SIMPLY THE BEST
Follow word-of-mouth to find the perfect mechanic
Tawny Maya McCray
Creators News Service
All your bills are paid for the month. You've just gotten an oil change for your car and filled your tank of gas. Then the dreaded "check engine" light goes on, and the first thought that goes through your head is how much money this is going to cost.
There's no need to worry. Finding -- and going to -- a mechanic doesn't have to be a nightmare.
Word-of-mouth is often the best way to find the best person for your car, said Barry Soltz, president of Motorist Assurance Program (MAP), a company based out of Falls Church, Va., that assists in improving service to automotive repair customers.
"If people have good experiences with mechanics, they're willing to tell you about them," Soltz said. "And, naturally, when they don't have good experiences, they're willing to tell you about that too."
Asking friends, co-workers or relatives -- especially ones that drive the same type of car as you -- is a great place to start in your hunt for a good mechanic. You should also find out whether the shop has experience working on your make and model.
"If you're driving a four-wheel drive [vehicle] and they don't do four-wheel drive service, you might want to look for someone who does specialize in that," Soltz said. "You want to look for specialty shops that cater to your specific needs whether it be brakes, or suspension, or tires."
Other tips to finding a good mechanic include researching shop complaints with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and checking if the shop is affiliated with prominent automobile associations such as the Automotive Service Association (ASA), the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), AAA and MAP.
Soltz said that 9,000 auto shops nationwide are currently affiliated with MAP and they all use a uniform communications standard, meaning the shops have the same inspection forms and the same terminology when identifying problems and informing customers what the repairs should be.
"With us that means using two terms," Soltz said. "The repair is either required, which means certain parts have to be replaced and/or repaired, or the repair is suggestive. For instance, if they're doing a brake inspection and they're pulling off the wheels, they might notice that your tires are low on air or that one tire is wearing a little bit. That doesn't justify the required replacement of a tire but it might be something they would tell you to keep an eye on and if it gets any worse then you might have to replace your tires."
When it comes to pricing, Soltz said that all of their shops are competitively priced -- but if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
"If somebody's offering a brake job for $39, you better be weary because no brake job, with complete inspection, is $39," he added.
Soltz said that most mechanics use a flat rate manual and most consumer laws today require that the shop give you a written estimate before any work is done.
"If they don't give you a written estimate then say, 'Hey, give me the keys. I want my car back," he added.
Online research is a great tool in seeking a great mechanic. One helpful website is www.yelp.com, which provides customer reviews from shops in your area.
"For most people, a vehicle is their second biggest investment next to a home. It makes sense to take the time to select an auto repair facility that will take the best care of your investment," said Rich White, executive director from the Car Care Council.
Here are some simple questions from the council that you should look for in your mechanic's shop:
* Is the shop and customer waiting area clean and organized?
* Are customers greeted and treated in a friendly and respectful manner?
* Does the business have credentials on display, such as membership in the BBB, certification through ASE and membership in various trade organizations?
* Do they offer warranties for their parts?
* Is there are a list of satisfied customers or references that the company is willing to give you?