Stop Getting Overcharged: Get Auto Repair Savvy!
Women may be safer drivers, but if they do need car repair, they’re not safe from being overcharged.
Find out why women pay more than men for car repairs, and learn some easy guidelines as well as specific scams to watch out for to avoid getting taken for a ride. We’ll also look at how having the right car insurance can help, such as mechanical breakdown insurance.
Why are women overcharged for car repairs?
Study after study shows that women are consistently quoted a higher repair price than men in the same situation. A recent study found women were charged about $25 more than men by auto body shops if they told the employees they weren’t knowledgeable about vehicle repairs.
These studies have concluded that the combination of a lack of knowledge and stereotyping is behind the difference in quotes.
Gender bias that results in the poor consumer experience most women have with the car repair industry may also be a reflection of women’s poor representation within the field: They represent only 2.1% (19,236) of auto mechanics, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2018 report.
But as more women become auto mechanics, raised awareness should help raise parity in pricing. There’s evidence of gains in the field, as the BLS found that in 1999 only 1.4% (12,000) auto mechanics were women.
Women have a long way to go in entering this industry. But they should continue making more and better gains thanks to the growth of organizations committed to educating and empowering future women auto mechanics.
It also helps to have female role models in the automotive field, such as General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Great Bear Auto Repair owner and Women Auto Know founder Audra Fordin, and Girls Auto Clinic founder Patrice Banks.
Fight Car Repair Stereotyping
Women don’t have to wait for an auto mechanic industry transformation. They can be treated better with self-education. The more you know, the less you’ll be targeted for overpricing.
If you don’t know your vehicle’s year, make, and model, start there. And don’t worry, there’s not a long learning curve beyond that, thanks to a book that’s probably gathering dust in your glove compartment: your vehicle’s owner’s manual.
Yes, it makes for some very dry reading, but it will help you avoid being charged for repairs and maintenance you don’t need. It will literally pay to learn your car’s maintenance schedule, including when you should change the oil or rotate the tires.
And thankfully these days the internet and social media make it much easier to learn more. From online tutorials to information about free workshops, women can also learn common maintenance tasks and schedules, common auto failures and costs, what’s under the hood, and what you can do yourself and what to leave to auto professionals.
Do Car Repair Shop Research
It’s also easier than ever to find reputable auto body shops and mechanics. Doing a little homework will pay off big. If you did research, checked on ratings, and comparison shopped to get the fairest deal when car buying, you can employ the same tactics for car repair.
Here’s what to check for:
- A shop that has experience with your vehicle brand
- Better Business Bureau reviews, complaints, and accreditations
- AAA certification, meaning the shop is an Approval Auto Repair (AAR) facility
- Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification, meaning the mechanic is a certified auto professional.
- Business longevity
- Community involvement, which is a good sign that a shop is serious about building a solid, long-term business.
Also seek the advice of family and friends. After discovering I was gouged by a national chain, I asked a few close coworkers if they had a favorite mechanic, and I found an excellent local, independent shop that’s wildly successful just from word-of-mouth promotion.
Once you’ve found a good candidate, give them a test run. Take your vehicle in for an oil change or a tire rotation. If you like how you’re treated, develop a relationship. But if you feel like you’re being gouged, say you want a second opinion and drive away.
Negotiate Car Repair Pricing in Person
It’s better to bring your car in to get diagnosed rather than calling a repair shop to get quotes. Diagnosing over the phone will reduce your chances of getting accurate quotes.
And when you receive that estimate, don’t take it as law and immediately say yes. Insist on seeing the broken part that needs to be replaced, and ask if new, used, or after-market parts will be used to fix it.
The more information you have from the mechanic, the better to accurately price-compare the repair. There are a slew of free online car repair estimate sites you can check, which can help you negotiate to get the fairest price.
What to Avoid at Car Repair Shops
Say that you’ve found a great local mechanic or auto repair shop. Life is perfect — until your vehicle breaks down when you’re driving out of town.
Knowing your car and knowing how to negotiate car repairs will let a mechanic know that you’re an informed consumer. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they still won’t try some scare tactics and other tricks to pad their bill.
Here are a half-dozen phrases and actions to look out for — and drive off as fast as you can:
“I wouldn’t drive this another mile”
This is a scare tactic designed to keep your vehicle in the shop for more work than you intended.
“Most cars like this need . . . ”
Steer clear of mechanics who say this, especially before they even investigate what’s wrong. Generalizing common problems usually translates to unnecessary repairs.
“You have bad brakes and need to replace everything”
This is a red flag because “bad brakes” can usually be fixed by changing brake pads and turning/cleaning brake rotors.
“You have a leak” (and you didn’t bring in your vehicle for that)
A very shady way auto shops scam consumers is to spray coolant on an engine. Ask to see exactly where the vehicle is leaking.
“Your air filter [or fuel filter] is filthy and needs to be replaced”
That’s doubtful. Unscrupulous mechanics keep dirty air filters on hand to squeeze more money out of customers, but since this replacement is generally in the 25,000-mile range, check your manual.
And fuel filter replacement is rarely necessary unless a restricted filter is diagnosed as part of a larger fuel system issue. Or if you have a diesel fuel filter that does require regular service.
“Your car needs a tuneup [or a lube job, or synthetic oil]”
It has been a generation since any vehicle has needed a tuneup, as spark plugs go longer than 100,000 miles.
You don’t need a lube job unless you’re driving a truck with ball joints and tie rods that need lubrication, or an older car where the ball joints aren’t sealed.
And consult your manual regarding synthetic oil, which is pricier. Older cars don’t react well to it, and it’s mainly for high-performance and luxury cars.
Insurance Coverage for Car Repairs
Unfortunately, car insurance coverage doesn’t extend to your vehicle receiving maintenance from an auto mechanic, such as scheduled part replacements, oil changes, or tire rotations.
Car insurance is more about when an incident occurs. If you have collision insurance, that pays for repairs to your damaged car after an accident, minus your deductible. If you have comprehensive insurance, it pays for damage to your car as a result of a natural disaster, minus your deductible.
But there’s a type of coverage available if you want to be covered for the repair costs outside of that. It’s called mechanical breakdown insurance.
What is mechanical breakdown insurance?
Mechanical breakdown insurance (MBI) sounds like roadside assistance, but there’s a difference. While roadside assistance will get you off the side of the road, mechanical breakdown insurance — also known as car repair insurance — will help pay for repairs needed to get your car back in working order.
Car repair insurance protects you if your vehicle spontaneously breaks down. It can be a benefit to add to your policy if your vehicle is no longer covered by a warranty.
MBI is akin to an extended warranty from a dealership. Many drivers see it as a better option since the warranty comes with a higher price tag. The average cost of an extended warranty can range from $1,500 to $3,000. MBI typically ranges from $30 to $100 and usually comes with a $250 or $500 deductible.
There are independent insurance companies that specialize in MBI. But many major carriers including Geico, Nationwide, Progressive, and State Farm give you the option to add MBI to your policy. Purchasing MBI coverage from your auto insurance company can be your most affordable option since you’ll usually receive a discount for giving them extra business.
We hope we’ve provided you with the information to inspire you to learn more about your car. And where to have it repaired so you don’t have to put up with automotive gender discrimination.
Karen Condor writes and researches about car accidents, vehicle repairs, and insurance for the auto insurance comparison site, AutoInsuranceEZ.com. Karen enjoys empowering women to get the same (or better) rates than men at both the repair shop and from their auto insurance providers.