A few years back, right after hurricane Katrina caused gas prices to surge upward in what was to become the new trend in fuel pricing, I traded in my gas guzzling minivan for a Hybrid Ford Escape to serve as the Homestead’s main ride. I love my hybrid (what a green living fool I am!), but I’ve always worried that such a hi-tech car needed extra-special hi-tech care, so I took it to the dealer for service most of the time rather than to a local garage that had earned my trust with my other cars. My ignorance and fear that the car had special needs cost me.

The last oil change, though, all he (it’s a he, and his name is Harrison, after my favorite Ford) needed was an oil and filter change. I was pressed for time, so I took my car to the local STS rather than drive all the way out to the dealer. They found a few things in need of repair, including that I need the rear brake pads replaced and the rear rotors ground, and also that my tires had not once been rotated in 50,000 miles so they had to be replaced. I had paid the dealer at every oil change to rotate the tires, so I was a little surprised. Since I’m such a royal pain in the rear, I asked them to save the tires for me to see, and it was clear from the lopsided wear pattern that those babies had never been rotated! I don’t what else the dealer did not do!

This week, I realized that Harrison was due for his next service in about 200 miles, so I figured I would get him tuned up before the big road trip to the Cape. He needed work on the high voltage battery filter, so I decided to take it to the dealer for that one part, which STS had said they would have difficulty getting. I asked them to do an oil change, replace the high voltage battery filter, and rotate the tires. I marked the tires in advance…I was going to test them! Turns out they decided to test me, too.

They called and told me that the car NEEDED about $1000 in assorted work, inluding front brakes, front rotors, tie rods, and grinding the rear rotors. Grind the rear rotors, you say? Hmmm, seems I just had that done a few months ago ! I declined all the service at that point, even the oil change and tire rotation, and got my car the heck out of there.

Today I brought Harrison to STS, along with a print out of what the dealer wanted to do. They just called back and said I needed only front brake pads. No rotors, no grinding the rear rotors, no tie rods. And they’ll rotate the tires for free, since they sold me the tires last time.

There’s a moral to this story, and building a relationship with a mechanic you can trust is only part of it. The truth here is that many of us, especially women, are easily taken advantage of by unscrupulous garages because we are ignorant of how our cars work (the same could be said for appliance repair, plumbing, electrical systems, etc.). The less you know, the more easily you can be swindled. The more you know, the more easily you can spot the scam.

When it comes to cars, I am still a bumpkin. I know they need gas, that occasional oil changes are good, that tire pressure is important for fuel economy, and that there’s no such car part as a marabunta. But if they tell me my torque access mount is crushed and needs to be replaced, I am at their mercy. However, all future repairs will be done at the local garage that has earned my trust, and I will begin paying close attention to what they fix and why. And slowly I’ll learn what the heck is going on under that hood. Maybe some day I’ll even learn to do some of those repairs myself. But I’m not going to complacently agree to dealer recommended service ever again.