Did you know that the Federal Trade Commission estimates that 20 BILLION dollars in automotive repairs each year are unnecessary?  Here are some tips to minimize the chances of paying more than you should when your car is in the shop:

1.   Always try to get a recommendation.

If at all possible, do not look in the Yellow Pages for a mechanic. Following the recommendation of a tow truck driver might not be a good idea either: The possibility exists that the tow truck driver gets a finder's fee from the shop he/she recommends. Try to find a store, business or trustworthy friend in the area to ask for a recommendation. Most people deal with a local mechanic with whom they are comfortable.

2.  Always get an estimate in writing before the work is done.

While it might be difficult to get an estimate for repairs before the mechanic knows exactly what is wrong with the car, you can ask for an estimate for the diagnostic time. Always place a dollar limit on charges for work performed without additional approval from you. Make sure that all estimates are in writing.

3.  Weigh the diagnosis against the symptoms.

If the car was running well before it suddenly shut down, chances are one component failed. If the mechanic proceeds to tell you that you need several different items, you may want to get a second opinion. The cost of a second tow may be a good investment in the end.

4.  Ask for the warranty policy.

Don't assume that all shops give warranties. However, there might be local laws requiring repair shops to give minimum warranties, so it pays to check.

5.  Never sign a blank work order.

Some shops may give you a blank work order to sign, saying that they need your permission to work on the car for insurance purposes, when in fact they might use it as authorization to do repairs that you did not authorize.

6.  Keep all paperwork.

Keep copies of repair orders, invoices and notes of conversations. If there is a problem down the road and you have to seek restitution, you will need them.

7.  Education.

The more you learn about the car you are driving, the easier it will be to know if you are being taken. The best way to start is by reading the owner's manual.