NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Ladies, if you think your mechanic is giving you a bum deal just because you're a woman, you may be right.

Researchers at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and AutoMD.com recently studied how customer's knowledge level can affect pricing, and found some surprising results between genders.

In the study, mystery shoppers called auto mechanics across the U.S. to get a price quote for replacing the radiator on their 2003 Toyota Camry. Using a script, the mystery callers used three methods: telling the mechanic they knew the average market price for the repair was $365, telling the mechanic they knew the price was a much higher $510 or claiming they didn't know the price at all.

Not so surprisingly those that overshot the price were quoted higher – an average of $426 for men and $428 for women, while those that gave the market value were quoted the same -- $393 for both men and women. However, the real surprise (or not, depending on how you look at it), came when callers didn't give a price. On average male callers who said they didn't know what a radiator repair would cost were quoted $383, while women who used the same script were quoted $406.

In another study, the website RepairPal polled consumers and found more gender-based red flags. In response to the survey, 61% said mechanics perform more unnecessary repairs for women than men. 71% think mechanics are condescending to women, and 66% think women are charged more.

For Barbara Moran-Goodrich, the CEO of Moran-Goodrich, the only major automotive franchise exclusively owned and operated by a woman, the studies confirm what she's always felt – there is a difference in pricing between men and women. She says that may stem from misconceptions about women. "A lot of techs over the years had the relationship where more often than not they dealt with men," she said. "They're used to men and may think a man is going to come in here and beat me up over the price but a woman is different. A woman may not know what to do with the vehicle."

To beat that misconception (and get a fair price) you'll need to come prepared.

"Go into a shop prepared and armed with tools to help stay in control will signify that you've done your research and know what you really should be paying," says Bret Bodas, vice president of the Automotive Group at RepairPal.

Here's how:

Chose Reliability Over Cheap Prices

"If a consumer invests some time and effort to find a trusted repair shop, they will save a lot of money in the long run and as a result, they will receive the best deal possible," says Bodas.

To find one, Bodas recommends looking for a mechanic with third-party certifications such as the ASE Certification carried by many repair shops nationwide. RepairPal also certifies mechanics using their own certification system.

Moran-Goodrich recommends asking friends and family. Generally, personal referrals often trump reviews you read online. But if you do find yourself searching online, stick to third-party sites rather than the repair shop's business site or a partnered site.

Ask Good Questions

Once you've narrowed down your options, asking the right questions can help you make the right choice. Moran-Goodrich recommends asking:

  • Does the repair shop have a license? While not required by all states, you may have more legal recourse with a licensed repair shop.
  • What type of education do the mechanics have?
  • What is the labor rate? (The higher the rate, the more you'll pay overall).
  • Do they charge for diagnostic tests? Will you get printed results?
  • Will they use original equipment manufacturer parts or aftermarket parts?

And don't forget to cover the warranty. "Uniform commercial code has a standard 30 day warranty for every product you purchase," Moran-Goodrich says. "Beyond that, they don't have to offer anything."

Look for a shop that goes above the minimum requirement.

Build a Relationship

If you wait until your car is dead on the side of the road to call a mechanic for the first time, he may be tempted to overcharge you. Instead, "I would recommend prior to ending up with major repair you should already establish a relationship with a shop," Moran-Goodrich says.

To do that, find a mechanic you trust and take your vehicle in for regular maintenance. After the mechanic gets to know you, he'll be more likely to offer you a deal (or at least not rip you off) when your car needs major work.

Research Costs Online

If you do need a repair, you'll get a better price by knowing the average market rate before you head into the shop. Sites like RepairPal and AutoMD.com can give you an average estimate for individual repairs, even if you don't know exactly what is wrong. Entering information about sounds, smells or drivability can help you pinpoint the problem.

Communicate

When you do take your car in, don't agree to have the work done until you feel the mechanic is giving you all the information. "Honest, trustworthy shops will take the time to explain why a service or repair is needed, will show you worn or damaged parts on your car, and will provide a recommendation about the severity of the problem," Bodas says. "They should also be willing to answer all your questions and be able to explain what needs immediate attention and what can be postponed."

If you feel like you're getting the runaround, go somewhere else.

--Written by Angela Colley for MainStreet