Hannah Roebke knows how to change a tire and check the oil in her car, but will be the first to admit she’s not an expert.
Her lack of knowledge about cars shouldn’t matter when she takes hers in for repairs. But it did, apparently, because the University of Nebraska-Lincoln freshman said she once was overcharged at a repair stop.
“Just because we’re not interested in it doesn’t mean you can just rack up our bill,” Roebke said. “I can see why. We’re honestly easy targets. If you want extra money, we’re the way to get it. Part of me is not surprised, but it’s definitely wrong.”
Roebke is not alone in her experience, according to a 2017 study.
In the study, researchers from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management discovered that repair shops changed their quotes depending on how informed the consumer seemed to be.
The researchers partnered with AutoMD, an online firm that helps consumers diagnose repair costs and give repair costs estimates. For 16 weeks, men and women called 2,278 non-dealership repair shops across the country for price quotes for a radiator replacement on a 2003 Toyota Camry LE.
The study also found that women who appeared uninformed about the cost of repair were quoted $20 more for a new radiator than uninformed men.
But when women showed that they had knowledge about vehicles, the price difference disappeared — and the women actually were more successful negotiating a better price than the men.
Two people with years of experience in car repair acknowledge that there are some shops that give the car repair business a bad name —and that’s why it’s important for consumers to be informed.
”The automotive repair industry, right or wrong, has a reputation, I guess, for ripping people off,” said Jim Champion, who owned Charlie Graham Body & Service in Omaha for 30 year. “Most shops do not do that.”
Champion said he can see why some consumers might think they’re being ripped off because unless the consumer asks some questions, the technician or mechanic might not provide all of the information up front.
Mike Worm, manager at Graham Tire, said he is frustrated when he hears the complaints about the industry.
“I think there are some bad eggs out there in the world that set that mentality that shops take advantage of girls,” he said.
Women being charged more for repairs and parts “drives me crazy,” Worm said.
“I have a wife. I have two two daughters, and I have three sons, and if anybody would take advantage of any of them, it would be very frustrating to me,” he said. “I make sure that my guys do the same, but we all have daughters or wives, and we want to treat everybody the same.”
At Graham Tire, Worm said he does his best to help all consumers through the process by showing them what is wrong with their vehicle, if possible.
Depending on the type of repair and services needed, Worm said the consumer needs to understand they don’t have to fix it right away if the cost is too much.
“Anybody, college student or not, needs to understand that when you go into a repair shop, it’s your money,” he said. “You can say no. Don’t feel obligated to do it just because I found it. If you came in for an oil change, and you’re like, ‘I got $60 in my wallet and that’s all I want to spend right now,’ it doesn’t hurt our feelings for you to say, ‘Let’s get it next time’ or ‘I’ll take care of that myself.’”
Champion is an advocate for young people to know some basic knowledge about cars like how to check the oil and tire pressures. He said it’s important for consumers to be as educated as they can about the topic before going into a mechanic shop and to ask questions to save money.
For example, he said changing oil regularly so the engine doesn’t blow up could save consumers thousands of dollars.
“You don’t need to be a full-fledged mechanic to do those sorts of things right but those are going to make sure your vehicle’s safe when you’re going down the road,” he said, “and it’ll also save you some money long term.”