Car mechanics share what really goes on inside auto-shops

Car mechanics share what really goes on inside auto-shops
Let’s face it, if you don’t know much of anything about cars, then heading into an auto-shop can be downright terrifying. Luckily, these experienced mechanics have opened up with some behind-the-scenes secrets, tips, and tricks that can help you understand exactly what goes on behind those garage doors.
They might run errands in your car
In order to make sure the problem of the vehicle is resolved, we have to take it for a test drive. The thing is that we don’t get paid for the time we take the car for a spin, which might mean we’ll try to also get some of our own personal errands done while we are out.
They might run errands in your car
So, if you find a ketchup stain on the seat, it’s probably because your mechanic went out for lunch with your car, you know…just to make sure it drives okay and all.


Thursday January 01, 1970

Some use scare tactics
I’m not like this, but I have seen lots of my co-workers use some good old mechanic’s scare tactics when trying to convince their clients to get a certain type of repair or service done to their car.
Some use scare tactics
So if you hear something like, ‘I wouldn’t drive another mile in this thing,’ you might want to be a bit suspicious and ask them to explain and prove exactly what they mean. Or better yet, just get another opinion. More often than not, it really isn’t as dangerous as they say and they just want to make an up-sale.


Thursday January 01, 1970

They notice your unsanitary habits
I can’t tell you how many times I have had to work on a car that is just, well..disgusting. So many people seem to be picking their nose and wiping it off onto the bottom of their seat – like, why not just use a tissue?!
They notice your unsanitary habits
Sometimes, instead of snot I see even more disturbing messes, such as ginormous bags of trash, food items that have gone moldy, or smelly gym clothes that have been sitting out for days.


Thursday January 01, 1970

The book they base prices off of isn’t always accurate
While I try my best never to rip off my customers, there are times that they pay more than they probably should. The thing is, most mechanics, like me, have to work on a flat rate which references to a trade manual that estimates exactly how long a typical repair should take.
The book they base prices off of isn’t always accurate
So basically, if you have to pay $200 for a two-hour job that is done in 30 minutes, you still get charged the same amount. That’s just the way it works in the business.

They feel obligated to provide roadside assistance
It is pretty much an unwritten rule that if you are a mechanic and you see a driver stranded on the side of the road, then you need to stop and help them out.
They feel obligated to provide roadside assistance
I do lots of highway driving and always make sure to stop and assist when I see someone stuck, this seems to happen the most in the winter. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pulled vehicles off curbs or out of ditches, I feel it is my duty.

You are not allowed in the garage
The ‘Do Not Enter’ sign on the garage door isn’t just for show, it is actually a rule that we mechanics expect our customers to follow.
You are not allowed in the garage
For some reason, most people think they can come back there so that they can make sure we are doing our job. But no, we actually don’t let them in there for safety reasons. In fact, insurance companies especially don’t allow any customers in the garage. It isn’t a terribly dangerous place, but mistakes do happen.

They may skip a few steps
I’m not proud of it, but sometimes when cars are brought in for maintenance I will skip over some of the less important adjustments on the shop’s official list – especially when I am pressed for time.
They may skip a few steps
Stuff like latching mechanisms or smoothing over door hinges gets missed all the time. It doesn’t really affect the car’s performance or anything, but it eventually could over time if those issues keep getting overlooked again and again.

The rain doesn’t wash your car
I am so sick of seeing customers come into the shop with filthy, dusty, and dirty cars that have clearly not been washed in several months. One time I had someone tell me that they try to ‘save on water’ by letting the rain wash their car.
The rain doesn’t wash your car
Um, sorry to break it to you but rain water is not the way to go about cleaning your car. If you go long periods between washes, your car will not only look dingy but it can also become prone to scratches due to embedded pollutants.

They wish you would just make the noise
I find it funny when customers feel embarrassed explaining a particular sound their car is making with words. I would much rather hear you make a weird sounding noise than waste precious time trying to figure out what on earth you are talking about.
They wish you would just make the noise
For example, the other day a customer spent eternity telling me about this noise that was ‘buzzing, but in a squishy way.’ No Karen, that does not make any sense, just make the noise!

