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.

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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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10 Things to Consider When Budgeting During Your First Year of Adulthood.

During the final weeks of AP Government, Mr. Giusto gave our class the most practical financial literacy assignment of our young lives. He told us that our parents had just kicked us out, and we only had $2,500. We needed to find a place to live and find a job to support ourselves for the first month. He threw wild cards at us like our car being towed or getting laid off. And suddenly, that $2,500 that seemed like a lot of money disappeared.

Now, that I’ve graduated college, and I’m ready to embark on my journey of adulthood, I’ve been thinking more and more about this assignment. And although Mr. Giusto did his absolute best, there was no way he could have prepared us for the harsh realities of the American economy.

Rent prices are astronomical, the cost of living increases everyday, and saving is a challenge especially if you’re living pay check to paycheck. With this information dangling over my head, I decided to budget and create a plan for how I would live within my first year of adulthood. And I wanted to share some of the things I considered while creating this plan.

  1. Do your research when it comes to finding a place to live. It may seem like it’s easy to just pick up and move anywhere in the country, but it takes a lot more planning. According to the Department of Numbers, in 2015 the average monthly residential rent was $959. When you first move into a new place, landlords typically expect you to pay a deposit and first month’s rent. If your rent costs you $900, that’s already $1,800 before you’ve even settled into your new digs. You may want to consider finding housemates, sharing a room, or living further away from your place of work or school to lower the costs. (Side note: Only spend a third of your monthly income on rent).
  2. Get Renter’s Insurance. Anything can happen within a year, and you want to make sure you covered. Say someone breaks into your apartment and stills your laptop, TV, and microwave. Do you want to be S.O.L or stress free? There are renter’s insurance plans as low as $10 a month that will cover you up to $10,000 depending on your place of residence and number of occupants.
  3. Don’t spend a ton of money on furniture, but make sure you have the essentials. When my big brother first moved out of the house, the only pieces of furniture he had were a desk for his computer, a mattress without the boxspring and headboard, and  a trash can he made out of tin foil and cardboard. I’m not saying you have to live this way, but try approaching your living space with a minimalist mindset.
  4. Spend money on a good mattress. There are many people who would tell you to just sleep on any old thing, but I think a good mattress is an essential part of living. You approximately sleep for 1/3 of your life so you’re going to spend a lot of time on it. Also, we perform better when we’ve had enough quality sleep. You’re going to need a lot of energy to keep you pushing through your next year.
  5. Start establishing credit. You should’ve done this yesterday, but it’s never too late. I’ve always hated the idea of credit. If you don’t have money for something, just don’t buy it. However, you need credit for everything. Some places will check your credit score before renting a place to you, and you can’t get a good interest rate on a car unless you have a good score. Get a credit card with a low APR, use it once or twice a month, and then pay it off. I have a couple of credit cards. One, I keep for absolute extreme circumstances… like dying on the side of the road. And one for for monthly expenses that I pay as soon as I spend. I’ve been doing this since I was 18 (I’m 21 now), and I have an excellent credit score.
  6. Learn to cook different things. I fancy myself to be a good chef. However, I have only a few recipes that I constantly recycle through, and it gets boring. It gets so boring that I decide to waste money and eat out when I could’ve just whipped up something in my kitchen. Anyone can cook. It’s not difficult, but it does require some time, patience, and willingness to learn. If you perfect your cooking skills, it feels like eating out everyday, and you’ll feel good knowing exactly what goes into your food.
  7. Remember that you’re never too good for a side hustle. Even Beyonce has side hustles. That’s how the rich stay rich. I worked three jobs this summer, and if it wasn’t for the third job, I would never be able to save anything. Don’t be afraid to take on a waitressing job or nannying for kids. There are even jobs online where you never have to leave the comfort of your home like virtual assistants or copywriters.
  8. Learn to make whatever it is that you love spending money on everyday. For some, people this is a Starbucks latte. For me, it’s an Acai Banana Berry Smoothie. Yeah, I know it sounds expensive. I spend about $7 every day at work. That’s about $35 a week. I can make a smoothie from home and only spend $30 a month.
  9. Set up a “keep the change” savings account. I am a customer with Bank of America so I’m not sure which other banks have this specific program, but a lot of banks do something similar. Every time I use my debit card, it gets rounded up to the next dollar, and that change automatically goes into my bank account. It’s the equivalent of saving all your coins in that old slurpee cup, except more efficient. I saved $100 in just a couple of months.
  10. And lastly, if you want to go out to a bar or club with your friends, just pregame at home. Thirteen bucks for a long Island Ice tea is ridiculous!