Having someone work on your car requires a lot of trust. In many cases, the mechanic knows a lot more about what they’re dealing with and has the responsibility to give you an honest assessment of what’s going on with your car. Unfortunately, some mechanics abuse this responsibility to try to milk you for extra cash, and like all scammers, they eventually get caught.
All content has been edited for clarity.
He Tried The Wrong Person
“Back in the ‘90s, I had a beat-up Chevy Suburban with a 454 engine. This beast had been used as a farm truck, pulling horse trailers and more before I bought it. Being familiar with GM engines, I did most of the maintenance myself. However, this model had an annoying caveat: to remove the left rear spark plug, you had to remove the steering linkage.
On top of that, adjusting the ignition timing required physically rotating the distributor, and the clamp bolt was at the very rear center of the engine bay, behind the block this took an exceptionally long reach which my lower back couldn’t handle.
Seeing as how the Suburban needed a lot of repairs and maintenance, I set to work. I changed the oil, and filters, and had the brakes bled and tested. I had a transmission shop change the fluid, clean the screens and adjust the transmission. All that was left was to change the plugs, wires, distributor cap, and rotor. Despite high mileage, it had no leaks or major problems.
Seeing how that last plug would be a pain, I decided to splurge and let the local Chevy dealership handle these last bits. What could go wrong?
I dropped the unit off and let them do their work, and returned a few hours later to pick it up. I was met by a helpful ‘service manager’ who told me happily that he’d finished my repairs but had concerns discovered during his ‘complimentary safety inspection.’
You’ve all seen these, a checklist with all the items inspected, along with tick boxes for ‘ok,’ ‘needs service soon,’ and ‘recommend repair immediately.’ This particular form also had boxes where they would put a sample drop of each of your fluids, such as brake fluid, oil, power steering, and transmission fluid. You can probably see where this is going.
Sure enough, the fluids on the card were dirtier than the soul of a crooked mechanic. The transmission fluid was so black it looked like ink and didn’t even move when tilted at a 90-degree angle.
I pretended not to know what I was looking at.
I asked him, and he said, ‘Your fluids look real bad and I recommend we replace them all, your vehicle isn’t safe to drive like this!’
I said, ‘From the looks of this card, yes this came from a very poorly maintained vehicle! Can you please get your boss for me? I want his recommendation as well, for a second opinion.’
The guy grinned, and said, ‘Sure, no problem!’ Figuring he had a sucker hooked.
As it worked out, the lead service manager was at lunch, so the dealership GM came out instead. Perfect.
He asked what he could do for me, and I asked the service guy to tell him what he told me. He did so almost verbatim, and ended with ‘I recommend all these services.”’I asked the GM if he agreed. He said, ‘Based on what I see here, yes.’ Hook set.
I turned to the service manager and said, ‘Based on this card I would agree. Just one thing before I approve the service. Can you please show me where on this vehicle these fluids came from?’
The service manager suddenly looked uncomfortable and glanced around furtively. I looked at the GM and said, ‘That’s ok I’ll do it.’
I proceeded to pop the hood and pull samples of every single fluid, placing a drop on the card next to his ‘samples.’ Of course, each and every sample was perfectly clean.
By this point, the GM was visibly angry and the Service Manager knew he was about to be unemployed.
I turned to the GM and said, ‘I think you and I both know what’s gone on here today. Would you like to tell me what you’re going to do about it, or should I call the BAR? (California Bureau of Auto Repair)’
The GM shot an angry look at the Service Manager and said to me, ‘Sir, there will be no charge for any of your services today, I apologize and assure you this matter will be addressed at once!’
I said, ‘Good call!’
As got into my Suburban, I heard the GM telling the guy to clean out his locker and never return.”
It Was Only A Matter Of Time Before He Got Caught
“I have a BMW E46, 320i from 1998, with a 2-liter engine, 6 pistons in line, my darling as I like to call it.
My car does not have an electric fan, but a viscous couple that connects automatically when the engine gets warm enough.
I went to a mechanic to change the belts and my water pump as it was old, plus some checkups. I left the car, gave him the money for the parts, and went home. I came back at the end of the day picked up the car, paid the man, and went home.
