Like many, you might be a bit put off with the thought of going to get some work done on your car. After all, everyone knows that mechanics and lube shops are all out to rip you off, right? Wrong. Contrary to popular belief, not every person who works on your car is a thief. True, there are many automotive shops that have unethical business practices, but there are steps you can take to prevent being taken for a ride.

The first step is to know your car

That involves finding the manual. You know, that’s the book that’s hidden in your glove compartment inside a nice vinyl envelope. It came with your car. Read it. Understand it. Because it contains all the information you could ever want to know (and then some) on all the different components of your car, how to maintain them, when to maintain them and what kinds of fluids you need to keep your car under warranty. Get to know where everything is on your car, from the rear differential to the brake pad, from the front bumper to the muffler. The more that you know, the more power you have as a consumer. Become familiar with the products that your car takes and know what they look like when they’re new and what they look and smell like when they’re not.

As much as possible, avoid leaving your car with a dealer or technician when you have work being done on your car. If you must, make certain to be shown what exactly the fluids look like before you leave and check the work that they have committed to when you return. Be careful, too, as many dealerships offer a “routine check-up” but don’t really spell out what the check-up entails. Don’t assume that they have checked your cabin air filter or your transmission fluid. If your invoice doesn’t say that they’ve done it, it has not been done. Ask what your dealer’s check points are and what work they will do automatically and which they will do after consultation with you. Make sure you leave a way to be contacted should they find anything requiring urgent care. Check everything on the invoice with them when you pick up your car.

Get that fluid changed!

If, a short time after you’ve had work done in one shop, another technician tells you that a certain fluid change didn’t seem to have been done, ask for them to prove it. Chances are that if, just a month ago, your dealership told you that they changed your rear differential fluid and when you got your fluids checked the other day, your technician showed you black, rancid goo, the dealership didn’t do their work. Go back to the place where you have paid for the work to be done and demand they fix the problem. If they are unwilling to perform the work for which you have paid, don’t be afraid to file a formal complaint with the Better Business Bureau or the manufacturer of your car.

When choosing a place to have your car’s fluids changed, try to find a place that will show you what they are doing every step of the way. Many lube shops now offer “automobile theatre,” where you can watch what the technicians are doing on every part of your car. Those fancy TV screens are there for more than decoration. These give you the opportunity to watch your technician take a sample of the radiator fluid or the brake fluid, to observe that they really did check your tire pressure and oil your bearings. This is partly for your education and partly so you have the security of seeing the work being performed.

In the end, the best way to avoid being taken for a ride with recommended services on your car is to simply know your car and its service intervals. Be certain to take into account your driving habits. A person who commutes 75 miles or more each way every day will require service to their car more than a person who only drives around town every couple of days. When you buy a blender or a lawn mower, you read the manual to make sure you know how to operate it correctly and how to service it when it stops working. Read your vehicle manual. It will help you get to know your car; you could extend the life of your car; your car could save your livelihood, if not your life.