Always Get A Second Opinion Before Spending Big Bucks On A Car

New Range RoverAs you may know, my 11 year old car is dying and I’ve been unsure whether to spend up to $2,500 fixing Moose, or let him fade away.  The service dealer said I would have to spend around $1,200-$1,500 to replace the entire exhaust system below, which is around 35% of the total value of my car!  That just doesn’t seem right.

As any frugal person would do, I got a second opinion.  The auto service industry is even more shady than the insurance industry and I wanted to make absolutely sure that I wasn’t being ripped off by the dealer before spending any more.  Besides, we all know that getting your car fixed at the dealer when you’re not under warranty is seldom the cheapest, and often the most expensive way to go.


When I first moved out to San Francisco, I lived right next to a auto mechanic shop.  The owner’s name was Fred and we just started seeing each other everyday and chatting.  Over the course of 10 years, I’ve had him service and fix 7 different cars.  Furthermore, I’ve referred around 12 guys to his shop since he’s done such a good job.

Fred is so honest, that he’s told me on many different occasions not to fix the current problem at hand because it doesn’t really matter.  So long as everything works and safety is not compromised, fixing random things that cost a high price as a percentage of the car was not worth it.  He was very frank and never wanted me to spend more than I had to.

I brought Moose over to Fred and explained to him the slight engine leak and the rattle where the muffler is.  He immediately jacked up the car and pointed out that my muffler was fine.  Instead, what had rusted away was the bolt holding my heat guard that was above my muffler!  As a result, every time the car moved, the heat guard would grate against the muffler and cause a rattling noise.

So the muffler is absolutely fine?“, I asked.

Yes, no problem at all.  Let me replace your heat guard with a new one.  Its easy to weld on“, Fred responded.

How much?” I asked.

Does $40 dollars sound good to you?”  Fred asked.

Hmmmmm… did he really mean to say $400 and not $40?  Does a bear poop in the woods?”, I thought to myself.  “Absolutely!“, I blurted out.  With the dealer saying I would have to spend up to $1,500 to fix the entire exhaust system, $40 was a dream come true!

I was absolutely ecstatic!  I then asked Fred to take a look at the engine leak, and he basically said my top valve was leaking a little and to just check the engine oil once a month and make sure there’s enough oil.  He recommended not trying to fix it because he would have to take off all the parts above the engine to get to the valve.  “Save your money!” he said.  “Just buy a couple quarts of engine oil, top it off every other month and you’ll be fine!

I then asked Fred if he could see anything else wrong with Moose.  He did mention my brake pads have about 30% left on them and that he recommends changing my front rotors and pads, and my rear pads before the winter.  Because Moose is heavier up front with the engine and all, replacing the rotors in addition to the pads is a good idea.  I haven’t changed my brakes and rotors in 4 years, and the previous owner already had one year on the existing brakes so it was about time.


Servicing your car at the dealer is always an absolute rip off.  In San Francisco, labor is always around $100/hour vs. non-dealer auto mechanics at $50 hour.  I drove out of Fred’s shop with a handsome bill of $75 to change my oil and fix my heat guard.  If I had done stuff at the dealer, not only would I have paid $1,200-$1,500, they would have probably also found more stuff to work on.  They always do that.  You go in for an oil change, and they print you out a 25 item list of things to do.  It’s nuts!

The value of a trustworthy auto mechanic is worth as much as a trustworthy doctor.  In other words, the value is almost priceless because what you want is peace of mind that you aren’t getting ripped off or given the wrong diagnosis.  Getting ripped off is horrible, and something mechanics have a reputation of doing since we common people don’t know much about cars.

The main tips for getting a trustworthy auto mechanic and not getting scammed are:

1) Do your research on the issue online first and make it sound like you know what you are talking about

2) Be courteous and straight forward.  Once they sense fear and/or rudeness, it’s all over.  They will make it a mission to gaug you like a Roman sport.  Even bringing them a piece of candy or a cookie will save you hundreds if not thousands.

3) Offer to refer a lot of new clients their way.  If they know you are well-connected, there is no way they are going to screw you.  They also love free advertising, so if you have a blog, then you’re really golden!

I always tell anybody in the service industry that if they do a good job, I will refer them to all my friends.  I’ve done this with my mortgage guy, and I’ve done it with Fred the auto mechanic.  It always works, and you should always do it.  Repeat business is what it’s all about, especially during times of economic turbulence.  The value of a customer is not just that one visit.  It is the value of all his subsequent visits plus all his friends he’s referred so that your business is always humming along!

