These smart apps and websites take the worry out of auto repair. (debairdâ„¢, Flickr)

    by: Reilly Brennan | AOL Autos

    No matter how smart you are or how hard you try, you have the feeling you're get taken for a ride, don't you?

    For decades, car shoppers had that sinking feeling in their stomachs when they approached the dealership. Even the coolest hostage negotiator felt squeezed by the grip of the car salesman, who either wrangled more money out of the buyer or handed him off to the finance manager for further cash extraction.

    In fact, whenever we've run articles here on AOL Autos about how to negotiate the price of a new car, we invariably see comments from buyers who say, "I don't trust 'em."

    But the internet changed all that. Now you're able to research beyond the MSRP, finding the exact invoice pricing the dealer paid and even letting the various dealers work against each other as they try to email you their best offers. For new car shopping, the internet has been incredibly helpful to buyers.

    The Next Frontier

    But one aspect of the automotive experience still leaves people feeling uneasy: car repair. With an inability to know exactly what's wrong (and furthermore, without the proper computer and wires, the ineptitude to actually fix anything), haziness surrounds most transactions. Internal monologues travel from "$600 for a new alternator? Really?" to "I guess this guy knows more than me -- he's wearing a uniform and a nametag."

    But finally it seems that the long arm of the internet is catching up with car repair. Now, if you have to get your car fixed, you have real knowledge with which to arm yourself.

    Here are a few of our favorite ways to sort out car repair pricing so that you can get the edge, not the repair shop:


    RepairPal launched just three years ago but has already had a significant impact on the car repair scene. The company provides a price estimator for parts and labor so that you know what's a good deal and what's not.

    The 100 or so most common repairs are listed for every car going back for the last 20 years. What's great is that the prices are specific to your location (yep, that alternator that goes for $400 might actually run $600 in other parts of the country). Once you find the estimate for the repair you're looking for, you can see local shops and get reviews on the work they've done. Tech blog TechCrunch calls RepairPal the "Google Health For Cars."

    RepairPal's estimator can be found right on AOL Autos, too. Just follow this link and you can search for an estimate on your car.

    If you want to take the info with you on the go, we recommend RepairPal's excellent mobile app. It's iPhone only at this point but the people at RepairPal tell us that a version for the Android is on the way.

    If you don't know exactly what's wrong with your car, RepairPal's community will likely be able to answer your question. The website's Encyclopedia section is useful and comes packed with simple answers.


    AutoMD is a little older than RepairPal (it started in 2004) but it's one we're continuing to keep our eyes on. The site offers repair estimates so buyers can get the inside scoop.

    One interesting part about AutoMD is that it provides not only repair estimates for work done by a shop, but it also gives a pure parts estimate if you're a "shadetree" mechanic. Many common repairs also have how-to guides with photos to walk you through the process.

    Because of its attractiveness to do-it-yourselfers, it was no surprise to us when AutoMD was acquired by online parts company US Auto Parts a little over a year ago.

    AutoMD says that its data goes back to 1980, so if you have an older vehicle it might be a good place for you to start. Unlike RepairPal, however, you have to use the AutoMD site -- there's no mobile app at this point.

    One of the best parts about AutoMD's experience is that they start with some very common language in order to help you diagnose your problem.

    "If you're not sure what the problem is, start by describing the symptoms," the site reads, with everyday phrasing like "Ugh! It Won't Start" and "Hear -- I hear it (i.e. a rattle, a knock, or a squeal)." If you know specifically what you need fixed, it also offers clear direction on parts and labor pricing without the diagnostic steps.


    DriverSide covers a little more ground than RepairPal and AutoMD, although it still provides valuable info in order for you in your battle against the car repair shop.

    The site (there's no mobile app at this point, although our friends at DriverSide tell us they're working on them) focuses on your specific car, going all the way back to 1946. Once you register your vehicle, you can find a wealth of information, including recall notices, what accessories you might want to think about and tips on servicing. The site has become popular, especially in light of the recession.

    "Our research shows that 82% of car owners are holding onto their cars longer due to the recession, while 41% of those surveyed don’t do even the basic maintenance on their cars," said Jon Alain Guzik, Editor in Chief of DriverSide. "We think that 2009 was the year of maintenance – oil changes, tires, tune ups – while all these services have stayed steady in terms of price, we’ve been seeing a lot more of these types of service done."

