Driver Tips

Step by step guide on common automotive related drivers tips and helpful repair shop information.

Tip 1 - Auto Repair Garage: When taking a car to a repair shop, they should inspect the vehicle before providing an estimate. Once repairs are complete, the final bill should not be more than 10% of the original estimate. Check the repair shop warranty duration, also inquire if labor charges cover a part that fails prematurely. Ask to see the damaged or worn parts at the time the work order is placed.

To ensure quality, insist on factory OE parts (many part manufacturers produce sub-standard replacements) original manufacturer parts offer better usability and durability. If the reason for part failure is unclear, ask the mechanic to show specifically how and why the part needed replacement. When receiving the repair estimate, inquire to a few additional shops or dealerships for their prices.

This list will help avoid the uncomfortable situation of having paid more than expected for a repair, or a repair that is not needed.

  • Word of mouth is best, recommendations from someone that is already using a service, and that knows the owner or manager can be the best information to an honest repair shop.
  • Try to pinpoint the origin of the repair before repairs are performed.
  • Warranty information should be featured on the estimate paperwork.
  • Check state licenses which are required by repair shops to operate.
  • Check the Attorney General's office, or local BBB for complaints about a particular repair shop.
  • Inquire about mechanics qualifications and certificates of intelligence from such agencies as ASE.
  • Once the work is completed, a repair order describing the each labor operation and parts used should be furnished while recording the vehicle's odometer reading.
  • Warranty for repairs should be at least 1 year or 15,000 miles which every comes first, if a repair shop will not stand behind their work for at least this duration do not trust them.
  • Ask about shop labor rates if they are not posted.
  • Record the vehicles mileage before leaving it.
If a repair shop does an inspection on a car, and it is removed from the place of business, a diagnostic charge will ensue.

Estimate Should Include

  • Complete identification of the problem to be repaired, the parts needed, and the anticipated labor charge.
  • Additional charges must be agreed upon before continuing the job.

Rebuilt or Refurbished Replacement Parts: What is the difference? A rebuilt replacement part, engine, transmission or differential means the unit has been disassembled and wear items have been replaced, such as bearings, brushes, guides etc. A rebuilt part will sometimes have individually painted parts. A refurbished unit is basically cleaned, painted and then resold.

Generally a rebuilt part is better quality than a refurbished part or unit. Unscrupulous repair facilities will sometimes pass the refurbished unit off as a rebuilt unit. To stem this practice ask to see the replacement parts before installation. New parts are optimum for best performance and longevity, rebuilt is the next best, refurbished replacement parts should be used as a last resort. Salvaged parts are taken from another vehicle and then re-installed.

Low Bid

Some repair shops and dealers practice the low ball bid method of business to get costumers in the door. A service writer estimates a job for a low price, once the car is in the repair shop, they call the owner and up sell more repairs which are anything but cheap. The service writer calls... Mrs. Gonzales, I have bad news, the cooling system needs to be flushed, the thermostat is shot, and the water pump is leaking... I'm sorry the car is already in pieces so I can't put it back together...and you know the rest. To safeguard from this practices get several estimates for the same repair, if one is much lower there could be something wrong. Most repair garages know what it takes to stay in business and stay competitive, its safer to go with a middle to upper end repair shop.

Resolving Disputes

Document all transactions, as well as experiences with dates, times, expenses, and the names of people dealt with. The customer has the advantage when small claims courts are involved because Judges generally side with the consumer, repair shops know this. Auto repair is the number one service fraud in the country.

Bureau of Automotive Repair 1-800- 952-5210 - for California (.ca - substitute the state two letter abbreviation for the area service.)

Tip 2 - Freeway Flat Tire: A flat tire on the freeway or any other busy highway can be dangerous. There are generally two kinds of flat tires, either the tire is very low but still rolling, or the tire is already flat and beginning to fall apart. In the first condition (tire low on air) offers a chance to get off the freeway to a safe place to change the tire or wait for service. In the second case, its best not to worry about saving the tire. The main objective is to get to a freeway off-ramp, or to a safe place to change the tire or wait for service. The car will have more rolling resistance with a flat, but it will continue moving, proceed slowly and use caution. When pulling off the road to a safe place, make sure the car is as far off the road and away from traffic as possible. Most of the time when a tire is run low the inner layers of the tire will breakdown, rendering the tire useless anyway. If there isn't an off-ramp nearby or a safe place to stop, pull the car to the side of the road as far away from traffic as possible, then safely exit the car and walk as far away from traffic as possible to a more protected area. Don't get hung up on the need to save the tire, too many times people try to save an eighty five dollar tire and end up getting seriously injured or worse in the process.



Written by
Co-Founder and CEO of
35 years in the automotive repair field, ASE Master Technician, Advanced Electrical and Mechanical Theory.


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Article first published (Updated 2013-12-06)