio. How can you do this? Get a quote for it will cost just to replace the malfunctioning part of your existing product, and compare it to the price of a new model. If your laptop costs $200 to fix, and buying a new one will cost you $400, are you really going to spend half the cost of a new model just to maintain your old one for a little while longer? Probably not the best use of your money.
Hopefully, these tricks have helped show you just how easy it is to fall prey to hacks and spend extra money…and how easy it is to avoid their tricks! At the very least, don’t be afraid to ask yourself — and the repairman — the questions above to negotiate a fairer deal for yourself!
Giles Kirkland works as a mechanic in the UK. When he’s not tinkering with engines, he’s searching for new ways to earn more money and improve his finances.
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