For Many, Tax Refunds Will Go to Fixing Winter Car Damage

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- What a winter it was for Americans living (mostly) above the Mason-Dixon line.

Snow, sleet, wind and freezing temperatures took their toll on the nation and, worse, carried a serious case of sticker shock from vehicle damage.

Ebay Motors emphasizes that with a new report saying 34% of Americans are using $1,000 worth of their tax refunds to fix winter-related vehicle damage.

Most of that tax refund cash is going toward wheels and tire fixes (54%), brakes (36%) and batteries (20%).

According to eBay, more than half of all survey respondents who say they are plowing tax refund money into car repairs and maintenance live in the Midwest and Northeast areas particularly hard hit by the hard winter.

"After a particularly brutal winter, it's no surprise that drivers are investing into their vehicles to either address damage caused by the weather or to better prepare for the next winter storm," says Bryan Murphy, director of eBay Motors. "We traditionally see activity on eBay Motors rise during tax season, as drivers have additional funds to shop to make repairs, maintain or accessorize their vehicles or to buy a new or used vehicle."

If you're about to drop your car, truck or SUV off at a repair ship, make sure you protect yourself against getting ripped off. Sure, most shops are on the level, but there are those out there looking to take advantage of you.

A recent Northwestern University study says auto repair shops often set different prices for the same service and repairs and try to fleece consumers who aren't paying attention.

"Some people are really bargain hunters," says Meghan Busse, an associate professor of management and strategy at the Kellogg School. "They have the time; they like doing it. Some people don't care. They just want to be convenience shoppers. Stores know this and they set different prices. Some set high prices, knowing they're going to sell only to the convenience shoppers; some set low prices knowing they're also going to get the bargain hunters."

You should keep in mind:

It's better to find your repair shop before you need one. Last-minute decisions lead to poor consumer choices. Look in advance for a car repair shop and make sure to ask friends, family and co-workers for reputable businesses.

Shops should honor warranties. You need a repair shop to honor existing warranties. Otherwise, you may pay for parts and services that are already covered.

You need to be tough and careful. Don't take the first estimate you see. And after the work is done, make sure the repair shop gives you written documentation on all the work done to your vehicle.