In a world where few people know their vehicle’s workings, it’s good to know how to find the right person to keep you up and running. With just a few tips, you’ll be driving comfortably for years to come.
Research various automotive certifications. Some good mechanics will be ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) Certified and should have a certification indicating what areas he is proficient in. It can be a good indicator of how dedicated the technician is toward learning new things. Note, however, that many highly qualified technicians choose not to take the exams, and passing the exams doesn’t mean that a technician will provide good service.
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Look for affiliations. AAA will certify some local repair shops after examining their credentials and business policies, and they will have a list of those shops on their website.
Ask around. Your friends, family, and colleagues have cars, and have to get them serviced somewhere. Find out how they feel about their mechanics. Many good mechanics don’t spend a lot on marketing their services and rely on word of mouth of their customers for new business.
Check online reviews. Look for reviewers’ overall impression, without giving too much weight to any single review. An individual reviewer could not be satisfied for any number of reasons beyond the technician’s control. You’re looking for continuous patterns here, such as not being communicative or explaining charges, performing shoddy repairs, and recommending some clearly unnecessary services.
Look up repair procedures, labor time, and costs online. Internet sites and discussions can provide “sanity checks” on prices, reasons, and time to complete repairs. Keep in mind that prices will differ significantly between different locations, different shops, and different cars. A good mechanic should be able to provide a good ball park figure for them to charge for a repair and the parts needed.
“Stake-out” your local shops. This means driving past and checking out the facilities. Look for clean, orderly grounds and work areas and people engaged purposefully in their work. Grounds chock-full of cars being actively worked through aren’t a bad thing, though perhaps not for you if you have a very valuable car or show-quality finish to protect from even the slightest tap. Take notice of the makes, quantity, and quality of the other customers’ cars. If you drive a 5 year old Ford truck, and the only vehicles you see around are run-down, old Fiats in the parking lot that probably isn’t the place for you.
Professional drivers are likely to be well-informed, so taxis, limos, or work vans around can indicate a good economical shop.
Balance price and convenience. Any mechanic should work honestly, effectively, and avoid big surprises on cost or time. Going to a more-expensive shop alone doesn’t guarantee anything, but recognize that it legitimately costs more to provide:
Convenient location. It costs more to rent, or forego income by not renting out, space in a fancy or densely-populated area. But, if you live or work in such an area, taking your car here may help you get back to your other activities more quickly.
Some shops, typically fancy ones like dealerships, provide free shuttles. There are many non-expensive areas within short distances from train or bus stops–consider your safety to, from and at those, though. A cab ride to and from a shop in an inconvenient area may be well worth the money you can save on a repair. Occasionally one of the workers may offer you a lift. Call to ask about transit options before going.
New and spacious waiting, office and repair areas. Buildings, like cars, cost money to build and keep shiny. Accumulation of dirt and serious decay can suggest an attitude problem, though.
More time to talk and mitigate unexpected delays. It can sometimes take a lot of time to explain some problems with a level of detail suitable for those not familiar with cars or to deal with unexpected problems that may appear. A shop that does less business overall may have more time to explain things and may introduce less delay for unusual problems because it already has slack in its schedule. If you expect to have something complicated to ask about at a busy shop, be prepared to wait awhile; better yet, ask what times are less busy before going.
More parts on hand. Larger shops, and those that specialize in particular kinds of work or cars, can often save time with parts taken from a comprehensive inventory rather than waiting for them to arrive from elsewhere, though even that can be pretty fast near a city.
All original-equipment-manufacturer (“OEM”) or other new parts. Car manufacturers make, or obtain through their parts suppliers, and sell spare parts that should match the originals perfectly, known as OEM parts. Dealers normally use these. Other, “aftermarket” manufacturers, make new replacement parts. “Re-builders” or “re-manufacturers” take apart and clean complex used parts such as engines and transmissions, replace whatever may have broken, readjust, refit or replace whatever tends to wear out, and reassemble, lubricate, and seal them. Aftermarket and rebuilt parts typically cost much less and are often just as good. There are established aftermarket and rebuilding companies with their own reputations to protect.
Junkyards, often called “salvage” or “used auto parts” companies, are particularly good for saving money on things that don’t wear out, like doors and mirrors, but the particular part to be used has to be examined and the appearance normally won’t be perfect. Independent mechanics typically use aftermarket parts, and sometimes rebuilt or salvage parts, but should ask before installing something that is not new. You can also bring your own parts to them, but be absolutely sure it is the correct part so that you don’t waste your own or your mechanic’s time.
An insurer may sometimes waive “betterment” charges for replacing old parts that got broken if you agree to have aftermarket parts used. Ask about this if an insurer is paying for your repairs.
Specialization. Many mechanics can do good work on all kinds of common cars. But many parts on antiques work in odd, obsolete ways, and many parts on top-of-the-line luxury cars or exotic cars can work in odd ways to squeeze out a little extra performance. And replacements can be hard to find. So if you have one of these, look for a mechanic who works with similar cars as a substantial part of his business. If the car has collector value, make sure any replacement parts are sufficiently “authentic”.
Dealerships generally charge quite a bit more for parts and labor than other mechanics, but they’re supposed to know your vehicle and be able to get the job done perfectly.
Talk to the mechanic, ask questions and request to see the old parts when they are removed. When a mechanic puts a face to the vehicle and knows he may be talking with you again he is more likely to be more particular about how he performs the repairs.