By the time we've reached the legal driving age, those who have gone before us usually instill at least three major lessons we should always put into practice. Number 1: Wear your seatbelt. Number 2: Don't speed. Number 3: Never ever trust your auto mechanic.

    I recently caught up with an auto mechanic who agreed to give me some honest answers about the car repair industry in exchange for a little bit of anonymity. We'll call him "Max", and he's got more than 30 years of grease on his hands.

    Max said that while the car repair industry is trying to clean itself up, some auto mechanics are still doing things like putting used parts in people's cars and selling them as new.

    "I would say years ago, it was more par for the course. I would say it happened about 40 percent of the time," he said. "Today, I would say it probably happens a whole heck of a lot less. You're probably looking at about 10 to 7 percent margin, but it does still happen."

    Steering Clear of Shady Auto Mechanics

    There are three bits of advice Max gave when looking for a good car repair shop. The first is the proper Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification from places like AC Delco, Ford Motor Company or Bendix. "While ASE certification does not indicate that they're really good, it does indicate that the technicians go on their own time, or the business has given them the incentive to study, to take the course and go and show their skills are worthy of certification." (Ed. Note: ASE is a non-profit, independent organization founded in 1972. To learn more click here.)

    Max also wants to see that a car repair shop has all the right equipment in place (like a proper tire mounting machine with rubber mounts that don't scratch your wheels or an alignment rack with laser measurements) to do the job well. "I want to make sure they have the proper diagnostic equipment. A shop that has invested in the proper equipment to service today's automobiles is usually a shop that you can trust, because they are not going to buy that expensive equipment and then have people who are not qualified to use it."

    Max also advises that a good car repair shop should also be somewhat tidy. Max says, "I'm looking for a clean shop. I don't want to see Jake the Junkyard Dog chained in the office. I don't want to see a lot of dirt around the place. It shouldn't look like it's going to be condemned by the health department." Sorry Cooter.

    Besides a car repair shop's cleanliness, Max says the price for car repairs should be clearly posted, and they should always call you with a car repair estimate before they do any work. You should also be able to get some positive feedback about the car repair shop from people who've been there. If an auto mechanic has been recommended to you, make sure it's more than just, "Well I go there because my father's cousin's grandfather used to work there and they're really nice and they make a good cup of coffee," he said. "It's got to be better than that, they've got to have a track record of good quality repair."

    Little Old Ladies, Beware

    With three decades of experience, Max has come across some car repair shop scenarios that would make anyone want to sell his vehicle and start biking to work. He told me about a situation in which a co-worker used a scare tactic in order to trick an elderly woman into getting repairs done on her car. Max relayed the waiting room conversation between Mrs. M and the auto mechanic.

    Mechanic: Mrs. M., what street do you live on?

    Elderly Woman: I live on Elm Street.

    Mechanic: I live on that street too. What time do you come home in the evening

    Elderly Woman: Oh, about 5 o'clock.

    Mechanic: Good. Then I'll know what time to tell my kids to get off the street because I shudder to think of you driving down the street in this car with my children playing in the street because you're driving a death trap and it could kill them.

    "Well needless to say the poor little old lady, just shy of a heart attack, started crying and saying, 'Just do it, fix it, do whatever you have to do!' And this is the type of tactic this guy used." Although Max said these situations don't happen as often as they use to, but there are instances where mechanics use such unscrupulous tactics.

    Window Shopping

    As an auto mechanic for more than 30 years, Max has come across a few annoyances that really get his oil pressure rising. I asked him what types of things customers do that really annoy him and with no hesitation he says, "People who are shopping auto repair prices."

    Max gave me a hypothetical situation of people who call up wanting to know the cost for a tune-up, but don't really know what's wrong with their car. The symptoms they give usually require a different procedure. Max usually hasn't gotten a positive response when he mentions the dreaded diagnostics test that so many people hate paying for. He suggests that it's time and money well spent though. "You're paying for a skilled technician to take an hour's worth of labor to diagnose your vehicle with the proper computer scan tools to determine where your drivability problem is."

