Mechanic Hunting

By Sharon Naylor

February 2, 2012 6 min read

Many people take their cars, SUVs and trucks to the same auto repair shop that their family has always used, without considering that there could be a better-priced, higher-quality repair shop nearby.

In many ways, your mechanic is like a doctor; he or she has to diagnose and solve what's wrong with your vehicle, and the quality of solution depends purely on the mechanic's experience and diagnostic tools. Just as you want to go to the best doctor, you want to go to the best auto repair specialist. Your car's "health" keeps you and your family safe, so searching for a top-notch facility is of the utmost importance.

Here's how to find, assess and choose the right car repair shop near you:

*Finding Car Repair Shops

The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, a nonprofit organization that tests and certifies automotive repair technicians, says, "Look for a repair facility before you need one; you can make better decisions when you are not rushed."

Ask friends and family members about the car repair shops they use and how they feel about them. Put more stock in responses about technicians' skill levels, pricing, professionalism and satisfaction with speed of completion, rather than "it's located nearby." Former guide to auto repair Vincent Ciulla says, "Personal recommendations account for 60 percent of all car-buying decisions, so the same method should be used to find a quality car care center."

Check to locate industry-reputable Automotive Service Excellence-certified car repair shops. The designation means the shop's technicians have passed rigorous training and met the highest standards. Conduct a search on car-authority site to locate accredited car repair shops in your state. ASE certification applies to both the shop and the technicians, since auto repair specialists must undergo training and testing every five years to maintain their ASE certification.

Ciulla says that if you do a lot of traveling, look for a shop that is "backed by a national warranty program, covering both parts and labor for 12 months or 12,000 miles."

*Checking Out Car Repair Shops

First, call the shop to be sure it handles your particular car's make and model.

Ask about the shop's days of operation and hours, since you may find that this new shop is open in evening hours, allowing you to drop off and pick up your car more conveniently than your previous shop's hours allowed. Which day of the week is the shop closed? Is it open on weekends? Convenience is an important factor in the shop you choose.

The ASE suggests, "Consult local consumer organizations about the reputation of the shop, and inquire about the number, nature and resolution of complaints." The Better Business Bureau is one such consumer organization to consult.

Read online reviews of the shop -- on Yelp, for example -- but take these reviews with a grain of salt, since some glowing reviews may be posted by friends of the owner and some negative reviews may be posted by generally unhappy people venting their frustrations over prices that are quite realistic. Always look at specific details in any written review, paying attention to comments about repair solutions, friendliness of the staff, fair pricing, and discounts, warranties and other important topics.

Visit potential car repair shops in person, understanding that a busy shop won't have time to take you on a tour. You're just there to look around for signs of a thriving business. The ASE says, "Look for a tidy, well-organized facility, with vehicles in the parking lot equal in value to your own vehicle and modern equipment in the service bays."

"I went inside the shop to tell the owner I was shopping for a new repair facility, and he pointed out the types of high-tech testing equipment they have, their oil-recycling policies and their ASE-certifications," says Steven Blake, a newcomer to his town. The owner's personal attention and professionalism impressed Blake, who made the switch to the new car repair facility, even though it was a bit farther from his house.

While you're inside the facility's office, look for signs of orderly paperwork, modern computer systems (as opposed to ancient technology) and posted policies about warranties and other matters. "Look, too, for community service awards, plaques for civic involvement, customer service awards, membership in the Better Business Bureau and other consumer groups," says the ASE. A great shop will also likely post their labor rates, fees for testing and diagnostic work, methods of payment and whether or not they're also a state-licensed inspection center.

The ASE says that when you do choose a car repair shop, "start with a minor job, and reward good service with repeat business and more complex work." Recommendations to friends and family help the shop in this economy, as well.

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