The next day I started the car and drove off. After maybe 10 minutes, I heard a noise and something starts banging really badly under my hood.
I panicked, stopped, and opened the hood. To my surprise, my viscous couple propeller snapped, cracked my radiator, and cut the brand new belts, and all the plastics around were in pieces. Four hundred euros worth of damage in a split second.
I was puzzled about how this could have happened. I called a trailer and they took the car to a neighbor of mine, an old mechanic.
He checked the car and asked me what did I change in the car, and I said: the water pump and belts.
He then said, ‘I want to see the water pump,’ so with all the space ‘created’ by the propeller, removed the water pump in less than 5 minutes.
Turns out, instead of putting in a new pump, he replaced it with an old one, which was in a critical condition compared to the previous one that was on the car, and I paid for a brand new one.
The viscous coupler is attached directly to the water pump and creates a lot of pressure and force against it, and if the water pump has bad bearings, it won’t turn around smoothly and circularly but it will create a faulty movement that will make the viscous couple fan to go in a not circular way, if that makes any sense, and then snap, and that is exactly what happened to me. Imagine driving at 3–4k revs and the viscous coupler kicks in on a hot day.
I was furious, to say the least. I called my lying piece of trash mechanic, I told him, ‘I’m coming over.’
He asked why and I just hung up.
I went there, and between all the swear words you can think of, I explained that he scammed me and he messed up.
I told him to give me back all the money I gave him for the parts and labor, or else I will beat his rear end, (he did give my money back) then I called a friend who works in the IRS (the fiscal authority in my country) and told him he didn’t issue a receipt nor he pays taxes for half of his customers.
Then I called the Customer’s Protection Service to tell them I was scammed into paying for a service but I didn’t get it, and then I called the local Environment Authority and told them that, around his garage, there is a landfill where he throws all the used oil from the cars he fixed.
Needless to say, he got fined for so much money he worked the next year for free. Also, I found out, by accident talking to some of my car enthusiast friends, that he does this kind of thing all the time, as in not changing parts when people pay for new ones.
You simply don’t play with people’s cars, especially not when those people care about them and spend time and money to make sure all is good.”
Dress For The Price You Want
“For a period in my life, I worked two jobs. During the day I had an office job in a Ministry in the Government and during the evening I worked pizza delivery.
I drove a beat-up, old pickup that was over twenty years old and looked the part. At some point in time, I was badly overdue in terms of an oil change. I had a decent mechanic, Doc, who would not only change my oil but also my air, fuel, and oil filters and fix any minor issues that needed attention. For all this, he would charge $150 TT ($21 US). This was an exceptionally good rate compared to the price and quality of service I got from all the other mechanics.
Sadly, Doc began having health problems and I was forced to look for a new mechanic. I was informed of a father-son mechanic team who were known for great service and affordable rates. I took some time off my office job and headed toward their location.
I was in some of my best threads, sporting a new haircut and pair of glasses, full of confidence and dare I say, looking quite dashing. I did not intend to impress the mechanics, I was not even aware of how I looked. I was simply having a good fashion day.
I introduced myself to the mechanics and explained my situation. I gave it my all to be as friendly, polite, and sociable as I could and even offered to help bring over tools for them as they worked on my vehicle. During all this time, I couldn’t help but notice they were being rigidly formal and courteous with me, constantly referring to me as ‘sir,’ avoiding idle chatter, and not showing any particular interest in me or my background.
When they were finished, I went to the father mechanic and queried the cost. I was expecting $200 at most, maybe even as high as $250 seeing that they finished my job so speedily. However, when I heard him nonchalantly mutter $500, my jaw dropped.
‘Five Hundred?!’ I cried, ‘How come so much?’
‘We changed your oil, the air, fuel, and oil filters,’ he explained lifelessly, ‘Aired your tires, and eh changed your gearbox and differential oil. That’s full service.’
‘I didn’t want full service,’ I cried, ‘I just wanted my oil and filters changed.’
‘Oil and filters changed?’ he replied almost stupidly, ‘That’s full service. Full service is $500. Isn’t that right Jason?’
He directed that question to his son who was in the process of jacking up someone’s car. ‘Yup,’ Jason replied monotonously without glancing, ‘Ask anybody here.’
