How to talk to your mechanic
All car owners will, at some point, need to visit a mechanic, so it’s important to know what to ask for in order to get the best results. In 2012, a study by Northwestern University and AutoMD found that if people overestimated how much a particular repair would cost, the quote they were given by the mechanic was ultimately higher1. This emphasises the importance of being prepared – knowledge is power.
For those with no idea about the inner workings of a car, a visit to the mechanic might seem daunting. We spoke to Mario Milo, a mechanic at MD Vehicle Solutions, about the importance of getting the right diagnosis, and put together this handy guide so you can make sure you’re armed with the right words to make the experience better for both sides.
Important topics to cover at the garage
If you want to communicate effectively at the garage, you need to make sure you’re clear about the problem. One way to do this is to write down each time your car shows a symptom. Note what seemed unusual (leaks, smells or your car jerking abnormally) and when it happened, so you can remember it better. Also, you can take a test drive if you can’t quite describe how your car behaves when you’re driving.
Once you’ve explained the problem, there are a few questions you need to make sure you’ve answered:
- How long will the service take? If you’re not going to have your car for any length of time, you’ll need to be aware of how long you’ll need a replacement for.
- How much will it cost? Be sure to get a written quote so you’re protected by consumer law.
- Can I see the parts that are broken? “An honest mechanic should have no problem showing you the parts they've replaced - a good mechanic should ask if you want to see (damaged/failed parts), or in some cases even keep them.” There are, however, some exceptions to this; for example some failed parts have to be returned to the manufacturer. Ultimately, it’s important to “make sure the problem was real, make sure it's been addressed, and get an understanding for yourself.”
There are a few specific terms to know that can help you get your car fixed quicker and more easily:
- OE and aftermarket parts. OE means 'Original Equipment'; these parts are designed and manufactured to the exact specification of the car manufacturer and are Quality Controlled (often manufactured by companies like Bosch or Mann). The alternative to OE parts are called 'Aftermarket' or 'Budget' parts; these are not always Quality Controlled and may not perform to the same standard as OE. “Aftermarket parts aren't necessarily made from the same materials as OE and are designed with price in mind. This can mean reduced tolerance to friction, reduced lifespan and efficiency.”
- Cam belt or timing belt. You’ve likely heard this term at the mechanic. This belt connects the camshaft and the crankshaft.
- Brake pads and brake discs. Brake pads clamp around the brake discs, providing friction to stop the car effectively, but will need to be replaced from time to time. You can replace them yourself, or the mechanic can do it. If your brake discs are worn, this is more serious and can be more costly.
- Dampers. This term often refers to shock absorbers, another part of your car that may need replacing. It’s important to do this when recommended, as avoiding it can lead to much bigger problems down the line.
- Catalytic converter. Sometimes also called the “cat”, this part reduces the emissions a car puts out. It’s expensive to replace, but will save you money in fuel consumption in the long run, and is an essential car part so needs to be working efficiently.
If you are worried about being given the wrong price, “there are resources available to check a quote you've been given. One of the most accurate and accessible systems is offered by ClickMechanic, the UK's largest mobile mechanic platform. The quote engine is powered by the latest technology and data. Input your vehicle registration, and it gives you an instant, fixed quote for work including OE parts and labour.” So you’re prepared before you enter the garage, you can also check out this comprehensive guide to car parts on Simple Motoring.
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