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Talking with your mechanic

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Talking Shop with Your Mechanic
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To most of us talking to your mechanic about your car is a nerve-wracking experience. Your basic knowledge of how an internal combustion engine works really doesn’t help much with today’s almost autonomous vehicles and their multitude of systems. So like most of us, you nod sagely as if you understand what’s being explained…and take out your credit card.

​How to talk shop

It's easier for your mechanic to understand the problem if you speak their language. Here are definitions of some common vehicle symptoms:

  • Backfire: Common in older engines, it can sound like a gunshot coming from the engine or tailpipe.
  • Bottoming out: When you hit a bump and you feel the underside of your vehicle hit the pavement.
  • Hesitation: A brief loss of power when accelerating.
  • Shimmy: A rapid, side-to-side motion that feels like it's coming from the tires or the steering wheel. It's worth noting when you feel it – at a certain speed or on a specific road surface.
  • Misfire: Hesitation that occurs, usually when fuel in one or more of an engine's cylinders fails to ignite properly.
  • Dieseling: A sputtering sound that occurs when an engine continues to run for a few seconds after the car has been turned off.
  • Brake fade: When your vehicle's stopping distance seems longer than normal.
  • Knocking: This is a rapid rattling sound that you can hear when you accelerate.

5 Tips for Talking to your Auto Mechanic

You treat your vehicle well, because it gets you where you need to go. Regular oil changes? Check. Tune-ups? Check. But when something seriously goes wrong, do you know how to talk to your mechanic – or does it feel like you're speaking a different language? To get the most for your repair dollars, follow these 5 tips for talking shop with your auto mechanic.

Tip #1: Find a mechanic you can trust 

Start with word of mouth. Reach out to friends, family and coworkers and ask for their opinion on reputable local service shops they would recommend. Do your research online and read the reviews. Check out reputable car sites and message boards to find out what customers are saying about that business. You might even consider visiting the shop to check it out before you take your car in.

Tip #2: Communicate clearly and ask questions

When you clearly communicate what's wrong with your vehicle, it's easier for your mechanic to diagnose and fix the problem. Perhaps you could write down ahead of time any specific sounds, sensations and smells, along with when and how often they occur. Did something happen just before the car stopped running? Also, note when the vehicle was last brought in for service, as today's issue may be related to last month's repairs. And don't be shy when it comes to asking specific questions about the repairs your mechanic suggests. Ask for an explanation of exactly what will be done, how long the repairs will take, and how much they will cost.

Tip #3: Get an estimate in writing

A complete, written estimate of the services and materials required to fix your vehicle will eliminate any unforeseen or additional last-minute charges. The estimate should include a cost breakdown, so you know exactly how much each repair costs. Estimates may not always be accurate to the penny, but they should give you a clear idea of what to expect.

Tip #4: Set realistic expectations 

Plan to leave your car in the shop for most of the day and be prepared to pay the going rate for parts and labour. Even if it's a quick fix. There may be several other cars ahead of yours in the mechanic's service bay. Ask up front how long the car will need to be in the shop and arrange for transportation to and from the repair facility. And always agree on the cost estimate before giving the mechanic permission to proceed with the service.

Tip #5: Leave contact information 

Your mechanic won't work faster if you hang around impatiently. However, if you leave, be sure the shop has a phone number where you can be reached and be sure to respond quickly. If they can't contact you to approve a repair, the car will take that much longer to repair. Don't head back to the shop until you know for sure the car is ready.

The information in this article has been adapted from the following web sites. For more on this topic, visit:

CAA South Central Ontario: How to find an auto mechanic you can trust How not to get ripped off by your auto mechanic

This article is being provided by OMA Insurance on behalf of The Personal Insurance Company. The information and advice in this article is provided for informational purposes only. The Personal shall not be liable for any damages arising from any reliance upon such information or advice. The Personal recommends using caution and consulting an expert for comprehensive, expert advice.