Several thousand years ago, Diogenes traveled around ancient Greece searching for an honest man. These days, Diogenes probably would have been looking for an honest car mechanic instead.
A good way to begin a search for an honest mechanic is to seek recommendations from family and friends, according to Rosalea Hostetler, president and founder of The Balmer Fund. "I am an older woman alone and am keenly aware of being ripped off by mechanics. It is not uncommon," she says. "First, I ask older male friends with knowledge of vehicles who they use, and then I ask women who are alone who they trust. I consider as many leads as possible and think through them carefully, trying to find more than one person who recommends a specific mechanic."
Sherry Richardson, owner of Alan Cox Automotive, agrees. "If you are in the market for a good service center, start with friends and relatives," she says. "Another idea is to watch for well-taken-care-of cars and ask the owners where they take their cars for service. If they trust their mechanic, they won't hesitate to recommend him."
Taking time to do some homework can pay off when it comes to finding the right mechanic, according to Andrew Shipp, business development manager of Busam Auto Group. "When customers are looking for a reliable mechanic, we recommend they find out three main things," he says.
First, check to see whether the repair shop is certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, or ASE. ASE certification means the mechanic or technician has received proper training on the most current vehicle technologies available, according to Brian Campbell of D.W. Campbell Tire & Auto Service Centers. Campbell also recommends that the consumer look for MAP-accredited facilities.
"MAP stands for Motorist Assurance Program. This means that the shop performs and adheres to uniform inspection guidelines for automotive repair," Campbell says. "The mechanics and shops that participate in this program will explain and show you what is going on with your vehicle in terms that you can easily understand."
The second thing is to look for a manufacturer's training certificate.
"We are a Nissan dealer, so our training is called Nissan North America training certificates," Shipp says.
The third step is to check with the local Better Business Bureau.
"When you check with the Better Business Bureau, a mechanic or garage shouldn't have any complaints against them," says Marty Kaliski of Marty's Motors. "It is also important to find out how long they have been in business and whether they offer a written warranty."
Kaliski points out that some states require warranties. "If a mechanic does a repair right, it should last indefinitely," he says.
Campbell advises to make sure that your mechanic or shop offers some sort of warranty on the parts or repairs that it provides. "Ask for warranties on tires, motors, etc. that amount to large purchases, and keep all receipts and communications between you and your mechanic," he says.
Campbell also suggests looking for widely recognized names, such as Goodyear and Firestone, because most chains have to adhere to certain guidelines and procedures for repairing vehicles. "Most of the stores operate on the same labor guides and part-pricing guides or manuals. This will assure you that you are paying what you should and not getting ripped off," he says.
Another source of information may be as close as the library, according to Shipp, who explains that many libraries offer online resources to their cardholders that are otherwise unavailable. "In Delaware, for instance, all library patrons have access to an auto repair database, which is built around the very reputable Chilton guides," he says. "Library users can check this resource to get information about product recalls and maintenance advisories that the manufacturers have issued, which some shops might try to bill the owner for."
When considering a service center, Richardson suggests taking your car in for a simple procedure, such as an oil change or the installation of a new battery. This provides the opportunity to check out the facility.
"Take the time to look around the shop. Is the shop clean, or are there dirty rags all over the place? Are the customer waiting area and restrooms clean?" says Richardson, who has 27 years' experience in the automobile business. "If the owner doesn't take care of the shop, he's less likely to worry about your car."
Richardson also suggests talking to other customers who are at the service center or garage waiting for their cars.
Campbell recommends stopping in and asking the mechanic questions that you already know the answers to in order to see how he answers them. "If he answers honestly and professionally, then you may have found your new mechanic," he says.
When it comes to getting estimates on a job, Richardson says the final cost should be equal to or less than the estimate. "It's important for the mechanic to listen and take care of everything you requested," she says. "Don't let the mechanic do anything that you haven't authorized. You don't want to bring your car in for a $29.95 oil change and end up with a $60 bill because the tires were also rotated."
The experts also recommend that individuals get estimates from several service centers. "Don't hesitate to say no and get another estimate," Richardson says.
Once you find a mechanic you can trust, be loyal, recommends Hostetler. "With each job, always look them directly in the eye and praise and thank them for being honest and fair. I've learned that makes them ashamed to try to cheat me!" she says.