Despite living in an age where female CEOs can make more than their male counterparts and female soldiers can enter combat, some believe that the car industry is still very much “a man’s world.” For as long as I can remember, I’ve been advised to take a man with me when visiting auto repair shops or car dealerships — and I know I’m not alone. Women getting worked over or even ripped off seems to be a common concern in the automotive industry.

Did you know that some auto repair shops routinely charge women more than men for auto repairs—sometimes by as much as 73%? Avoid car repair ripoff with these tips for getting fair prices (without bringing along a guy!).

I’ve partnered with RepairPal (the auto repair estimator site) to share with you some of the real data behind this very real issue. They released their RepairPal Institute Gender Bias Study, which found that uncertified shops routinely charge women more than men for auto repairs—sometimes by as much as 73%. I’ll share more about those stats with you in a moment.  First, though, let me tell you a little story.

I almost got taken for a $400 ride!

About 6 years ago, my car had exhaust issues. I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of exhaust problems, I just knew that’s where it was coming from. The big hole in the exhaust thingamajig was a dead giveaway. It was inspection month, a time I dread because of my older car. Back then, I was barely surviving. Major repairs weren’t in my budget because I didn’t have a budget to speak of. Toilet paper was barely in my budget. But I needed my car.

I took my little Hyundai to a large major chain (a certified mechanic, at that) in town for an estimate. I always took my car there, to one mechanic in particular who seemed to understand that I was a broke single mom. He usually treated me fairly. Unfortunately, he had quit sometime in between that visit and my previous one. Someone new looked over my car.

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The estimate: $560! I asked why. Why is it so much? Explain it to me, please? They told me the part alone would cost $300, but they were “giving me a break” and “taking a hit to their own profit” by giving it to me for a slight discount of $280, the cheapest they could get it for. Then there was the labor. Then, they said, there was the 02 sensor. Although it wasn’t broken, they would most likely damage it during the repair, and, well, I’d have to pay for that too.

Wait? I’d have to pay extra for something they were going to break? I couldn’t afford the $560, so I left crying hysterically while the manager, another woman no less, told me “that crying stuff doesn’t work on me.” I thought I was out of luck. There was no way I could get my car fixed. I was done for.

Then another parent at my son’s bus stop referred me to a new mechanic in town, right down the street from my house. He said to use his name and tell him the situation. I went over the next day. I admit, I was bawling as I relayed the quote from the other mechanic. This one gave me two options: weld the exhaust for $125 or do a full fix (the exact fix the other mechanic was going to do) for $175. I was floored. I cried tears of relief. I went with the cheaper option because he assured me it was just as good. With inspection, I paid a total of $175 for a repair that the other shop quoted me $560 to do. That’s almost $400 less. All these years later, that exhaust fix is still holding up fine. My car has had other problems, but the exhaust is still good!

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I’m lucky to have found such an incredible, fair and honest mechanic. Take a look at these statistics from the Gender Bias Study:

  • Nationwide, women are overcharged by an average of 8% compared to men.
  • In big cities like LA, San Francisco and New York, women are overcharged by a whopping average of 66%.
  • In smaller cities, women are overcharged by a lower amount (average of around 3%), but it’s still significant.
  • The greater New York area is the worst, with women overcharged by an average of 73%.

The most likely scenario is that shops are taking advantage of what they believe to be a general lack of automotive knowledge among women. It’s stereotypical and unfair, to say the least.

Luckily, RepairPal has given us some helpful strategies to help women get a fair price and avoid falling into the overpriced trap set by uncertified (and in some cases, even certified) shops:

* STRATEGY #1: GET A VISUAL
A picture is worth 1,000 words, so ask your technicians to show you the problem area on your car or give you before-and-after photos as a great way to educate yourself. My mechanic always shows me the problem, even when I say “I trust you, I trust you!” In fact, he doesn’t just show me what’s wrong now, he explains how it got that way and what to watch out for in the future.

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* STRATEGY #2: USE AN ESTIMATOR
After getting the problem professionally diagnosed, use an online estimator tool like RepairPal Estimator to get an accurate idea of what a fair price should be.

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* STRATEGY #3: THE MANUAL IS YOUR FRIEND
Blow the dust off your owner’s manual and start to familiarize yourself with it. Understanding what warning lights correspond with what systems puts you at an automatic advantage. (If your battery light is on and the mechanic starts talking about motor oil, you’ll know something’s fishy.)

For even more tips on how to make sure you’re getting a fair price and using a trusted, certified mechanic, please visit RepairPal.com. They have information about why you should choose certified repair shops and where to find one in your area.

I’d love to hear if you’ve ever visited an auto repair shop and got overcharged or if you’ve been to a RepairPal shop and was impressed by the fair price! Tell me what you’ve experienced in the comments below.