There was silence. I realized there was nothing I could do. I should’ve queried the cost before I allowed them to work on my pickup. I paid them their money and left, feeling thoroughly cheated and irritated, telling myself I would never do business with them again.
Some weeks later, I was off to start my shift doing pizza delivery on a busy Friday evening. I’m nowhere near looking my best as I’m sporting a washed out and stained ‘Mario’s Pizza’ shirt, a beaten up red cap, baggy and threadbare trousers and I’m in dire need of a haircut.
I pressed on the clutch pedal, only to find that it was slow to rise up from the floor. Clearly, my clutch had a bad fluid leak. If my vehicle broke down I would have to pay a fortune to hire a wrecker and quite possibly miss my shift. I saw that I wasn’t far from the father and son garage so I slowly guided the pickup into their compound.
They saw me looking frantic and disheveled in my old pizza delivery clothes and immediately came to my assistance. I cut the pleasantries short and informed them of the clutch problem and how my manager would ‘have my rear end if I took a day off on a Friday.’
They told me to calm down, that it wasn’t a serious matter. They began to jokingly tease me that they wouldn’t work on my pickup unless I brought a free pizza for them. They then proceeded to engage in idle chatter regarding fast food vs home-cooked meals as they jacked up the pickup and put it on stands. I then realized that they didn’t recognize me with this shoddy uniform. They looked so much at ease and were so much friendlier than when I last visited them. Then the son got into his car, drove off, and returned with a clutch slave cylinder and fluid and in no time, they had my pickup back in order.
I was quite impressed and grateful for the speedy service. However, I cringed knowing that I would probably be slapped with another $500 fee. I queried the father mechanic as to how much my bill was and he said to his son, ‘How much you pay for that stuff Jason?’
‘About two hundred,’ Jason replied.
‘Give us $250 pizza man. It’s your lucky day. Just make sure and bring us a pizza when you get the chance.’
‘Of course!’ I lied.
They barely charged for the labor.
In fact, they were much more fond of me as a salt-of-the-Earth, minimum wage earning, slave to the customer, regular Joe, plying his trade to make a living. They saw me as one of their own and extended a helping hand to someone who they believed roughed it out in life. Had they known that this was actually my second job and I had a comfortable office job in a Government Ministry, I would’ve seen a much different outcome.
So I learned a decent hack in life when dealing with mechanics and various other tradesmen. I don’t work pizza delivery anymore but whenever I go to see those mechanics or go to meet plumbers, electricians, builders, etc, I wear that old Mario’s Pizza uniform to counteract their built-in stereotypes. Doing this I find myself getting good rates, great service, and making new friends much better than if I were wearing office wear and a fancy tie.”
All That Trouble Over $140
“About 30 years ago, I called CAA (Canada’s version of AAA) to tow my Volvo. The tow truck operator offered to take it to his garage and not bill the extra mileage. Obviously, his garage gets a repair job. They gave me a quote and promised they would cost less than the (closer to me) Volvo dealer where I had asked to be towed.
Some details escape my memory so I will use reasonably accurate guesses. The quote called for the replacement of one part (e.g. starter) at $140 (again, approximately). I called Volvo. Cost of part: $140. All authorized garages get a discount and are required to sell it for $140. So I accepted the quote.
When I picked up the car, the bill had the part at exactly double ($280). They tried to double-talk their way around the difference between the quote and the bill. Here in Quebec, Canada, the bill cannot be higher than the quote (consumer laws).
I forget exactly how I did it but I paid the quoted price, had their relationship with Volvo terminated, and had them removed from the list of CAA-authorized towing and repairs. Their lawyer threatened me. I told him to do his best.”
Complete Scumbag Behavior
“I previously owned a 1990’s red convertible LeBaron. It had a white top and black vinyl interior. I had just gotten divorced from my first husband. I decided to take our 9-year-old son to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. I decided to drive it. I had my favorite mechanic get it ready for the long trip from Peoria, IL to Orlando, Florida. He okayed it saying that given the age of the car it was in great shape for a long road trip. I loaded it up with our suitcases and a cooler for food and drinks.