They might see your kids grow up
One of my favorite parts of my job is without a doubt getting to know the families who have been coming in for years. A kid could come in with his parents as a baby, then a toddler, then all of a sudden he is 16 and I am helping him out with his first car.
They might see your kids grow up
Then, he goes to college and his mom wants a smaller vehicle. I love that I am the mechanic that they can trust will do the best job – and sometimes I even get cookies!

Come in on Monday
Customers who bring their cars into the shop near the end of the week might risk getting a job that is rushed as result of the technician wanting to get it done before the weekend.
Come in on Monday
People who bring in their cars on a Monday will more likely get the time that it deserves because they know they have the whole week ahead of them and aren’t as stressed. I always tell my close clients that if it can wait then to come in on Monday.

They are not scamming you
I don’t care what you have been told or what you read on the Internet, recommended regular vehicle maintenance is not a scam. Every car that comes into our shop with 200 to 300 thousand miles on it has followed their maintenance schedule.
They are not scamming you
Anyone who needs major repairs on their car before even reaching 100 thousand typically has zero repair history thanks to the owners who turn us down every time we try to recommend getting maintenance done.

They can make their own tools
When a tool is missing, or just not put back in the right place, I might have to improvise to get the work done by the necessary deadline.
They can make their own tools
Sometimes, a company might not even make the exact kind of tool that you need for that specific job. When this happens, I gather whatever tools I have lying around in my work bench and create a custom tool of sorts. I actually have a whole drawer filled with cut-up wrenches and sockets.

They don’t always have the resources
Every now and then, a certain job will require digging deeper into the car brand’s resources than my privately-owned shop has access to. For the customers who have especially complicated issues, it probably makes more sense to take their car to a dealer service department.
They don’t always have the resources
The dealership is able to go deeper into that specific brand, and can get special access to the vehicle’s engineers if needed. It just doesn’t make sense for a small shop like mine to shell out $15,000 a year for the data to specialize in just one kind of car.

They are impressed with improvisers
I have to say, I am always incredibly impressed by drivers who try to fix their car’s problems on their own using some clever improvisational skills. I once had a customer rig up a dipstick stop with nothing but a bottle cap.
They are impressed with improvisers
I also had someone use a lid of chewing tobacco as a DIY coolant cap. One time, someone who was having issues with their door not staying shut found a way to keep it closed by rolling both windows down and securing it with a belt.

They want you to use wiper fluid – not water
I don’t know why, but so many drivers come to me with cars filled with water instead of windshield wiper fluid. This is actually a horrible idea. Windshield washer fluid is made of a special mixture of detergent, solvent, and anti-freeze agents.
They want you to use wiper fluid – not water
If you replace it with plain water, then you could risk doing some serious damage to your car such as getting your reservoir clogged. In low-temperature weather, the reservoirs can crack when the water freezes and expands.

You change oil based on miles – not time
Although many mechanics will recommend changing your oil at a regular basis, you may not need to change it as often as you think.
You change oil based on miles – not time
It is always best to change your oil based on what it says in the owner’s manual schedule, which is always based on the number of miles driven and not time. So, if you don’t drive long distances, then you might be able to save a trip or two to the garage.

Your car is not a collector’s item
I have one client who has some sort of emotional connection to her 1992 Saab. So much so, that she has spent thousands and thousands on getting it repaired despite me begging her not to.
Your car is not a collector’s item
I don’t know why, but she is convinced that her beat-up Saab will become a collector’s item one day because it is so ‘rare.’ No, it doesn’t work like that and you will only end up throwing your money away and eventually trading it in for a couple hundred bucks at most.

They want you to stop cleaning your engine
Mechanics hate it when a customer comes in with a engine that was ‘cleaned out’ with soap and water. Pumping soapy water into the gas tank will in no way help clean your engine.
They want you to stop cleaning your engine
Yes, you might have a sparkling engine but it will also end up frozen and in the junkyard. Just please people, don’t ever ever try this at home. The result will not be pretty, believe me, I have seen it happen a few times.

