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article imageHow women can avoid getting ripped off at the mechanic's Special

By Krista Simpson     May 31, 2010 in Lifestyle
Few people enjoy taking their car to the mechanic -- and for women, it can be particularly daunting. But is it something that needs to be feared?
According to a recent survey, women don't jump from auto brand to brand. Women are more likely to be loyal to a brand than men, with 54 percent of women saying they are very likely to buy within the same make compared to 43 percent of men saying the same thing.
With this loyalty to cars comes many moments when a woman needs to visit a mechanic.
“Everyone’s had that experience. Going in [to a mechanic shop], being a woman and feeling like you’re not taken seriously, or kind of looked down upon, or you don’t understand,” says Lynda Sydney, who writes, a blog for female drivers.
Sydney describes a classic scenario: going for an oil change and being told you need extensive repairs. “You feel very helpless,” she says. She lists the immediate questions that come to mind: Does it really need to be done? How serious is it? Is it safe to drive the car? How am I going to pay for it?
While car repairs are rarely fun, there are ways to make the experience more positive.
Marie Railey's solution is to bring a male friend whenever she visits the mechanic. Railey is single and the owner of a 2001 Honda. She says that she is relatively familiar with cars and knows how to do things like check her oil level. Still, when a technician makes suggestions, she likes having someone to ask “what do you think?” It is easy for a mechanic to take advantage of lack of car knowledge, Railey says. “You just pay because what else are you going to do? You believe them.”
The feeling that “you just get ripped off all the time” is one of the reasons Jessica Gilbank became a mechanic. Gilbank owns and operates Ms. Lube, an all-female garage in Toronto. (Incidentally, Gilbank says that 80 per cent of her clients are men “sick of being emasculated.” Guys get ripped off too, she says.)
Ms. Lube
Ms. Lube
Gilbank emphasizes that women need to trust their gut feelings. You do not have to know a lot about car repairs to know if something does not feel right, she says. If you do not feel comfortable with a mechanic, just leave. “Who cares if you’re wrong?” But, she adds, a bad feeling is usually the accurate feeling.
Women often approach car repairs with a defensive attitude, Gilbank says. They immediately assume that they are going to get ripped off. She says mechanics can smell this instantly and often react. She suggests approaching mechanics in a “neutral zone.” Be confident, but do not have a chip on your shoulder.
Developing more confidence and knowledge about cars is easier than ever, thanks in part to the internet. “You can’t become a professional through Google, but you can better educate yourself,” Gilbank says.
At the same time, one of the best sources of education actually comes with the car: the owner’s manual. Gilbank says it is important to take the time and look through it. Often, it includes the manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations. This can be particularly helpful when a mechanic is pushing you to replace a part or have a service done. For instance, Gilbank warns that fluid flushes are quick and easy money for mechanics and do not necessarily need to be done as frequently as a technician suggests.
A car owner reads her manual.
A car owner reads her manual.
The owner’s manual can also indicate when belts, air filters or cabin filters should be replaced. Often in newer vehicles, they do not need to be replaced as often as a mechanic or oil change technician might have you think, Gilbank says.
Gilbank says it is important to develop a relationship with a mechanic. That way, they can help you prioritize service and maintenance needs and spread them out over the year.
If you are unhappy with a mechanic’s service, do not hesitate to complain to them. Gilbank says that their response will gauge how much they want your business. She says if there is a problem after a repair, it is important to bring the car back and give them the chance to fix it. Too many people just become immediately disappointed or angry and take the car to a new mechanic. “It’s like a mechanic disease,” she says.
If you do have a serious problem with a mechanic, there are a few options for recourse in Ontario. You can file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, although ultimately they have no regulatory ability. In particularly difficult situations you could take the mechanic to small claims court.
As part of avoiding bigger problems, it is important for consumers to know their rights with mechanics. The Ontario Ministry of Consumer Services has extensive and easy-to-read information for car owners. For instance, if repairs become more complicated than originally thought, the mechanic cannot charge more than 10 per cent above the estimated cost without first notifying you of the change and asking for permission to proceed.
At the end of the day, the car repair experience is something of a balancing act. “You’re never going to feel good about spending money on your car because it sucks,” Gilbank says. “But you can feel better.”
A confident car owner
A confident car owner
Go with your gut
Jessica Gilbank suggests you think about the following questions when choosing a mechanic:
What does the facility look like?
It is not a good start if the shop is filthy and you do not even want the technicians to get in your car. Gilbank says it is a warning sign if you have started to build up a resistance before you have even spoken to anyone.
Are they saying “no customers in the shop due to insurance reasons?”
Be wary of a mechanic that will not let you see the inside of their shop. Gilbank says she intentionally put her office in the back, so people have to walk through the garage.
Are they patient?
Is the mechanic asking you questions? Are they listening? Do they take the time to go on a road test with you to actually experience the problem? Gilbank says that a mechanic should want to take care of you, but without being condescending or patronizing.
What is the guarantee on the repairs?
Also, will they give you the old parts if you ask for them? A refusal to do so is a serious red flag, says Gilbank. It is also a consumer's right in Ontario.
What do they look like?
Do the mechanics take care of themselves, or are they disheveled and covered in grease? Their personal appearance can reflect a general level of care and finesse, Gilbank says.
Ultimately, Gilbank says the best way to find a mechanic is via referral from someone who has had their car repaired by them.
Lynda Sydney’s top tips for car owners
1. Learn about your car before there is a problem. Take time to read the owner’s manual and familiarize yourself with the maintenance schedule.
2. Regularly maintain your car. That will help retain the value and reduce the need for repairs in the future.
3. Start a car fund – even if it is just $10 a week. (“Brown bag your lunch one day,” Sydney suggests.) That way you are better prepared to pay for unexpected car repairs when they happen.
Jessica Gilbank's tips for testing your mechanic
1. Tire Pressure Check
Ask the mechanic to top up the air in your tires. (This is something Gilbank says is easy for mechanics to do and should be done for free.)
Check your tire pressure before hand. When you pick up your car, ask them if they did it.
Then take your own tire pressure gauge and see if your tire pressure is different than before.
This kind of test “shows their dedication,” Gilbank says. “Do they care about their work? Do they do what you asked them to do?”
As a bonus, it is a good way for you to remember to keep an eye on your tire pressure. (Gilbank says that everyone should keep a tire pressure gauge in their glove compartment.)
2. Tire Rotation Check
Using nail polish or lipstick, subtly mark one of your wheels.
When you take your car in for service, ask the mechanic to also rotate your tires.
When you pick up the car, check to see if they did.
If they didn’t: “Don’t be afraid to go back and say ‘we have a little bit of a problem, we need to talk about it,’” Gilbank says. “They’re going to be insulted that you did it, but that’s too bad. There’s a reason that you did it.”
3. Something else to think about…
Ask your mechanic how their technicians are paid. Gilbank says that those who are paid per job may not give as much care and attention to repairs as technicians working on salary. They may rush repairs in an attempt to get more done in a day.
If technicians are paid per job, that does not mean you should not go there, Gilbank says—but it could be a deciding factor if you are feeling uncertain about other issues.
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