Shahe Koulloukian

Even if it didn’t come with impressive horsepower or WiFi connectivity, your car is the biggest and most expensive gadget you own. Since you probably don’t trade your vehicle in as often as your smartphone, keeping it in peak operating condition is vital to keeping repair costs down over its lifespan. And that means staying on top of routine maintenance.

Of course, not every repair will be inexpensive – routine mainte­nance included. Some normal repairs are notoriously expensive regardless of the make or model. But how do you make sure that $180 brake job doesn’t turn into a $2,800 leak in your checking account? We caught up with Shahe Koulloukian, owner of Mazvo Auto Car Care Center to get some tips. His best advice? Find a reputable repair shop, and learn to speak for your vehicle.

“Ask yourself, do you honestly know your car?” Shahe says. What size tires do you have? Where are the spare tire jacks located? What kind of oil does it require? How much does your vehicle weigh? These are just a few of the basics you should know about your car and yet, many people don’t. But until you’re familiar with your car you can’t be sure what it needs, or decipher whether repairs are truly warranted. The auto industry is layered upon a lack of consumer confidence; most car owners have little idea how anything works and depend on the repair shop to inform them of the truth – which, sadly, allows for a lot of room for a less-scrupulous business to take advantage.

Your first line of defense? Your owner’s manual. The auto manufacturer placed it there for a reason, so open it up and start reading. An alphabetized index makes it easy to learn by topic, though Shahe recommends reading it cover to cover. “The book won’t make you an expert,” he says, “but it will guide you to challenge your fears.” Once you know the fundamentals, you’re not an easy target for a rip-off, especially if you ask specific questions. There’s nothing a shop loves hearing more than “Do whatever’s necessary” – this is the goose that lays the golden crank-shaft seal job, a license to steal, and those words should never, ever exit your mouth in the presence of a mechanic. “Ask your mechanic if the repair can wait,” advises Shahe. “If not, ask for an exact cost with parts and labor. Don’t let them suddenly tack on more work than you came in for.”

The most essential element of not getting ripped off by your mechanic is to only do business with an honest shop. This is as obvious as it gets, but it’s easier said than done. From shade-tree mechanics to nationally-branded repair centers and dealerships, many shops can be less-than-ethical when it comes to billing for repairs and service. To find an honest shop, ask around; family and friends are your best source. Also, says Shahe, you should give special consideration to independent shops over the big-franchises or box shops, because the business model dictates they build long-term relationships with their customers. Since smaller independent shops don’t have the benefit of a high-dollar PR team or national presence, they have to build their reputations on positive recommendations and strong customer service.

One last piece of advice from Shahe: keep all of your service records and receipts. If you don’t have a single shop tracking your service history (which can be another advantage of using an independent shop), it will be harder to recall what’s been done. If a new mechanic tells you that a certain component is failing and needs replacement, you’ll be quickly able to reference your records and determine if that repair has been done recently.

But of course, the easiest way to avoid being swindled is to be “in the know” about your car’s needs-and choose a mechanic with a strong history of honest service. For shop owners like Shahe, reputation means everything, which is why he and the rest of the Mazvo team pride them­selves on educating their clients rather than swindling them. Because when you can speak for your car, and trust your mechanic, you’re con­fident you’re getting just what you need … and that’s something you’ll want to tell a friend.

This article was originally published in Uptown Magazine