A trip to the auto shop is usually unpleasant enough for consumers without the added stress of worrying whether they are one or two "fixes" away from a gigantic repair bill. Almost every consumer has had to take his or her car in for repairs or maintenance at one time or another.

When cars break down, vehicle owners often have concerns about whether they could be victims of ripoffs at repair shops. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued this consumer alert to provide information to Arkansas residents about what they need to know when their vehicles need service or repairs.

"Vehicle owners who know the ins and outs of their cars and have read their owner’s manuals are more likely to avoid being ripped off," McDaniel said. "Keeping up with routine maintenance, understanding common mechanical problems and relying on the advice of friends and family when selecting a mechanic will help a consumer make the best decisions when it comes to car repair."

McDaniel said his Consumer Protection Division receives scores of complaints each year about disputes over auto repair, including claims about overcharging and unnecessary work.

The Attorney General advised consumers to follow the car manufacturer’s maintenance schedule, make sure to change the oil and check fluid levels regularly. Not only can a lack of routine maintenance lead to poor fuel economy, unreliability or costly breakdowns, but it may also void a warranty.

In some instances, repair shops may recommend a more vigorous maintenance schedule than those set out in the vehicle owner’s manual. In those instances, McDaniel said consumers should ask the repair shop directly about why it recommends service more frequently than the manufacturer does.

Further, when it comes to choosing a repair shop, McDaniel offered these tips:

• Look for a reliable repair shop before it is needed, in order to avoid being rushed into a last-minute decision when repairs are necessary quickly. Ask for recommendations from friends and family, and check with the Attorney General’s Office or the Better Business Bureau to find out whether there is a record of complaints about a specific repair shop.

• Always shop around for the best deal and compare a shop’s warranty policies on its repairs. Make sure that a repair shop will honor any existing vehicle warranties.

• Seek out shops that have certifications, such as an Automotive Excellence Seal. Certifications indicate that some or all of the technicians meet basic standards of knowledge or competence in specific technical areas. However, remember that a certification alone is no guarantee of good or honest work.

• Ask how the shop structures its charges before paying for any work. Some repair shops charge a flat rate, depending on the service. Others charge hourly based on the time a mechanic actually worked on a repair. Also, ask whether there will be a diagnostic charge, regardless of whether the actual repair work is performed.

• Always get a written estimate that details the extent of the repair, the parts needed and anticipated labor charges. Get a signed copy of the estimate.

For more information about car repairs or other consumer-related issues, visit the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division website, www.GotYourBackArkansas.org, or call the Consumer Protection Division hotline at (800) 482-8982.