    One of the things we like a lot about DriverSide is that they have expert mechanics on the site (you'll note them by the badge next to their name), so if you ask specific questions about your car you will get an expert to provide his or her feedback. We've seen response times by mechanics as quickly as within the hour.

    Whichever app or site you choose, the message is clear: now you have the ability to get the kind of pricing info on car repairs that was previously hidden. The transparency expected in new car shopping has been brought to bear in car repair and maintenance.

    Quick Shopping Tools:

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    1 - 20 of 252 Comments
    Debsully69 Feb 26, 2011 5:22 PM
    Debsully69 Feb 26, 2011 5:03 PM Went to the doctors for a routine stress test.I was there for less than 2 hours.I got a $3000.00 bill.I told them to send me an itemized bill to show me why it cost so much.They said they dont do that.Ripp-off. Went to a lawyer,he told me $1500.00 would be the bill. That ended up costing $3500.00 Ripp-off. Called a plumber,was quoted $2000.00 The bill was $5000.00.Ripp-off. I have a friend that had 4 teeth worked on at the dentist.His bill was $16000.00.Ripp-off.SO STOP CALLING MECHANICS OR TECHS DIS-HONEST. MOST ARE HONEST AND JUST TRYING TO MAKE A LIVING.
    Report This
    MosBriards Feb 26, 2011 3:05 PM
    car prices vary greatly according to the newness and complexity of the car. if the overhead of the repair place is high that will affect the repair cost. as well as theestimator of the repair.
    Report This
    Nyouc Feb 26, 2011 11:14 AM
    I don't understand, if your afraid of being riped off, Why don't you fix it yourself, Just think about how much YOU rip at the Ofice,, see the old parts LOL ,, I have a box full out back,,,, Pad the bill?? Only for Lunch, coffee break, The hours i spend on the phone chasing parts, How much is this hack rippen??? 1/2 hour on the keyboard? a day, yet sells it 10k, so who is rippen,
    Report This
    SSTJ Jan 06, 2011 11:39 AM
    Mr. Brennen, You cast a very unfavorable light on a lot of really good companies and people. Just because there are some poor auto repair businesses or technicians does not mean the other thousands are crooks or cheats. Why don\'t you report some of the good stories and not just complain?
    Report This
    JWALLY063 Jan 03, 2011 7:00 PM
    "Most professioneal prefer to use only top quality parts, as you expect them to stand behind their work, and their reputation is on the line." nonsense,most will use cheap parts and give 12 month warranty which most likely the part won't go bad in 12 months and if it does they still can get another which will be covered by their parts supplier as exchange. So most of the time they will say the part caused $100 and really cost $20. A GREAT RESOURSE TO SEE AUTO PARTS PRICES IS ROCKAUTO.COM
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    JWALLY063 Jan 03, 2011 6:54 PM
    Another SCAM is the Shops will buy the cheapest part because they make a profit on the part as well by saing it cost more. Then when I offer to get the part which I like to buy the better quality part then theres they will do the old scam," well then you don't get the warranty if the part goes" they don't want you cutting in on the profit of the part. Ask your mechanics that you are looking to buy a new car and what to stay away from. then thats the one I would buy. usually they will say Hyundai,etc because they don't want you buying a car with long warrantys. i went to a GM dealership when the mechanics arrived driving Honda's whats thet tell you. They should make Mechanics carry license's this will rule out most uneducated back yard mechanics and make them held liable for accidents caused by there repairs so they have to have liability insurance. Also make them do all repairs under State video cameras like the inspections were for a while then maybe they will do the job correctly
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    JWALLY063 Jan 03, 2011 6:33 PM
    Long Island New York is filled of the worst mechanics and the biggest thief's. Like another poster I goto the City for Repairs, even the BBB New York State DMV and Consumer Affairs are useless on Long island.I have changed engines.transmissions,etc I have seen and experienced many times being ripped off on Long Island. I don't understand in New york you need a license to cut hair but yet Mechanics don't need a license to fix thousands pound vehicles and put lives at risk????????????? EG: I was quoted a break line to be replaced at a shop on Long Island and when I got home the break line was repaired with a union without flaring properly to say the least and it leaked,not caring the car had a child seat in the car. it leaked right away and could of been killed. Even with proof to DMV complaint they did nothing. Another complaint to DMV buying a car from a used car Dealership, DMV had already about 20 complaints and still did nothing. Failed consumer over sight is why they are so bad
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    THEmotorjunkie Jan 01, 2011 1:48 PM