You can’t use hot water on a windshield
The other day a customer came into the shop with a cracked windshield. When I asked what happened, assuming something must have come in contact with the glass, they said that they tried using hot water to cut through frost that had built up on the windshield.
You can’t use hot water on a windshield
I honestly don’t know why someone would ever think this was a good idea. Just use one of those ice scrapers instead, for the sake of your car and your wallet.

Blasting your AC will not help
You really don’t have to freak out when your car overheats. One time a driver told me he tried to turn up his air conditioner in order to ‘chill’ out his vehicle.
Blasting your AC will not help
In reality, this actually does quite the opposite and can cause your car to overheat even more. Instead, it is better to turn your heater on in order to tame the engine’s temp although the safest thing to do is to probably contact roadside assistance.

Don’t wash your car with dish soap
I don’t care what clients say, car washes and dish soap DIY washes are NOT the same thing. Dish soap is actually harmful to your vehicle’s paint and if done frequently enough can dull the finish and take off all of the waxes and protectorates.
Don’t wash your car with dish soap
Please, use car soap only or, even better, head to your local car wash. Either that, or you will be finding your way to a detail shop real soon to fix the damage.

They know when you ignore the dashboard lights
Believe it or not, those annoying lights on your dashboard aren’t just there for looks. I wish clients would stop ignoring them and just hope they will go away because it often results in costly damage to their engine and emissions system.
They know when you ignore the dashboard lights
I have even seen drivers go so far as to put duct tape over the lights so that it doesn’t ‘distract them while driving.’ Just do everyone a favor and take your car to a professional to see what is really going on.

If you find an honest mechanic – keep them
Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to find a good and honest mechanic. Although I pride myself on my moral work ethic and always put my customers’ needs above all else, I certainly know of a few less than trustworthy technicians in the industry.
If you find an honest mechanic – keep them
In my opinion, if you are lucky enough to find a mechanic who doesn’t rip you off and is always honest and has a proven track record, then keep them forever no matter what.

They think you should know the basics
Although it is okay more than okay to depend on your local shop mechanic in times of need when it comes to your vehicle, one thing I wish all car owners would know themselves is how to jump start a car.
They think you should know the basics
Everyone should keep a set of cables in their trunk at all times. Not only could this save you a huge headache one day, you might actually be able to help someone else in need.

They fix their own cars
Having the skills of a mechanic certainly has its perks. When I am not working on other people’s cars in the garage or helping drivers that have been left stranded on the side of the road, I am fixing up my own car.
They fix their own cars
I literally don’t go anywhere without my tool bag, oil, starting fluid, mini air compressor, cables, and tire iron whenever I drive. I have saved myself and gotten myself out of pickles on numerous occasions.

Some customers wait too long
Lots of clients come into the garage with complaints of a squealing sound when using the brakes. Unfortunately, more times than not, the customer chooses to ignore this problem by turning up their radio for weeks instead of promptly getting it fixed.
Some customers wait too long
I have seem too many customers wait until their brakes are so bad, that they need to shell out a good $2,000 as opposed to the $200 brake pads they could have had if they had come in sooner.

Properly checking tires
If you are going to check the pressure of your tires yourself, then make sure you do so properly. I recommend using the sticker inside your driver side door as a guide for pressures. Never ever base the number off of your tire.
Properly checking tires
That tire could fit multiple different cars that use several different pressures. Instead, use a digital pressure gauge and make sure the tires are cold when you are checking it in order to get the most accurate reading.

They use a cookie sheet to stay organized
In order to keep things organized, I prefer doing it the old fashioned way. If I am working on a challenging project that is likely to take several days, like rebuilding a transmission or something, I will use a cookie sheet along with some magnets in order to lay things out spatially.
They use a cookie sheet to stay organized
This way, I can get a visual of exactly what I am working with. I also love a good Sharpie, which I usually use to mark parts needed for the job.

DIY repair gone wrong
While I appreciate the effort, customers’ DIY automobile projects just get way too far sometimes. I once had someone come in with their idea of a homemade fix for a rusted tailpipe.
DIY repair gone wrong
Instead of getting it properly repaired, they took matters into their own hands by patching it up with a can of Coke and a string. Thankfully, they came to the shop before starting a fire, which is exactly what could have happened considering how hot exhaust pipes get.

