How To Avoid Overpaying At The Auto Shop

When I moved to Maryland, I thought that it was time that I make a grown up decision and get my own car. Living in a new city by yourself, you need accessibility. And although the DMV area is far better with public transportation than any place I’ve ever lived before, you never know when you’ll need a quick getaway. It was time for me to put on my big girl pants and purchase a car.


After consulting my older brother, mom, best friend’s dad, coworkers, uber drivers, and

pretty much any one who was willing to be my motor vehicle encyclopedia, I finally
settled on a 2014 Chevrolet Cruze. I named him Dracarys, Khaleesi’s command for her dragons on Game of Thrones because he’s a bright fiery red.

A few weeks ago, I was leaving my boyfriend’s apartment. I opened the car door, stuck my key in the ignition, and that terrible sputtering noise filled the car. My boyfriend’s dad is mechanic so he knew exactly what to do. I sat their like a sack of sprouting potatoes devastated by little Dracarys’s sudden impairment.

He jump started the car, and we immediately took him to AutoZone to get the battery tested by a technician. The battery is fine. It’s the alternator. (WTF is an alternator?) We took Dracarys to my boyfriend’s dad. Oh, yeah, it’s the  alternator. (Wow. this alternator, huh?)

So I schedule an appointment with CarMax, the company that sold me the car. They couldn’t see me for a week, which sucked being without my baby for a whole seven days. When I arrived for my appointment, I told the CarMax consultant that I took it to two places that said the problem with my car was the alternator. The voltage was too high and draining my battery. (Homegirl did her research…. and just repeated everything she had been told like a parrot by the actual professionals.)

The consultant told me that worked perfectly with my warranty. I would only have to pay the $50 deductible. He tried to upsell me on a new battery, which my warranty didn’t cover, but they said that they would run the diagnostic tests and get to work. This is when everything turned to sh*t.

The consultant kept coming back to me with higher and higher dollar amounts, until he came back to me with a whopping $249. Okay, so $249 doesn’t seem like a lot, but compared to the $50 I was initially told, it was a lot. Also, I don’t have $249 lying around. My phone screen is shattered, and I refused to get it fixed. If I’m not paying $45 for a dude at a mall kiosk to fix my phone, there’s no way in hell I could pay $249 for homeboy to fix my car.

I told the man that the price was too high and asked what happened to my deductible? He said that because the battery is “natural wear and tear”, my warranty doesn’t cover it. He said he could get it down to a little less than $200 since I bought the car less than a year ago. But that wasn’t good enough.

Wear and tear? The car is only 4 years old, and I purchased it less than a year ago. That’s not my wear and tear! And two other professionals told me that the alternator was the issue, not the battery. It only has 25,000 miles on it, most of which were not made by me. This is not adding up.

I was stressed and overwhelmed and on the verge of tears because I’ve had financial issue after financial issue, and this was not going to be another one. He wanted to charge me $70 for a diagnostic test, which I said was absurd. I told him that I would not pay anything more than $50. I paid my deductible, grabbed my keys and left.

Later that day, I wrote a strongly worded letter to CarMax and got the price dropped down to $120. (Nobody puts Baby in a corner).

I honestly shouldn’t even have to pay anything more than $50, but I took what I could get, and I would call that that a win.

This whole experience has really had me thinking about knowing my car and knowing what you need when you walk into an auto place. Especially as a woman, we get walked all over in these AutoShops because men believe that we don’t know what we’re talking about and that they can pull a fas one over on us (consciously or not).

So I came up with some tips that I think that helped me avoid being manipulated by the CarMax consultant my first go around that would be helpful to any woman in my position.

Know your car

Know the year, make, model, engine, wheels, mileage, all of that. Any gap of knowledge is room for the mechanic or technician to fill. And most of the time they don’t have your best interest at heart.

Always have someone on deck

When I first bought my car, I made sure that I went on a day that my brother was off of work so that I could call him. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone else who thinks of follow up questions that you don’t think of in the moment.

Be confident in what you want

If you’re going in for an oil change, you’re going in for an oil change. There probably is a lot of other sh*t that’s wrong with your car, but it’s still functional, right?

Ask questions

Don’t accept things as they are.  Sometimes mechanics will say things expecting you not to ask a follow up question. Ask for clarity.

Learn how cars work

At the end of the day, mechanics do know what they are talking about, and they may point out problems with your car that could lead to serious problems, maybe even serious accidents. It’s your job to discern the BS from the genuine. So pay close attention to what the mechanic tells you and then consult the internet.

It’s okay to walk away

You’re not being rude or disrespecting the man’s craft if you say you’re going to take it somewhere else or think about it or get a second opinion. It’s your money and your car. Also, when you walk away, the price suddenly becomes lower, and the conditions of the service become drastically different.


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