    I suppose that my main concerns with these sites is that they often use over the counter DIY parts pricing and not list or MSRP pricing for the parts. I dont know of many shops that can survive, let alone be profitable, without charging a substantial markup on parts, often higher than MRSP in many cases. One should also consider the wide range of parts in the market, some better than others. Some may be better than OE, others are plain junk. Most professioneal prefer to use only top quality parts, as you expect them to stand behind their work, and their reputation is on the line. Second, incidental parts and materials, may not be covered, and diagnositic time is not considered as the customer is looking up a price for a specific repair, once the failure is known. Then you have to take into consideration, not only the local, but age and condition of the car as well, Repairs to the same make and model of car can vary depending on the age of the car, and whether it has been properly maintained, driven in salt belts states, gravel roads etc...............does the website have the car in front of them? NO can they therefore provide an accurate estimate of repairs based on the variables just mentioned? NO
    Report This
    Pcs5141 Dec 31, 2010 2:58 PM
    Speaking as an auto tech of over 40 years most of the complainers have no idea what it takes to keep up with the constant changes(more complicated/harder to access fasteners,ect) and differences the way each manufacturer does things.I used to enjoy working on cars but now its a big pain in the ass.Also used to be able to make a decent honest living.In the last 5 years I have had to buy all kinds of special tools just to get at fasteners ect that are hardly accessable.Doctors have it easy; 1. only 2 models that havent changed in thousands of years. 2. doctors cover ass by saying "well you only got 50/50 chance of cure/bury mistakes.3.The hospital buys all the tools.4.pay.5.doctors treated with respect. I have not gotten a raise for 10 years(top ase tech with years of experence).
    Report This
    Dixireb20 Dec 31, 2010 2:17 PM
    My boyfriend is a tech, and I can tell you that the amount of money that some people are charged is very much warranted. I came in one day to get my oil changed and this crazy woman pulled in next to me wanting something fixed on her car. My boyfriend was the one who did her service. From the moment she pulled in, in her BMW, she spoke to him liked he was dirt, then with no reason to do so, she went to his manager and told him that my boyfriend had hit on her and touched her in an inappropriate way. Now she had no clue who I was or that he and I are together , or that I was watching everything, but she did her best to get him in trouble and get her services for free. He was nothing but professional. This is a very common occurrence for people to try to get their stuff for free, and then the rest of us have to pay the higher prices. It is just like shoplifting, in the end the honest people pay for what the dishonest people do. Also, the amount of money that we have spent to buy the tools that he has to use to repair your car is crazy, and only a certain % is tax deductible. The shop he works for says that this and that can be repaired but they make the tech buy the tools to do the repair and do not reimburse them. These men are expected to do your grunt work, solve (some times very difficult) problems, that you can't solve, fix them, and do it while dealing with customers who think they know everything, or who treat them like they are lower citizens than they, and while having to deal with the elements. They are open wether it is 100 degrees or below 0, and they have to keep the shop doors open which lets in the cold or heat. This is one of the areas where people think that the techs are uneducated and deserve to be treated as such. Thing is, if they are so uneducated then why in the heck would you want them working on your $30,000-$50,000 car? These men go thru more education than most lawyers or doctors, there are classes monthly, and they have to go to them on their off days or after work until 10 or 11 PM and still be at work the next morning at 6 am, bright eyed and bushy tailed, to change your oil, or replace your fan belt. And half of the time these are mandatory classes that they do not get paid to attend, but have to go or risk their job. These men do not work in this field because they can't get any other kind of work, they do it because they really enjoy working on cars. Tell me, how would you like to come home everyday with bleeding knuckles, and burnt arms, and grease all over? So next time you want to complain about the price you are charged, how about you put yourself in their shoes, or why not just do the repair yourself, if you can figure out how.
    Report This
    chckpope Dec 31, 2010 2:14 PM
    Sure there may be a few crooks out there, but most mechanics that have worked on my cars are honest hardworking people that try and save me money. You have to remember copper& steel prices have gone through the roof and many parts like catalytic converters and heat sensors have platinum in them. So the parts alone could run hundreds of dollars when you used to be able to get an alternator for $60. So before trashing an industry use some common sense. Cars have more computers on board now than ever before so not only do these folks have to know about basic mechanics they need to know about electronics also. The more skill that is required to work on the car the more it will cost to fix it. So unless you own an old pre 79 vehicle you should expect to pay more for repairs, or you can spend the time and money to learn how to fix them yourselves.
