By Jim Donovan: Thousands of consumers each year complain about car repair rip-offs. In these tough financial times, it’s more important than ever for motorists to protect their cars and their wallets. As part of National Car Care Month, AAA Mid-Atlantic is warning drivers about the top ten car repair rip-offs and offering motorists a FREE 40-Point Car Care checkup. The checkup is available by appointment in October throughout the Philadelphia region at participating AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities.

The free checkup includes:
– Power steering, transmission and brake fluid levels
– Inspection of belts and pulleys
– Radiator, defroster and heater
– Tires and battery

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1. Flushing the engine or transmission, when it is not called for in the normal maintenance schedule. Usually, engines do not need to be flushed other than for routine coolant replacement, and the transmission only should be flushed according to the recommendations in your owner’s manual.

2. Some shops assume you need the car’s severe-use maintenance service, which typically involves changing filters and fluids more frequently than the regular schedule recommends. Again, check your owner’s manual for the recommended service intervals. If you do a lot of stop-and-go driving and short trips, you may indeed need more frequent oil changes – but again, check first.

3. Does the mechanic keep charging you to replace different parts to solve the same problem? He is probably having trouble diagnosing your car. Ask the mechanic to refund the cost of the first (probably unnecessary) repair. Multiple failures of the same part or even in the same area are rare.

4. Is the shop replacing the same part over and over? Watch for shoddy workmanship or a poor-quality part. Sometimes particular car models are prone to certain kinds of problems. Check for automaker service bulletins and consumer complaints. If you find you need to return over and over you need a new mechanic!

5. If you’re being told that only dealerships can perform maintenance – sorry, it’s not true. Legally, you can have maintenance performed by any mechanic without affecting your warranty. Just make sure your mechanic uses the correct fluids specified for your vehicle’s model, and keep thorough records in case of a warranty claim. The only dealership-required service is warranty-related repairs and recalls.

6. Lifetime muffler promise? Be leery. Some car repair chains may offer free muffler replacements, but it gets you into their shop where they try to sell you expensive exhaust system repairs. However, a good repair shop may offer a lifetime warranty on certain parts such as alternators and water pumps, because those parts should last the life of your vehicle.

7. Some shops might fraudulently recommend work that doesn’t need to be done at all. Ask them to physically show you and demonstrate the problem part. For example, they should show you a broken fan belt, or turn on your headlights to prove that a light is out.

8. Suspiciously cheap brake repair deals. Repair shops can’t make money on a $50 brake pad replacement – not unless they use very poor quality parts. It’s likely an excuse to get you to pay for new rotors or other parts you may not need.

9. Bad attitudes. Does the shop care only about making a quick buck, or do they want to develop a long-term business relationship with you? A good shop will be honest that you don’t need a repair this time around, because they believe you’ll trust them enough to come back when your vehicle really does need help.

10. The old bait-and-switch. A common scam is to charge you for high-quality parts but actually install cheaper ones. Ask to see the new parts before the shop installs them. With tires, check the information on the sidewall. Still, without expert knowledge, it may be difficult for you to know for sure – this is why it’s so important to find a trustworthy repair shop.

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