It’s the time everyone dreads: you’re driving down the highway and a light on your dash comes on. You know you’re supposed to keep up with your vehicle’s maintenance for safety reasons, but you can’t help but feel that auto repair shops are taking you for a ride. That’s why our West Virginia auto accident attorneys compiled this list of tips to avoid auto repair rip-offs. You don’t have to be a car expert to know when you’re being tricked into paying more – just know the basics, as well as some red flags.

Do Your Own Legwork

Many shops charge an exorbitant amount for a “diagnostic fee,” which can run $100 or more each time you enter the building. Here’s the good news: for a one-time fee of $99, you can purchase the CarMD diagnostic tool, which will plug into a vehicle’s On Board Diagnostic Port (OBD2) and give you the computer codes (every car produced after 1996 has this port). You then plug the same tool into your computer, and it will give you a full report of what the code means, as well as the most likely solution. From there, you can begin to research the average cost of labor and parts in your area. Now you’ll have a point of reference to see how your shop’s repair estimates compare.

Act Like You Know What You’re Talking About (Even If You Don’t)

Be prepared before you enter the repair shop. Know the basics of your repair manual, and describe the problem in as much detail as possible. For example, is the car pulling to the left at certain speeds? Does that knock in the engine happen at certain times of the day?

By knowing your vehicle’s basic maintenance schedule, you can avoid unnecessary repairs. Repair shops often try to attach recommended repairs to the bill – only do what you need to get back on the road safely.

Don’t Pay Too Much

If you take your car to an independent shop, see if they are ASE certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. You can also call the state Attorney General’s office to see if there have been any complaints filed against them in the past.

When you get a quote from the shop, call around and get other estimates. It’s also worth calling your dealership to see if your repair is covered by the warranty, a recall, or a technical service bulletin. If you choose to have your car fixed at an independent shop, it won’t void the warranty, but you might end up paying for the repair unnecessarily.

Ask for Documentation

Always get a written estimate for repairs. Make sure you understand the scope of the work, the agreed upon price, and approve the estimate before any work begins. Remember, the repair shop must contact you for approval before they do any work that exceeds the agreed upon amount.

Once you pick your car up from the shop, ask for an itemized list of repairs. Review the document carefully, and don’t be afraid to ask for clarifications about anything you don’t understand.

If you’re still feeling wary about the repairs you received, call around to local parts stores and ask what they charge for the parts you found on your invoice. If their estimate is close to what they charged, you can rest assured that you’ve found a reputable repair shop. If it’s not, file a complaint with the attorney general’s office and look elsewhere in the future.

The single best way to avoid being ripped off is to have a working understanding of what your car needs. A little research goes a long way in protecting your wallet from scams.