Some smart people really love dumb people with problems. Because they are smart enough to know they can trick the dumb people with problems into giving them lots of money to fix those problems … that only they are smart enough to fix.

The smart people in this instance are car mechanics, and the dumb people with problems are me. This is not to say that all mechanics are ruthless con artists who invent and exaggerate problems with your car to suck away your life savings and will to live. I hear there are two or three who are honest. And that they all live in Tulsa.

Cars are just so darn expensive to repair. And if the problem isn’t covered by a warranty, you’ll be on the hook for the costs of getting your jalopy running again. For those who don’t live in Tulsa, here is my expert advice about how I save money on getting my car fixed while remaining proudly stupid.

Know when the setup’s coming

Mechanics have a way of evaluating just how stupid you are with a series of routine questions. They’ll ask you how many cylinders your engine has, what weight of oil your car takes and how many tires it has. They perfectly well know the answers to all those questions. And if they don’t they could definitely find them on the slowest computers in the world they keep behind their desks. They’re only asking you because they want to see just how little you know about cars. For every wrong or non-answer you give, you can expect another $100 to be added to your estimate.

Remember obscure terms

Every time I take my car in for an oil change, I learn about new parts that didn’t exist before. For instance, the alternate transnabulator rear function gasket. The first time my alternate transnabulator rear function gasket broke, I remembered the name like a chimpanzee would a hand signal. Never mind that the part isn’t real. The next time it “breaks,” I pull out my receipt and make them fix it under warranty.

Get written quotes, then shop around

It’s said that the sure way to make God laugh is to tell him your plans for the day. The way to crack up a mechanic is to show him an estimate from one of his competitors. “Oh, that Gus over at Carmageddon is such a scamp,” Hank at Wheels and Deals will tell me. “Between you and me, $1,500 to replace your vehicle’s biocarbonate fuel locators is way overpriced. I can git er done for $1,495.” And just like that, I’m $5 less poor.


But why stop there? I head back over to Carmageddon and show him Hank’s lower estimate. Gus suddenly remembers he has a special going on that will get my repairs done, as well as a bonus biocarbonate fuel locator replacement, for just $1,493.95, and that I’m best off sticking with him because Wheels and Deals gets all its parts from the junkyard where the city found radioactive waste seeping underneath.

Complain, complain, complain

After the repair is done and Hank hands over my keys in exchange for our agreed-upon price: My entire wallet and all credit cards therein, my firstborn child and a vial of unicorn blood, I’ll object when I see that my car is still leaking a brownish substance I like to refer to as “car blood” in several places. This is when I steam off and mutter things under my breath as I walk away, only to return the next day when I’ve regained my courage. “Hey,” I say. “Fix all the leaks or give me the unicorn blood back.” When Hank says no, I look up the corporate site and email Hank’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s assistant in Kentucky. After looking up Hank’s files and verifying that Hank’s shop has already extracted enough unicorn blood and firstborn children from me over time to pay for all the company yachts, he agrees to order Hank to complete the job he started for no extra charge. Win!

If complaining doesn’t work, go nuclear

I file a Better Business Bureau report. I don’t threaten I’m going to go to the BBB, I just do it. To remain in good standing they have to reply to your complaint in one way or another. More than likely they’ll agree to talk it over with you and either fix your car or return half a vial of the unicorn blood in exchange for a unicorn blood gift card that can be used at the shop for any repair the shop offers.

And if all else fails…

I’ll move to Tulsa.

Do you have any tips for negotiating with mechanics?

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About the author

Total Articles: 11
Phil Villarreal writes Funny Money weekly for Money Under 30. He lives in Tucson and works for the Arizona Daily Star. He's also an author, blogger and Twitterer.