Seniors get tips on avoiding car repair scams

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Thu., May. 19, 2011
The GPD's Agent James Kennedy explains some ways to avoid paying for unnecessary car repairs. Photo by Steve Smith.
The GPD's Agent James Kennedy explains some ways to avoid paying for unnecessary car repairs. Photo by Steve Smith.

At the Glastonbury Senior Center on May 17, Agent James Kennedy of the Glastonbury Police Department gave a presentation on how to avoid being ripped off while getting your car repaired.

Kennedy told of a recent experience he had at a local repair shop, where he was told that some of his brake line hoses needed to be replaced immediately. He then consulted a friend, who is also a mechanic, who told him that the hoses are worn, but that he could wait a few months before replacing them.

“If it's happening to me, it can happen to you,” Kennedy said.

When choosing a repair shop, Kennedy said, finding one with a good reputation is important. Consulting family, friends and neighbors is one way to find an honest mechanic.

Another sign is when a mechanic says work can be put off.

“If a mechanic says, 'You need this done, but we can do this the next time you come in,' that's the sign of a good repair shop,” Kennedy said.

It's also important to find a certified mechanic, which is easily detectable by the framed certificates on the wall. Also, it's important to check how shops determine a price for a certain job.

“Some repair shops charge by the specific job,” Kennedy said, “and some charge by the hourly rate.”

Consumers should also get a written estimate. It is state law that repairs cannot exceed the written estimate, Kennedy said.

Car owners should check that parts used are genuine, original manufacturing equipment.

“There are a lot of cheap materials coming out of China,” Kennedy said. “If you have to get a windshield replaced, for example, some of the aftermarket windshields are a little bumpy on the side, and that can give you a distorted view from inside your car.”

Kennedy said consumers can check the etching on the bottom of a windshield, as well as on other parts, to be sure they are from the original manufacturer, but they should also insist up front. He added that usually, reputable shops will ask first.

Kennedy said that he has done a lot of his own car repairs for years, and while that isn't practical for everyone, there are some basic things that most people can do that will have long-term cost savings.

"Try to keep your gas tank at least one-quarter full,” Kennedy said, adding that with a small amount of fuel in the tank, a car's motion can slosh the gas around the intake and air could get into the fuel pump - something not cheap to replace.

“Oil should be checked every gas fill-up, or at least every other time,” Kennedy said. “It's very easy to do. Today, all dipsticks are color-coded.”

Air pressure in tires should also be checked, in order to maintain good gas mileage, and the trick of using Lincoln's head on a penny to gauge tread depth (if the tread doesn't reach his head, new tires are needed) is a good way to avoid unnecessary replacements.

Tires should also be rotated every 7,000 miles.

One of the best things one can do is get a second opinion, Kennedy said.

“If your car is running well, and you just go in to get an oil change, and they tell you that you need a ton of other things, go somewhere else and get another opinion,” he said.

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