They have their own projects
As challenging and exhausting as my job can be, I still like to go home after a long day and work on my own personal projects. To me, being a mechanic at a shop is similar to working on an assembly line.
They have their own projects
The car comes in, it gets fixed, it goes out, repeat. So when I come home, I find it relaxing to just hang out in my own garage and fix up one of my vintage beauties so that I don’t forget about my true passion.

It is better to replace your own filters
I replace air filters more times than I probably should. Although I will never turn away the work, I don’t understand why owners don’t just do it themselves.
It is better to replace your own filters
It is actually super simple to do even if you have no experience with cars and it is also incredibly cheap and could save you a good 70 bucks at least. That and changing wiper blades…just go ahead and watch a YouTube video! It will certainly save you some money and trips to the auto-shop in the long run.

They think everyone should know how to change a tire
I am surprised at how many people don’t know how to change a tire. All car owners should absolutely take it upon themselves to learn and practice the steps at least once in their driveway.
They think everyone should know how to change a tire
This is something that my 12-year-old even knows how to do. In my opinion, everyone should know how to do this simple procedure, it could definitely help them be less dependent on roadside assistance if they get stuck one day.

They sometimes find animals in your axles
It is actually really common to find all sort of furry creatures inside your axles. The biggest thing we see are wires that have been chewed on from mice, they usually like to make a small nest in the air box.
They sometimes find animals in your axles
I’ve also occasionally had to clean off parts of a deer…that was not a pretty sight. If you are going to be storing your car away for a long period of time, it is definitely worth it to spray some rodent deterrent beforehand.

They want you to ask questions
When I have new clients, I expect them to ask me questions about my expertise. However, I find that they usually don’t do this, probably afraid to hurt my feelings or something.
They want you to ask questions
But I do think that all customers have a right to know the background of the mechanic they will be spending lots of money to take care of their car. Ask me for my recommendations, referrals, years in the business, licenses, types of equipment used – don’t be shy!

A dirty garage should be avoided
I worked in this one garage that was so dirty and unorganized, I never understood how they had so many clients. The floor was cluttered with empty cans of oil and used rags and worn-out tires – safe to say, many people came back with complaints.
A dirty garage should be avoided
It is sometimes worth it to visit a few garages until you find one that is worthy – and clean – enough. If you see a shop that just looks like a mess, that could be a major red flag.

They often have side jobs
Sadly, there isn’t much room for growth or advancement when you work in a garage that is not owned by you. My gross income has actually stayed the same since 2000, despite the increase in rates over the years.
They often have side jobs
Even though customers are charges $120 per hour for labor, wages are still much, much lower than that. Most mechanics, like myself, have to take on outside work and various odd jobs in their free time in order to supplement their incomes.

They often suffer in-shop injuries
Even the most experienced mechanics can get hurt on the job. It is not uncommon that I will come home with a hot coolant or hot oil burn, which, let me tell you, is no joke.
They often suffer in-shop injuries
I also have dropped heavy wrenches on my feet, and have been hit by someone who failed to use their brakes when backing out and nearly ran me over. I actually knew a friend who broke his arm after getting hit by a customer who didn’t know how to properly back out.

Don’t give away the first offer
Sometimes, clients will come in for a ‘second opinion’ but will make a huge mistake of telling the mechanic what the first price and diagnosis were before hearing what they have to say.
Don’t give away the first offer
Then, the shop worker might end up keeping the same price or go lower (a little) even if that price is higher than what they typically would charge for that service. It is always better to get a second opinion, just wait until you hear what it is before giving your first offer away.

Stay away from blank forms
Whatever you do, never ever sign a blank authorization form. At the old garage I used to work at, I would always see mechanics have their customers sign an empty form which meant that, as long as they had the client’s signature, they could pretty much do and charge whatever they wanted.
Stay away from blank forms
If the paperwork doesn’t clearly spell out what will be fixed, how, and how much, then don’t sign it. I see way too many disappointed clients who find themselves paying way more than expected.
Disclaimer: Some photos may be stock images used for illustration purposes only. The people or places in these photos are not to be associated with the article.

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