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5 Mechanic Upsells and How To Avoid Them

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If you’ve been to an auto repair shop in the past year, there’s a good chance you paid more than you should’ve for service… That’s because many repair shops operate on an incentivized pay structure. In other words, mechanics get paid more to upsell you on services (which you may… or may not actually need).

Here are the 5 most common upsells you’ll come across and how to respond when you experience them so you can save money and avoid getting scammed.Upsell: “Would you like us to top off your fluids today?”

BEWARE: This is one of the easiest ways to add high margin items onto your bill and it takes the mechanic no time at all. Some mechanics will top your fluids off for free, especially if you got significant work done, so be sure to ask the cost.

What you need to know:

  • Coolant needs to be changed around 100k miles
  • You just need to check your fluids periodically and top them off if they are low
  • These fluids cost ~$10-20 at any auto parts store and they will help you put it in for free 

How to respond:

You: “Is there an extra charge for that? If so, I’ll just do it myself.”Upsell: “Hey Ma’am, I just checked and your air filters are looking really dirty. Can I go ahead and replace that for you?”

This is a common tactic to raise your bill or as shops call them, the RO (repair order). Some will even show you your air filter next to a brand new one so that it looks especially filthy. 

What you need to know:

  • Air filters are typically changed every 15-60K miles 
  • These filters are easy to access, so you can inspect the filters yourself every 6-12 months. 
  • Shops may try to upsell you on engine air filters, cabin air filters, and maybe even fuel filters, which can cost $30-$50+ when replaced in the shop
  • You can buy these filters online or at an auto parts store for $7-$15 and replace them yourself without any specialized tools or knowledge

How to respond:

If your filters were replaced according to your maintenance schedule:

Your response: “No thanks. I had my air filters replaced on time, so they should be good.”

If it’s time to replace or if the filter has debris and dark spots:

Your response: “How much is that going to cost? That sounds kind of high. I think I’ll just do it myself at home.”Upsell: “We’ve got you down for an oil change. Do you want to add a brake fluid change and brake bleed today for just $XX?”

First off, what the heck is Brake Bleeding or Flushing? Brake bleeding is a process that removes air from your braking system. Air and moisture can get into your brake system over time and can cause the brake pedal to feel soft or to go further to the floor than usual. Bleeding the brakes should help fix this and give you a nice firm brake pedal. But before you say yes…

What you need to know:

  • Brake fluid generally needs to be changed every 3 years
    • All this depends on your vehicle’s make/model/year and how you drive.
  • At this that 3 year interval, they should also bleed your brakes to remove air from the system
  • Quick lube type shops may often try to perform this service more frequently than is necessary
  • This upsell could easily add $100+ to your bill

How to respond:

You: “Can you check when my last brake fluid change was? Oh, it was last year? No, thanks, I don’t think that’ll be necessary.”Upsell: “Sir, we inspected your tires, and I can’t let you leave the shop in good confidence without replacing them.”

A new set of tires is one of the most expensive repairs for your car (sometimes $1,000.00+), so shops that do tire work love to get customers in for one reason and then upsell them on new tires. Sometimes they’ll even pressure drivers into buying a new tire when they could simply plug the puncture. If a mechanic is pressuring you into buying new tires, take this as a red flag and analyze the situation.

What you need to know:

  • Most tires are good until you have 3-4/32nds of an inch left on the tread (check your owner’s manual for specific recommendations)
  • Tires have a universal sizing system and there’s no need to feel pressured into buying a specific type or expensive brand of tires for your vehicle
    • Just make sure to get the right size and load rating. You can find this info on your doorjamb or you can call the FIXD Mechanic Hotline
  • Use the FIXD app to track your tire life and see exactly when you need to have them replaced based on your driving habits so there’s never any confusion

How to respond:

Your response: “How much tread is left?”

If the mechanic doesn’t give a specific measurement or it’s greater than 3-4/32nds of an inch, you can continue driving safely.Upsell: “Thanks for coming in today! We’ll go ahead and do a free multi-point inspection while we’ve got you back for an oil change just to make sure everything’s running smoothly.”

It seems harmless, even helpful… but there’s another side to the multi-point inspection you should know about. These inspections, because they are routine and recommended, are a prime opportunity for shady repair shops to identify upsell opportunities when all you really wanted was a quick oil change. Some shops even charge you for the right to upsell you with these inspections! If the shop you are at does this and wants you to blindly pay for repairs, time to find another mechanic, which FIXD can help you with.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Multi-point inspections are often used as a checklist of services to upsell 
  • Watch out for shops that do these inspections without asking for your permission or charge you without your approval
  • Use the FIXD app to track your own routine maintenance needs rather than relying on a shop’s own inspections
  • Use FIXD Premium’s Issue Forecast feature to predict future car problems so you know what to look for before the mechanic does
  • If you are feeling unsure, it never hurts to get a second opinion. You can contact The FIXD Mechanic Hotline to talk through any repairs or questions you may have, or to help you find another trusted shop in your area.

Want More Car Repair Tips – FREE?

Download and install the free FIXD app to get our complete list of repair shop upsells and expert tips on how to avoid them and save. Already have FIXD on your phone? Open the app and click on the “Ripoff Protection Program” tab!

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Kate-McKnight

Wife, mom, Content Manager & Senior Copywriter at FIXD. From the garage to the gym, I love helping people learn and grow. Dream car: ‘69 Acapulco Blue Mustang.

We’re here to help you simplify car care and save, so this post may contain affiliate links to help you do just that. If you click on a link and take action, we may earn a commission. However, the analysis and opinions expressed are our own.

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About the Author

Kate McKnight

Kate McKnight

Wife, mom, Content Manager & Senior Copywriter at FIXD. From the garage to the gym, I love helping people learn and grow. Dream car: ‘69 Acapulco Blue Mustang.

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