I was mentally prepared to spend $1,500 to fix Moose, but instead, spent $40, with the might-as-well $35 oil change since I was there.  That’s a huge win in my book.  As a result of this incredible savings, the only thing I have left to spend is ~$600 for new brakes.  Not a bad idea with snowboarding season in Tahoe coming up.  So I guess I’ve answered my question on what to do with Moose.  I’m keeping him for as long as possible!  If anybody needs a good auto mechanic in San Francisco, please shoot me an e-mail!


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Updated for 2016 and beyond

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship. Sam focuses on helping readers build more income in real estate, investing, entrepreneurship, and alternative investments in order to achieve financial independence sooner, rather than later.

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  1. says

    Great story and sound advice. I have always sought out an auto mechanic that I trust, and it never happens to be at the dealership. I will ask around or use trial and error. Luckily, I have been in the same location for 11 years so haven’t had to find a new one in a while.

  2. says

    I used to own an old Jeep, and one day smoke started coming out of the hood. I drove to the nearest dealership without stopping, not knowing if it would start again. They looked at it and said it was looked like a cracked engine head – and would run me $3500.

    I left it there to think about it, because they said if I drove it and it wasn’t a cracked head, I would at minimum risk actually cracking the head. Finally, I decided to take it to a small shop a mile away at the recommendation of a friend.

    The guy at the shop was on the phone when I got there, explaining that he doesn’t use cheap parts to the to person on the other end of the phone. He laughed as he hung up, and told me that the guy on the phone was claiming he must use cheap parts because his fees are too low. :)

    I left my Jeep there. Got a call an hour later and he told me that a hose had simply come loose. He put it back on, clamping it with a new clamp. Total cost: $35. I actually WANTED to pay him more.

    • says

      Wow! $3,500 to $35 is even better than my deduction!

      You can pay him more by singing his praises to everybody! It’s a virtuous cycle. My 12 referrals all told Fred my auto mechanic I sent them there. In turn, Fred treats me that much better!

  3. says

    Your story illustrates how important it is to find good service people. More importantly, finding good professionals (CPA, Attorney, Doctor etc) for future needs. You definitely do not want to rush to find a professional when you need to do something or have a question. This is true for service people like a mechanic and trades people.

    Dealers pay their mechanics commission for repairs, so they are motivated to “find” things that add up. For me that is very short sighted because as you story points out more people appreciate honesty. I think most people just pay and never know!

  4. says

    This is great advice! The only problem is that getting a second opinion is a pain in the neck. I think the chance of getting ripped off is so great, that your recommendations are wonderful. If I found a mechanic I trusted, I would be a customer for life!!!

  5. says

    they especially prey on women because of how they perceive them. my wife got ripped off big time once. i try to get word of mouth recommendations from trust worthy folks i know who are generally skeptical and savvy enough to do their homework well. why not leverage the research already been conducted?

  6. The Wealthy Canadian says

    Nice! Run it until you no longer can. That’s a huge difference from the scenario you depicted the other day. Nice job getting a second opinion.

    Moose gets a new lease on life. Sounds like you went with your gut feeling – and it certainly paid off.

    • says

      Yeah, I was 75% leaning towards fixing Moose and spending the $1,500, then the subsequent $1,000 on brakes and tune up and other stuff wrong. But, the $40 cost makes things that much more palatable!

  7. says

    That’s awesome you found a good mechanic. Getting a second opinion is such a good idea anytime you get quoted a big fee. I went to a new dentist once and he said I had three cavities! Something just didn’t feel right, so I found a different dentist and got a second opinion and turned out I really only had 1. -Sydney :)

    • says

      Oh my…. dentists are also notorious! Crap, maybe it’s just human nature to scam everybody! That is MESSED UP that a dentist said you have 2 cavities more than what you really have!

  8. says

    I love it that you name your vehicle! I think I will find a name for mine – that would make it easier for me to keep her when she starts having age related issues!

    Suggestions are welcome – she is a 2006 silver convertible with a black rag top – Toyota Camry Solara. She was first owned in California and now lives with us in the Midwest. She has about 26k miles now and we plan to keep her well into the 200k’s (which will probably get me well into the time-frame when I won’t be driving anymore).

