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Second opinions may be needed for repair work

August 8, 2012
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

It was a dark and stormy night. A flash of lightning lit up the inside of the car like daylight for a brief moment, and the lone woman driver suddenly realized that the dome lights were not on. The car was completely dark inside now. She reached for the key and turned it. Nothing. No sound. No engine starting noises and still no lights. No headlights outside either.

"Nuts," she thought. "The battery's dead." Henry would have known what to do. He always took care of the cars, and knew how to get them going when they balked like this. Henry was gone now. She was on her own and feeling a little lost. The rain pounding on the roof was deafening, and the air in the car was getting stuffy. SuddenlyThat's enough. I'm starting to scare myself.

Many women feel anxious about taking care of their cars without a man about the house. They feel that people will take unfair advantage of them because they don't understand the workings of the things and, in many cases, unfortunately they are correct. The car care industry is nearly unregulated. Anyone can call himself a mechanic and go into business. Airplane mechanics are licensed, car mechanics are not. The state requires a business license, but anyone can buy one, no credentials required. There are some ways to be careful about picking a mechanic who can be trusted to treat you right.

Basically it goes like this. Nothing is better than word-of-mouth recommendations. Ask lots of people, especially long-time residents about local repair shops. Locals will know about rip-off shops and warn you away from them. Pay no attention to the size of yellow page advertisements because they only reflect the amount of money spent on them. If you want to rate a shop yourself, look for cleanliness (you don't want dirty people climbing in your car) and look for signs of certification of the mechanics. Certification is voluntary in the industry, but any technician worth his salt takes pride in his skill and passing the exams for certification is his proof to the world that he knows his stuff.

If you think a salesman is fast-talking you into repairs you may not need, you are probably right. If he can't explain what you need and why you need it, you should go to another shop. There are people out there who will treat you with respect, not talk down to you, and not take advantage of you. Some of the worst examples are specialist shops which offer loss leaders like discounted tires. They will very likely tell you that you need extensive repair work done before they let you go. They are trying to make up for the loss they took on selling you the tires. Always get a second opinion.

Your best bet is to establish a relationship with a shop when you don't have a repair emergency. Start with routine oil changes till you find one you like, then when the problems happen, you will know whom to call. It's the same philosophy as, "Don't go grocery shopping when you're hungry" or "don't drink whiskey when you're thirsty." I just made up that one. Sometimes I crack myself up.



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