    Let's Make a Deal

    The other types of customers that Max doesn't quite enjoy are the ones who come in and say, 'Can you make me a deal?'" Although, Max says that he does try to look out for people who actually do need help and aren't just looking for a discount.

    If a pregnant woman with two kids who worked at McDonalds came to him crying about her car repair problem and didn't have a lot of money to fix it, he told me, "I'm going to the ends of the Earth, to the gates of hell for that woman to get that car running as reasonably as I possibly can and still maintain a profit for my business." Even when helping others, Max says that his line of work is not a charity organization. "I don't wear a white collar and consequently, I can't stay in business if I give away everything I do."

    Trust Wins Points

    The customers who Max appreciates are the ones who trust him to do his job. He had a customer years ago who would drop off his car and tell Max to take care of the car repair. He never cared what it cost and never wanted a telephone call. He simply trusted Max as his auto mechanic to get it running again and to do his job right. "And I never breached that trust," Max said.

    Consequently, Max would adjust his booked schedule, sometimes two weeks' full, in order to get the guy in and out in the same day. "I took care of him. Did I give him a discount? No ... did I do everything I could to get him back on the road as quickly as possible? You're damn right I did. And I did it over, say the guy who came in an hour before and said, 'Can you make me a deal?'"

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    1 - 7 of 7 Comments
    dudeulartv Nov 10, 2009 8:52 AM
    so glad i have these guys. they are so honest and trustworthy. car upkeep is expensive, ******** worth it to be safe. http://www.theautodoctor.net/
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    runeternally05 Nov 08, 2009 6:30 PM
    I love aol for the pretty cool stories and things like this... Fortunately i have found a very good mechanic who has treated me right the past 1500$ in the Tahoe... What i found that keeps me coming back to my mechanic is he show's me everything whether i ask to see it or not... I had my rear end go out last year and he just didn't say u need a new rear end, he took me to the back and showed me, the stripped gear's and the damage that had occurred... same thing with my ac compressor he let me put on his goggles and see the leak... Many mechanics would save themselves a lot of trouble if they just took the time to show us why things need to be replaced... I am a car guy so i do understand what your saying to me when you tell me somethings wrong... Just like the gentlemen at Firestone that told me i needed a new brake pump, i was like really interesting, already knowing i just needed some pad's on real quick before my trip, i looked at the gentlemen, and nicely said just because i am young, and have been fortunate to have been blessed with an inheritance don't take me for an idiot when it comes to car's, i usually do all my own work but was needing to have it done asap for a trip... After this is where i get kicked out of the store... With an announcement to those waiting in the store, ( Hey everyone i just want to let you know this gentlemen and his mechanics just tried to rip me off for a brake bump which i know is working perfectly fine, i came here to just have my brake pad's changed real quick before i leave for Ohio, and he now comes up with the extra loads of BS also be weary of his crazy prices wanting to charge me 1,200 $ for a brake pump when average retail for the part is 480$...) i left and needless to say i do everything i can to bash that local store, as long as the same management is in place... BTW if you live in the Hampton Road's Area Auto Maximus is the place to go, there is a slight language barrier but nothing to bad, these men know what there doing and do it right....
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    xanadu4024 Jul 07, 2009 2:25 AM
    Well chucks5188 your "friendly old mechanic" just ripped you off if he only replaced certain spark plugs. Thats dishonest in all respects. After 20+ years in the repair industry AS a certified technician, I see so many people who come into a chain shop,,,,decide they got ripped off and call the "1800-It be free" number, bitch and moan and get the company to refund a bunch of money. And never got ripped off nor had bad work done. And a lot of people wonder where the high prices come from. Also read the post about how dealers are higher on repairs,,,to bad most of these "callers" dont think of the fact that dealers try to put on an Authorized part rather than the elcheapo from discount store re-manufactured in mexico or even worse china. Yeah it will save some cash but if you have to replace