  9. John says

    Hey, my new car is out of warranty so definitely let me know your mechanic details. Living in the bay area and reading a local blog has its advantages :-)

    • says

      Then I will tell the 12 people I referred business to him what he did. If the average person spends $1,000 a year fixing his/her car, that’s $12,000 in lost business + my business. And then who knows, perhaps a little blog publicity.

      It won’t happen though.

  10. says

    Great story. I hate the auto industry… so corrupted. I always try to take my car, little red, to a one man show mechanic who works much cheaper and will only fix what needs to be fixed instead of the “I always rip you off car garages.” I’m glad you and Fred have that relationship… sad but true… this is the only way to get honest car advice. Glad to hear Moose will be ok :)

  11. says

    Wow great stuff. It seems the auto industry and the mechanics are same everywhere. I live in India and the mechanics here also go all out to cheat you. In fact my Hyundai was having some belt noise and rather than fixing the opposing end connections to tighten it , the dealer advised me to change the belt and the underlying assembly. At that time I fell for what the dealer said and paid much more than what it would have been to tighten the belt( i.e absolutely free).

    Amazingly the next time when I did go there for oil change I saw a board which had daily sales statistics of each mechanic and that said it all. They were driven by sales numbers as opposed to the best possible solution.

    • says

      Whenever I get into a cab, I already know I am instantly getting cheated in India! From fake silk rugs, to going the scenic route, it’s one big rip the foreigner off! Whoo hoo!

      Neat you saw the sales statistics. Like a competition to scam!

  12. says

    When I saw the title of this post, I was very worried about Moose’s future, so glad he is still alive and kicking!

    It is so hard to find a good mechanic. I have tried for 20 years and still haven’t found one. I do use the dealership, but only for warranty work.

    My old car in college had a rattling heat shield and I was so relived I could pay so little to have that awful noise fixed!

  13. says

    It’s so hard to find a mechanic like Fred! In our area there’s an auto shop that’s never the cheapest place to go, but always does a great job and is straight up about the work that needs to be done. It’s a good compromise in my book.

  14. says

    We’ve become good friends with our mechanic, and he’s a great guy. He knows we’re all just utilitarians…give us a solution that makes the car get from point A to point B. Getting there in style is hardly a concern, especially if it costs 10x more.

  15. says

    Great job Sam! We were always getting scammed by the dealer when we owned our last car, a BMW. There was only a couple of places in town that work on BMW so the choice of mechanic was limited. Now we have a Mazda so hopefully we can take it to more places. I haven’t found a good mechanic that I can trust. :(

  16. says

    I have known my mechanic since we were 8 (his grandfather started the shop) he isn’t the cheapest at all, but his work is TOP NOTCH and I can always go to him if something wasn’t fixed exactly to my specifications!

    Everyone rips on lawyers, but man mechanics are the WORST

  17. says

    Great work on taking the time to get a second opinion – Ive found that gaining even a bit of knowledge about cars and how they work has saved me money. The repair shops always try to tell you a bunch of crap is broken and needs fixing, when it really doesnt.

  18. says

    Sam, that’s so great!! It’s nice to know that these dealerships try to scam guys too! I thought it was just us girls.

    Your’e so lucky you have an automechanic you can trust. I’ve had my fair share of dealing with so many different mechanics, it’s so hard to trust them, I find.

    Glad to hear that Moose is back in gear.

    I just got a chip in my windshield yesterday and it became a huge crack! I guess I’ll have to find a reliable glass repair place now :(

  19. says

    At the house we moved from last summer our next door neighbour was a mechanic garage! They were super nice guys who would lend me tools, not change the oil when it didn’t need to be changed (but still rotate the tires for me for free!). They helped me figure out my gas snowblower and weedwacker. Great fellas. Yes, they did cost a bit more than the auto repair chains but they never steered me wrong, saved me unnecessary fixes and when I need any service in our city I ask them who to use – they know the best in every industry.

  20. Donald Delossantos says

    It was piece of gem for car owners. I would like to know, what is your opinion about extended car warranties?

  21. dchoc1 says

    Thanks everyone for your info it helped me rethink some things I just pray there’s another alternative to getting Bessy fixed mechanic says her engine is gone smh and she is a 2003 Volvo s60 by the way. If anyone has any info or helpful feedback I am listening thanks in advance

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