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Transmission Repair- Avoid the Rip-offs

It's time to get the kids to school- you're running late. You get them in the back then you jump into driver's seat, put it in drive and it happens- the engine revs but the car goes nowhere- like it is in neutral. You look at the dash- it's not!

Luckily, your neighbor is outside and volunteers to help get the kids to school in his car. First problem solved.

With the advice of that same neighbor, you've decided that you need the services of a transmission repair shop- now what? Before you call that tow truck, please read on.

You may have seen the exposes on the local news or have heard the horror stories of people being fleeced by an unethical auto repair shop. You realize that you are in an unenviable position but you need your car fixed ASAP.

Keep in mind that people are more likely to discuss bad experiences with a repair shop than good ones. Also, the evening news never reports on the "good guy" shops, it's just not interesting TV. Most repair shops are honest and the dishonest ones tend to give everyone else a bad name. The problem is how can you tell one from another?

Let's outline the most common ways in which one is often swindled by a repair shop and the preemptive steps which can be taken to avoid being ripped off.

1) Being charged for work which you didn't authorize. In this situation, it is always best to request a written estimate before any work is performed. In most jurisdictions, a written estimate must be furnished upon request by the customer. It is also required that the customer has to authorize any work before it is performed.

2) Bait and switch. It is quite common, especially among dishonest transmission repair shops to quote a "too good to be true" price for a transmission rebuild over the phone to get you to bring the car to their facility. Unfortunately, in many cases, the "low-ball" price is not anywhere near what you actually get charged once you go to pick up the completed vehicle. One way to avoid this is again to request the written estimate.

3) Being charged for parts that were never replaced. Unfortunately, it is all too common for customers to be charged for parts that were never put into their vehicle. If you have any doubts, ask that all of the old parts be retained for your inspection after completion of the repair. It is important to ask that this be done before any repair has begun. These parts can also be important to have if fraud is suspected after the fact.

4) Improper repair. Test drive your vehicle before you pay for it. Any honest shop will not balk at this request. If you feel that something is not right, refuse to pick up the car (and pay for it) until it is corrected.
5) Incorrect billing. Carefully examine your bill before you pay it. Make sure that the price that was quoted on your estimate matches the bill. If you followed my advice to get a written estimate, make sure that you bring it with you when you are picking up your vehicle.

6) Questionable warranties. Make sure that the warranty on your repair is discussed before any work is performed. When you pick up your vehicle also make sure that you are given a written warranty agreement.

7) Pay your bill with a credit card or check. If you use these methods of payment, often times you will have some recourse if fraud is perpetrated against you.

8) Last but not least, go with your gut. If you have a bad feeling about a repair shop politely tell them that you are taking your car for a second opinion.

In addition to taking the aforementioned steps, it pays to do a little research. Don't necessarily assume that the large chains that you see advertised are the place to have your transmission repaired. Remember that they are all independently owned and operated so there can be bad apples among them as well.

Your best bet is usually to find a transmission specialty shop that has been around for a while and that has a good reputation. Places that are in the business of ripping their customers off are usually exposed, especially in the internet era. Good reputations and credibility are hard earned- you will rarely go wrong if you select a shop based on that.

Joe Sirugo is co-owner of Trans Specialties and has been in the transmission repair industry for over 25 years.

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