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5 ways to avoid getting ripped off at the auto shop

Ann Jacob
Ann Jacob

The auto body shop has never been a girl’s club, and many women often feel intimidated or overcharged when they’re forced to make a visit. Audra Fordin launched a consumer advocacy initiative, Women Auto Know, and is a fourth-generation owner of Great Bear Auto Repair in Flushing, N.Y. Fordin focuses on helping women, but she thinks anyone can get taken for a ride at the shop.

How do you avoid getting swindled? Research. “Doing your research and getting the information at the onset is really the most important thing that you should be doing,” said Fordin.

“When people think that they’re getting ripped off, I truly believe it’s because they don’t have any information,” she says. “They don’t know what the average price is. They don’t even know what they need, what the part is called, where it goes or how it’s going to benefit.”

Fordin thinks it’s a myth that women get ripped off more than men. “Men don’t know anything about the cars either, no offense guys. … Once fuel injection came into play, we put the hood down and people stopped paying attention to what their needs were underneath the hood. In actuality, everybody needs to know about their car.”

One way to be more informed — and save money as a result — is to pay attention, Fordin says.

“If you notice a problem when you stop at a stop light or when you’re merging or if it’s when you first turn the car on or shut it off, you can start to break it down and identify patterns when you feel there’s something not right.”

Fordin likes to compare going to a mechanic to going to the doctor. “What I’ve done with Women Auto Know is, we’ve broken up the car into eight essential systems where we correlate it to the human body.” Fordin says this helps her customers relate to their cars.

And, she advises, just like when you go to the doctor, trust your instincts and find a mechanic you trust. “Auto shops are like doctors. If the doctor gives you a result or a diagnosis, and you agree with [his or her assessment], you would go ahead and take their next steps. But if a doctor says, ‘You know, well I know you’re saying it’s your foot but it looks to me like it’s your thumb on your right hand.’ [You’re thinking] ‘I don’t think so,’ your gut’s right.”