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    Byrd62movies6 Dec 31, 2010 2:09 PM
    Even if you buy a "NEW CAR" Frank , how long is it new, How many miles is still new to you, then you still need to do the maintnance and deal with a auto repair or service center.
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    Byrd62movies6 Dec 31, 2010 2:02 PM
    I must disagree with you, I know many people in the industry that are good honest men and women, so I would say more like 3 out of 10 are not so honest , it is best to get three estimates before having your auto repaired.
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    Franksdreamland Dec 31, 2010 1:53 PM
    I KNOW ABOUT BEING RIPPED OFF ON CAR MECHANICS. I HAD MY SHARE. That is why, if I don't buy it new, Im not buying it at all. First thing to do is go to the BBB.ORG and make sure that there are no complaints against your mechanic. If there is one, drop him like a hot potato. Go online in chat rooms and find mechanics and get their est. price of the job before committing yourself to a mechanic. Pay with a credit card only, NO CASH, this way, you can stop the payment if the job is no done right. Do not go into neighborhoods that wealthy people live in. The price will eat your up alive. I live on Long Island and if I needed a mechanic I will go into queens, because the property taxes are so high, it goes into the job of the fee. And above all, watch for signs of financial problems or bankruptcy coming down the road in the business. If you see no cars around or the place is falling apart, be careful. Above all, don't trust anyone. Get second and third opinions.
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    Byrd62movies6 Dec 31, 2010 1:38 PM
    I have been an auto mechanic for 35 yrs, to keep auto repair cost down simply do the proper maintnance on your vehicle, change the oil on a regular basis, I say every 3000 miles, some say 5000 miles, have the transmission serviced, fluid and filter changed, every 12,000 miles ,yes the transmission has a filter also, replace the drive belt or belts changed every 25,000 miles, replace the timing belt every 60,000 miles, replace the fuel filter every 12,000 miles, have the brakes inspected every 6 months, most places do this for free, don't just drive it till it breaks down and your stuck on the side of the road, at the mercy of the tow truck driver, have the starter motor and alternator replaced at 100k miles, the key is maintnance.
    Report This
    Promanage5 Dec 31, 2010 1:32 PM
    I meant to say 9 out of Ten are crooks
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    Promanage5 Dec 31, 2010 1:28 PM
    mr. a560sec, I am glad to here that there are good, Honest repair mechanics out there. Please clone yourself and replace the other 90% of the clearly out to get ones. As a race car driver and bussiness consultant , I understand the American Way. It is called capitolism. It has come to mean to capitolize upon. One out of Ten mechanis are nothing but crooks or incompitant and the more they take the more they make.
    Report This
    MrLecher Dec 31, 2010 1:16 PM
    Something isn't right here... I checked on a repair and it gave me an estimate of about $200.00 parts & labor. Replacing an ignition coil in a 1997 Sebring. I paid over $900.00. I KNOW personally that the part alone was over $500.00 because I tried to buy one myself to replace it. The ignition coil and the distributor were a single unit. AND the engine has to be loosened from its mounts to replace it. Don't trust the repair calculator here...
    Report This
    Adultswimer123 Dec 31, 2010 12:37 PM
    I know what my problem is that needs to be fixed on my truck.But they do tell me it will be expensive because another or many parts need to be changed in order to get my truch running again.Most Tech,Mechanics,as they fixing my problem or yours,may ******* and break another part and never tell you.He will than charge you for the extra part or parts that he did not need to fix .There are about 95% of mecahanics that do not know what they are doing or looking for.So they will charge you more by the hour to find what they think is the problem.I use a moble mechanic that comes to my home and fixes my problem in about one 20th of the time,for 20% or the price a dealer would charge.STAY AWAY FOR ALL DEALERS.
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    buck4u57 Dec 31, 2010 12:20 PM
    RepairPal is full of garbage. It just quoted me a price of NTE 750 dollars for a timing belt on a PT Cruiser. Of the 7 shops I got quotes from, 3 would not touch a PT timing belt and the ones who would wanted anywhere from "we should be able to do it for less than a grand" to 2500.00 at the GO dealership in town. The repair shops recommended by RepairPal were among the ones I talked to and their quotes were double what RepairPal says they should be. As with most expert opinions rendered on the internet, take this article with a grain of salt.
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    No matter how smart you are or how hard you try, you have the feeling you're get taken for a ride, don't you?


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