The Importance of a Second Opinion

When Helen Turner of Unionville took her 2004 Subaru Outback with 30,000 miles on the odometer in for an oil change, the last thing she expected was news that her car needed $1,600 in repairs. When she protested that she did not have $1,600 to spend on her car, the mechanic retreated, saying that she absolutely needed $800 in repairs right now and that she could return in a week or so for the additional work. She acquiesced to the $800 in repairs.

“He was naming things I never heard of,” she says. “I often go to the dealer [for service], but I’m 94, so I’m happy to take it to some place closer for an oil service.” Closer, it turns out, is not always better or cheaper.

“My neighbor came over and he couldn’t see any sign that anything [in the engine compartment] had been touched,” she says. The $800 in repairs, which were originally slated to take two and half hours, were completed in 25 minutes, she adds.

Is it possible for a lightly used eight-year-old car to need $1,600 in repairs? Of course it is. How likely is another matter entirely.

It’s hard to say at this point what exactly was done, but Turner’s experience does prompt some suggestions:

·Choose a garage or shop that’s recommended by your friends, co-workers or family members. It can be a new car dealer that handles your brand or an independent shop. Both can do very good work. However, if you are choosing an independent shop, make sure that it has access to the technical bulletins and test equipment needed to keep your car running well. It also is reassuring to see other cars of the same make and of a similar vintage on the lot.

· When establishing a relationship with a new shop, start with some simple tasks, such as oil changes, to see how everything goes. If they handle that well, they may be an ideal candidate to tackle more complicated procedures.

· If a shop escalates a simple oil change into something much more expensive, don’t hesitate to seek a second opinion. In fact, insist upon it.

·Make sure you get a written estimate for any work to be done. The invoice, once the job is completed, should list all the parts replaced and services performed.

·Do not automatically choose the cheapest estimate. Too many people have learned the hard way that the cheapest solution to a problem often isn’t the most economical in the long run. I’ll let you know what can happen when you chase the cheapest price next week.

·Look for second party certifications for shops you are planning to use. AAA’s Approved Auto Repair Program is probably the best known out of these. In the interest of full disclosure, I do some work for AAA and have been associated with the organization in one way or another for nearly 20 years.

· If you have a problem, complain. Talk to the shop manager and owner. If that does not work, complain to the state’s Consumer Protection Department and the Department of Motor Vehicles Dealers and Repairers Division. Make sure you save all receipts and document your contacts, recording in writing what was discussed and what was agreed to. Don’t trust the times, dates and content of conversations to memory.

Did Mrs. Turner really need $800 in service, or $1,600 as originally suggested? It is hard to say from a distance. However, one thing is certain. When you get that kind of unexpected news, verify that the work is really necessary.

 

 

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