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10 Most Common Car Repair Rip-Offs

Owning a car is expensive, especially when anything breaks. While you can expect to pay a handsome price for complicated repairs, you shouldn't have to pay an arm and a leg for relatively simple fixes. Discover 10 of the most common car repair rip-offs and how to avoid them.

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oil REDPIXEL.PL/shutterstock

An Oil Change

How often should you change your oil? For years, the rule of thumb was to visit the mechanic every three months or 3,000 miles. Yet as engine technology and oil formulas advance, replacing the oil four times a year is no longer necessary. A DIY oil change can be quick, tidy and you’ll save big.

If you’re using conventional oil, most owner’s manuals don’t recommend heading to the shop until you hit the 5,000- or 7,500-mile mark. Some synthetic oils can go as high as 25,000 miles between changes.

If your mechanic tries to pressure you into coming in every 3,000 miles, find a new one.

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brake pads Alraun/shutterstock

Brake Pads

Brake-centric companies are notorious for offering one thing and upcharging you for something else. They get you in for a four-wheel brake service for $99, but when you come back, you’re suddenly looking at hundreds of dollars worth of service. We’ll show you how to change brake pads yourself, so you can save a bundle.

Read your owners manual to learn how often you should have your brakes serviced. Between 50,000 and 70,000 miles is average. Plus, if a mechanic performs services you didn’t authorize, don’t pay. You’re only obligated to cover the work you agreed to.

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Free Services

You see it everywhere. Many shops advertise free AC checks, battery testing and more to get you in the door. Once there, they’re guaranteed to find problems you’ll need to pay them to repair.

Psst: Here’s how to perform a simple step-by-step 10-minute seasonal battery check-up, so you know whether your battery is performing well.

Don’t ignore free services when offered. Instead, ensure you’re under no obligation to stay for repairs if they find something is wrong.

Oh, and anytime you get a key in the mail from a dealership saying to come in and see if it starts your brand new car, you can throw it away. You didn’t win a new car, they just want you in the door.

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Car mechanic fixing fuel injector at two camshaft gasoline enginesima/Shutterstock

Fuel Injector Cleanings

Some shops advertise fuel injector cleaning, claiming it improves fuel economy and makes your car run better. While a fuel injector cleaner can clean your fuel system, you don’t need to pay for a mechanic to do it. Fuel additives improve engine performance and other additives solve a variety of engine/drive-train problems.

Pick up a bottle of STP Fuel Injector Cleaner from your local part’s store or online. Then, add it to your gas tank the next time you fill up.

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tiresPascalis PW/Shutterstock

Front End Suspension Parts

When your front end starts to shake, your first course of action may be to head to the mechanic. Unscrupulous shops play on your fear that something is wrong, conning you into paying hundreds in replacement parts. However, you might only need to balance your tires or get an alignment. The alignment should cost you around $50, whereas the ball joint replacement can cost close to $500. Neither of these are DIY-friendly, so it’s going to cost you something, but it shouldn’t break the bank. The ball joints do eventually wear out, but not nearly as often as mechanics would have you believe.

Next, check out a few more examples of car repairs and maintenance on which you may be wasting money.

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scratch PixieMe/Shutterstock

Fixing Paint Scratches

When you park too close to another car or scratch your door with your keys, you damage the paint, making it vulnerable to rust. Of course, if you take your vehicle to a body shop, you can expect to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to fix the scratch.

Instead, use Turtle Wax Scratch Repair and Renew for minor scratches and blemishes. For deeper cuts, find your paint color, get some sandpaper, and touch it up on your own.

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Blown Head Gasket

Replacing a blown head gasket is expensive, but most mechanics will agree that it’s not something you can put on hold. When the gasket blows, coolant leaks into your oil and causes all sorts of damage. Unfortunately, nearly every mechanic you visit will charge a fortune, even if the leak is small.

You can sometimes also use other, inexpensive solutions to solve the problem internally without taking apart the top half of the engine. If that doesn’t work, move on to more comprehensive repairs. Don’t start with the most expensive solution when you might not need it.

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spark plugs Evgenius1985/Shutterstock

Spark Plugs in New Cars

A couple of decades ago, getting new spark plugs was part of your regular tune-up. However, advances in engine technology and fuel economy mean today’s parts last longer than they used to. Most cars only need to have spark plugs replaced every 30,000 miles.

Keep track of the last time your spark plugs were changed, and don’t let mechanics pressure you into spending more money than you need to. If they upsell you for something this small, it could be a warning that they’ll also try to rip you off for bigger parts and services down the line.

Here’s what you need to know about buying spark plugs.

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Check Engine Light

Your check engine light will alert you with a code if the car’s computer detects an issue. Unless you have the tools to read the code, though, it merely sits on your dash like an ominous warning that you shouldn’t ignore for long.

Most mechanics will pull engine codes for free. Call around and ask before you arrive, as some will charge more than $100 (and not tell you until afterward). Chain auto stores, like AutoZone and NAPA, are always a safe bet.

Some common reasons the check engine light flashes on is an oxygen sensor failure, loose gas cap and issues with an aftermarket alarm. Once you understand what the code means, you can troubleshoot the problem and potentially fix it yourself.

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how to replace wiper bladesfamily handyman

Wiper Blade Replacement

In most cars, changing your wiper blades is something you can easily do yourself. Don’t fall for what happened to me, when the mechanic offered to “throw some new ones on there” for me. He picked the premium ones that were way overpriced, and then charged for labor on top of it. At $70 to $90 an hour for something that you could do yourself, that’s a clear ripoff. Consider yourself warned!

Scott Huntington
Scott Huntington is a writer and blogger. He's writen for Business Insider, The Oxford University Press, the Chicago Tribune, and dozens of other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @SMHuntington.