PROTECT YOURSELF FROM CAR REPAIR SCAMS
(ARA) - Owning a car means dealing with auto repair shops. From routine maintenance like oil changes and tire rotation to major repairs such as body work after an accident, you want to feel confident the job is being done competently and at a fair price.
Doug Ashbridge, director of claims investigation for Los Angeles-based Farmers Insurance, says while most auto repair shops are legitimate, consumers need to be vigilant to make sure that all recommended repairs are necessary and that work they are charged for was completed. He cites scams such as repairs that were never done but were charged to the customer; damaged parts that are replaced with old, used parts; and unnecessary repairs made solely for the purpose of collecting money.
Ashbridge, who oversees 10 Special Investigation Units for Farmers Insurance, as well as a Special Operations Unit that focuses on organized fraud rings, categorizes auto repair scams as “opportunistic fraud.” Because you will need these services throughout the life of your car, it makes sense to develop a relationship with a service center you feel comfortable with, that employs people you can trust. Sometimes this is easier said than done. Here are a few tips to help you find a good match.
* Ask your friends and family for recommendations. Chances are if they’ve been pleased with the service at a particular shop, you will be too.
* If you can’t come up with any recommendations, start by looking for service shops that are certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). Also, check to see if the shop is a member of the Better Business Bureau.
* Visit the service center. Is it clean and professional looking? Are customers listened to and treated with respect? Has the shop been in business for a fair amount of time?
* Does the shop have a written policy regarding customer satisfaction, refunds and warranties?
Once you’re satisfied you’ve found a shop that will take care of you and your vehicle, you need to make sure you communicate your problem to the service representative and they understand it. Describe your car’s symptoms to the technician and make sure he or she writes everything down on the service order.
You don’t want to be surprised by the cost or scope of the repair work. If the shop can’t give you an estimate when you drop off your car, make sure the service advisor notes on the repair order form to have the shop call you with an estimate of repair costs before any work is done.
A good mechanic or service representative will explain to the customer what the problem is and what needs to be done to fix it. In cases of repair or replacement, a shop should also ask if the customer wants the replaced parts.
If you’re not sure about the repairs suggested by the first shop, get a second opinion. If you receive the same advice from both shops, you can feel more confident about the exact nature of the problem and the likely repair job.
Once your car is ready, be sure you are satisfied with the repair work. Examine the receipt to see exactly what work was done. “Compare the estimate with the actual bill and look at the line items on the repair bill,” Ashbridge suggests. “Some discrepancies really stand out, like if the windshield is replaced but was never broken in the first place.”
Is the final price close to the estimate? Was there any other work done? Are there any charges you do not recognize or understand? If the shop cannot explain a charge, it may not belong on your bill. If you requested to approve work before it was done, and you see charges on the bill that you did not approve, you should ask about those items.
If you find you are not satisfied with the repair job, return your car to the shop and explain the situation. If you have a written guarantee of the work, the shop should adjust or correct the problem.
For more information on Farmers Insurance, visit the company’s Web site at www.farmers.com.