it twice,,,,,,,? Not saying all aftermarket parts are bad or "elcheapo" , you just have to pay attention and ask to see a written estimate, tell them you want to sign for each repair or atleast give verbal authorization(and you should see notations on all calls on final bill too. I just figured up a very small portion of my tool inventory,,,,,$12,000+, I have 2 black boxes with test equipment in them an those total $6,000 alone. a few small hand tools and your talking $20,000 OUT OF MY POCKET, because a lolt of shops dont buy the proper or newer tools, I figure I have well over $50,000 in tools alone yet seem to get the blame on the bill price,,,, and until recently could honestly say less than $30,000 a year was my annual income. In my area it isnt bad *********** isnt getting rich. Oh and technicians that give wrong terms for the reason of problems just plain pisses me off, fellow church member was told his ignition module was draining his battery by leaving lights on.What a joke and they wonder why good techs quit.
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    chucks5188 Jul 07, 2009 1:28 AM
    my neighbor in a small town in iowa is still repairing cars ( a little). my dad would get a tuneup and the mechanic would say i replaced 5 of the spark plugs because one of them was still good! great guy and very trustworthy. when i got married i was driving through town in an old car and kept hearing rattling from the front axle. worried about my long trip to arizona i stopped in. he said lets go for a ride and i will listen. when we were done he smiled and popped off the front hubcaps- my friends had put rocks in the hubcaps. no charge except a laugh. i saw him last year- can barely stand but still turns up his hearing aid and can fix anything from lawnmower to tractor to your new car. my experience with mechanics is not that they are dishonest- just some are better at it-
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    hmsvs Jul 06, 2009 11:01 PM
    i ran a very respected shop for 20 yrs in fort lauderdale. i agree with max, customers who dont question us and call us liars before we even touch the car get VIP service. i had basically two kinds of customers One made appointments for maintanence, timing belts, and other routune services and then the other, they came in with emergency's all the time. Usually on a tow truck ... I never allowed a customer to not get what they paid for, however there are many bad apples in our trade. I remember an oil change fellow i hired from a national chain. He told me how much money i was loosing by giving away washer fluid with my oil changes. He said they never used genuine washer fluid, just blue food coloring in the water. So when you see your washer fluid bottle turn blue with a stain, now you know the oil change place GOTCHA ... Doctors, Lawyers,Accountants, Even the IRS agent cant get to work without their vehicle in top shape, but they dont want to pay the auto repair professional to BE A PROFESSIONAL. would you ask the doctor performing heart transplant to get you a good deal or cut his labor rate would you, but you dont really care were i get that used engine, or if i have enough profit to stay in business to honor my warranty.. if the heart is no good you die, if the engine is no good you get a tow. Good luck to you all. HMSVS@aol.com
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    kim42 Jul 06, 2009 8:47 PM
    no, maybe you can't just say smile and fix it, but there's nothing more annoying than a customer who's calling you a liar or looking for something for free before you've even touched thier car. If you're going to question the car repair, please understand how the car works. Car repairs are expensive. So is insurance for garages, think malpractice. If your car doesn't go out the door fixed, its on the mechanic. Not all garages are out to "screw you over" My family has been in the auto repair industry for 35 years, and I have NEVER EVER ONCE lied to a customer, or tried to "up sell" a repair to pad my bottom line. I know there are people like that out there, but in this day in age, with somone able to bad mouth you to the entire community on sites like Yelp why would you want to? Its much more profitable to run an honest buisness. Yes, car repair is expensive, but so are a lot of other trades, pluming, electric, etc. It is what it is, you have to deal with it.
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    chicagorm7 Jul 06, 2009 8:33 PM
    dont agree with max on all points . especially last. i cant go in and tel a mechanic just fix it because i may not be able to afford everything and certain things can wait. unless im Bill gates then i can smile and say just fix it, but most people this days cant do that sorry max.. money doesnt grow on trees.
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