A customer came into Bill Rimmer’s repair shop needing a fuel pump on an Isuzu. When she found out the part was $800, she went shopping around for the part on her own. Every time she ordered a part from a local auto parts store, it would take three days to come in. And every time, Rimmer said, it was the wrong part. In between, she rented a car.
Finally, after a month and lots of money gone, she let Cooper Lake Automotive in Smyrna do the work.
Matt Kriwanek, owner of Classic Auto Repair in Norcross, has seen all kinds of disasters come through his shop. A disassembled dashboard and steering column on a Dodge Durango, evidence of someone’s ill-attempt to replace an air conditioner evaporator. Expensive engine damage. The list goes on.
With Georgia’s unemployment rate cresting at 10.1 percent, consumers are trying to find ways to save money on everything, including car repairs.
“A lot of people are losing their jobs,” said mobile mechanic Kevin Jordan. “They need to get their cars fixed to make it back and forth, and MARTA doesn’t go everywhere. The way the economy is now, it’s better to fix it than getting a big car payment.”
New car dealerships are on average 34 percent higher than independent repair shops, according to a study released by the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association. In many cases, it makes sense to go to a local shop. Before you make a colossal mistake costing you time, money and peace of mind, heed these tips from a few of metro Atlanta’s local mechanics.
1. Let the mechanic diagnose the problem. You can get a free diagnosis at an auto parts store, but the result is often too vague. Only a professional shop can be precise enough.
“People always come into shops and they tell you what needs to be fixed and insist on it, instead of letting the shop do the diagnostic look,” said Jean Pierre Feguiere, co-owner of Conquest Auto in College Park. “Then, they have to bring it back to you anyway. Get it done right the first time.”
2. Find a mechanic you trust.
“I’d like to think that no one is out there trying to rip people off,” Rimmer said. “But it is important to go to someone you know and trust.”
Said Kriwanek: “Ask your friends who did good repairs for them. Go with referrals. Price shopping is a way to get burned.”
3. Don’t put off repairs.
“If you keep putting it off and putting it off, it’s gonna get expensive,” Rimmer said.
4. Buy a car you can afford. Think beyond the ticket price.
“If you buy a car and can’t afford the repair costs on it, you’re in trouble,” Rimmer said. “People do it all the time.”
5. Take your owner’s manual out of the glove compartment and read it.
Some clues about indicator lights could be right there in the manual, and it may not even be expensive. For example, the check engine light could come on simply because you need to check the gas cap, Kriwanek said. Or, if you right rear door isn’t working, it may be as simple as a kiddie lock. And If you go in for the recommended manufacturer’s service, you can make sure the mechanic isn’t adding on unnecessary services not in the manual.
6. Ask for your used parts back.
If you want to be certain the part was replaced, it’s not rude to ask for the used part, said Fequiere.
7. If you fix it yourself, make sure you know what you’re doing.
Here’s a pat on the back for those ambitious enough to give it a go on their own. But some missteps can be costly. Rimmer said he’s seen people put power steering fluid or even oil where brake fluid should be. Do we really need to know the results of that?
8. Look for good customer service.
Going to the auto mechanic shouldn’t be unpleasant. If a shop takes pride in its work, it will treat its customers well, Fequiere said.
9. Cheaper doesn’t mean it’s less expensive
If it sounds too good to be true, well, you know the rest. Always ask about hidden costs, the types of parts being used and the quality of the products. In this case, you get what you pay for.
10. Edmunds.com offers these five steps that you actually can do:
Have you opted to get your car repaired — or even fix it yourself — instead of buying another vehicle? What have you learned along the way?