We're all scared of being ripped off by car mechanics – for a reason, it's a cliché. And since most people don't really know how their vehicles are functioning and how they are being repaired, it can be nebulous and daunting to get a vehicle to work on. But if you're feeling uncomfortable with something, at face value you don't have to take the word of anyone. You can browse around at all times.
Even if you have some practical knowledge of what makes your car run and what kind of repairs it may need, once you leave a vehicle with them, you are still at the mercy of a mechanic.
In my personal experience, most of them are not in the business of "screwing you," the good ones will be realistic about what kind of care is suitable for a car and budget as well as charging parts and labor market rates. But none are infallible–some make mistakes, and they can cost you as much as a fraudulent shop that will attempt to charge you for unnecessary work.
So how are you going to find the good ones?
Looking at online reviews is a good starting point, but it shouldn't be your last stop. The loudest online people tend to be the most anxious, and you never really know what the deal was that made someone throw acid on a shop. Perhaps they brought in some old clapped-out clunky car that had been on their last legs for years and was miffed when it couldn't be worked on, or they commissioned a 2000AED paint job and were shocked that it only lasted one year. (If you're wondering wrong, painting a whole car is a labor-intensive process that normally costs at least a few big ones.) Reviews can also be juiced in the other direction. Maybe a shop paid people in a click farm in Pakistan for a flood of five-star ratings. I doubt it's a common occurrence, but I'm sure there has been some variation of it.
Point is–you can at least get an accurate idea through feedback of what's out there, and weed out those that seem completely bad.
• Find A Group (Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp)
I know this will be written off by the average consumer as too much effort, but all my personal favorite mechanics have been found via Whatsapp groups and Facebook groups.
This is a much better screening sieve than random Google reviews–a community of people in your type of car will probably know a tech or two that has proven to be competent and trustworthy.
If you're not already in this, try "your car make + Facebook group" from Google and see what's going on, I bet even the most humdrum daily driver has a fan base and some active people who might give you suggestions on where to get your car to work.
• Find a specialist garage
We're spoiled for choice in Dubai. This is not only a hub for car enthusiasts, but there are so many cars around it that mechanics can thrive on a niche. Many shops say they're specialized in Mercedes-Benzes or BMWs, but if you look hard enough, you can even find a Lamborghini supercar garage or a garage that will service their tractors from the 1940s.
• Gut Instinct
Trust your intuition when you're walking into a store and moving into it. If it sounds sketchy, bail it out. If it seems fine, tell the person behind the desk what your concern is, and you can quit again if you don't get a good feeling. This seems to be something that other people don't understand and what motivated me to write this blog post, based on what I'm learning from folks in my own social circle.
If you get a decent atmosphere and want a report to be made by the technician, make sure you know what you are paying for and approving. Some evaluations can be done free of charge, others are not. If something needs to be visually inspected by a mechanic, it may not cost anything. If they need to perform any type of pressure test or get a break down from diagnostic equipment, you are more likely to receive billing. (But if you just need to know what your Check Engine Light means, most car parts stores will plug in and answer for free.)
• Its OK to Walk Away!
If you get a quote estimate for maintenance that seems high or impossible or off, there's nothing wrong with you refusing politically, gathering your car and taking your company elsewhere.
That said, you might just go to a second shop to get a similar forecast and price, but at least then you'll have the peace of mind that the situation has been a little more validated.
Talented shops tend to charge more cash, and you don't really want to do a bargain basement job on one of your car's systems that might or might not mean the difference between crashing.
• Take Your Time
So now I've told you to shop around for better prices, but don't actually go with the cheapest option, and basically build a "helpful" guide that looks just as ambiguous and confusing as the terms your mechanic's throwing at you followed by scary numbers. Take your time go for the best deal and the mechanic that is more pessimistic.
The irritating fact is that both are true: for the entire experience, you must compare the store, but not just for the cost.
Keep your eyes and ears open when you're trying to fix your car and try to enter the transaction with someone's motivated attitude who can just take their business elsewhere if you have any doubts. Because it's true!
You can also refuse service, go home and do your own testing, and then take your car back to the same place if you conclude after all that their study was OK. Or just take home your car to save for a big job. I've done it myself many times.