After 12 hours on the road, I decided to stop at a motel. The next morning we had taken our showers and loaded the car up. I decided to fill up the tank at the little gas station that was within walking distance from the motel.
A couple of the mechanics approached my car. I had asked them to please check the windshield fluid, while they filled my tank. I was sitting in the driver’s seat. I carefully watched them look at the engine, through the crack of the hood. Then I saw one of them pull the cable to the starter. I pretended that I didn’t notice. Until I tried to start the car. Naturally, it didn’t start.
They immediately said that I needed a new starter. Then I pointed out that I had seen one of them pull the cable to the starter. They repeatedly denied it. After many times telling them that I had seen them do it deliberately, they finally admitted to doing it and they would put it back on.
I told them had grown up helping my dad fix cars and that I would do it myself. I crawled underneath the car and put it back on. Then started it. They never apologized for their actions. I told them that I would never be coming back to that station again and that I was going to report them to the police.
After we had gotten to the hotel room that was about an hour from Disney World. I called the police and they said they would look into it. I never got the chance to find out what happened because I had so much fun with my son at Disney World that I had forgotten about it.”
Fear Tactics Are Always A Red Flag
“During a routine oil change, I was told by my mechanic that one of my brake lights had burned out. He described it as a really tricky installation that requires having my brake light completely changed, and it would cost around $500 in parts and labor. He also recommended changing all of my cabin and engine air filters and told me it would cost me $60 for the cabin filter and another $50 for the engine filter and another $85 in labor to do it. So it would have been another $195 for a grand total of $695 plus taxes.
I’m admittedly not a car person. My school never had an auto shop, so I didn’t know too much about car parts. However, I did know a lot about how to change light bulbs in a Kia, having done it once before for a headlight. I guessed that it probably was just that situation and politely declined.
He then tried to scare me saying that if the police see it, they would stop me and ticket me. He told me about how this happens all the time and that the fine was in the hundreds, so it’s better to not take the loss.
I declined again, just had the oil change made, and drove over to the closest NAPA Auto Parts. I asked for the bulb I needed. It cost me $6.36. I also picked up the engine and cabin filters as well, the best they had. Those cost me $40.
After finishing it, I walked over to my car and changed the bulb in about three minutes. It actually took me 3x longer to watch the video than to do the actual change.
So, assuming that the gas is about $3 tops, plus the cost of the lights, filters, and time, the whole thing cost me a bit over $50 and 20 minutes of time (15 minutes watching two videos and five minutes doing all the replacements).
Needless to say, I haven’t been to that garage ever since.”
Always Get A Second Opinion
“In June 2016, I bought a brand new Tundra TRD Pro. September 2016, every light in the dash comes on. I took the truck to a local Toyota Dealership to get it figured out as it’s obviously something electrical.
The dealership calls me back 2 hours later and tells me I fried my wiring by installing a light bar (the light bar was not wired in. I had only bolted it to my grill and was going to have a mechanic wire it in for me). The dealership tells me I need to cough up $5k for a whole new wiring harness and a bunch of other stuff. I tell them to park my truck outside, I’m not paying that until I have someone else look at it. Then I went and picked it up.
I took it to another Toyota Dealership after a private mechanic told me the dealership was scamming me because the wiring harness was completely fine. The new Toyota Dealership tells me that they can’t do the warranty check on it because the previous Toyota Dealership closed out the claim and put notes in the file that I had broken the wiring myself and was attempting to get warranty work done. Once a claim is closed out, it’s really hard to get that same claim re-opened.
Thankfully, the new dealership had it out for the old dealership. They tore the truck down on their own dime and found the issue – it was a broken clip on a wire connection. A $20 part. And it took them 2 full days of dissecting the wiring to figure this out. So it was very clear the first dealership was trying to rip me off and then got vindictive when I told them to park my truck.
Toyota caught the dealership red-handed in trying to scam me – they got fined and in a bunch of trouble – Toyota added on a very extended platinum warranty that will transfer to a new owner if I sell the truck as an apology. The service manager at the new Toyota dealership was so happy that my truck helped him get revenge on the other dealership he would always get me the best rental cars when I’d take my truck in for service. Oh yeah, free service for 6 years too.”