What form of cognitive bias is this?

After I take my car in for maintenance, new tires, oil change, repair, etc. I will notice something different about how the car drives: brakes differently, steering is slightly off, etc. My first thought is that the mechanic may have done something to the car to result in me coming back for further service.

I know that this does happen in certain repair shops, but it happening every time I take my car in to different shops over my lifetime with different cars, is ludicrous, and I know that it is some sort of emotional response that I am having. Yes, a few times I have needed to get a follow-up repair, but I believe, after processing, on those few occasions it was coincidence.

I think my immediate suspicions are some sort of cognitive bias, but uncertain which one.

Any ideas?

It sounds like plain old confirmation bias. The AC hasn’t blown super cold in months or you’ve been feeling that vibration on your brake for two weeks now, but it wasn’t until today that you finally ‘noticed it’. Plus, the fact that it’s a common (mis)conception that mechanics brake things to create more work, so many people are looking for something to be wrong with their car when they get it back…IOW, when searching for a reason that something on your car isn’t right, you decide that it’s broken because you just got something else fixed.

It could also be a need to blame someone else for the new problem. Even if it’s just so you don’t feel bad about paying for the repair (because it’s broken, not worn out).

And, of course, your mechanic might just be braking things. Remember, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.

Someone should put a stop to that.


I see what you did there.

Well, here’s Wikipedia’s great big list of cognitive biases. After a quick scan (I don’t have time for a slow scan), I think Joey P is probably right about it being confirmation bias.

It’s confirmation bias, but the real question is, what’s it confirming?

We have a cognitive bias to ascribe agency to random events. It’s almost certainly adaptive in origin - a false positive usually costs little (mistaking rustling leaves for a predator), but a false negative can cause serious harm (mistaking a predator for rustling leaves). For obvious reasons, this bias to ascribe agency is stronger for negative events. Our evolutionary niche is extreme cooperation with the other humans that we’re simultaneously competing with, so in managing social interactions the same bias to ascribe agency to random events makes sense. When most of our life is dependent upon cooperation and competition with other humans, if something bad happens it’s often wise to assume that somebody was trying to harm us or cheat us until proven otherwise. Some superstition is a dysfunctional manifestation of this bias, such as attributing natural disasters to angry gods, or witchcraft hysteria.

I would not call this confirmation bias because the OP is not attempting to confirm a preconceived conclusion.

I could not find this in the Wikipedia list but there is something I would call Heightened Awareness Bias, and I think this is very common when people get their cars back from the shop. When you get your car, you just pay more attention to everything and start to notice things that were probably always out of whack before but you never noticed.

I have to agree with this. When piloting a small plane at night, especially when alone, you start hearing every little noise coming out of the engine. Especially the ones you don’t notice during the day that can convince you the engine is barely hanging on. :slight_smile:

Because flying at night requires extra concentration and the knowledge that engine-out landings are way more dangerous than during the day, it’s easy to have this heightened awareness bias causing undo concern about the engine’s health. If you paid as much attention to the engine sound during the day, you’d notice it’s producing the exact same noises. :o

Clustering bias or clustering illusion. It’s the tendency to find a pattern where none really exists.

That sounds right. Most people must carry a generalized notion of how their car runs, not noticing a tiny drift to the left as they adjust to it unconsciously. After taking it to the shop and feeling it all again, with the expectation that something did change, of course they’ll pick up on those differences unnoticed before.

I even notice spots on the seats or dings in the paint when I pick it up. I am pretty sure the shop is not really doing the damage.

My car always smells different when I get it back from the shop. Maybe the smell makes you hyper aware that other things might also be different. Maybe it’s a subliminal effect.

But new tires will make the car feel and drive differently.