What should you look for when considering a mechanic?
When you’re scouting a shop which can handle your car repairs, seven key factors should be on your radar. Some are more obvious than others, but all are worth considering.
Probably the best advice about finding a great mechanic comes from my friend John Velazquez at Autobahn Automotive. They are BMW specialist in St. Charles, Il, but after years in the business, he was able to offer several tidbits! Ask around. This is the number one consideration for a reason. Word of mouth is still the best when it comes to sourcing, so be sure to ask local friends and family which mechanic they use and why.
Bear in mind the type of car they drive. If they drive a high-end sports car and yours is a more basic sedan, you probably want to keep asking around for referrals. You don’t want to pay for a specialty auto shop unless you drive a vehicle which requires it.
Choose a shop with experience working on your brand of vehicle. Not everyone will work on all makes and models. Take it one step further and ask your referral source to peg the top positive and the top negative about their mechanic.
Maybe it’s easy to get an appointment, but when parts are needed for the fix-it job, the work is delayed by a day or two. These are good things to know when you’re headed into a car repair. Knowing what to expect up front is the best way to save yourself from irritation and inconvenience.
The internet gives us the ability to find endless feedback about everything from vegan restaurants to vacation rentals. Search for reviews about the auto shop you’re considering. Look for commonalities among the reviews.
Does the shop deliver on their promises? Do they nickel and dime customers, or do they offer fair pricing? Watch out for any suggestions that the shop might be untrustworthy. You want a shop you can trust with mechanics who have integrity.
Let’s ID the elephant in the living room: the car business doesn’t have the best reputation. But don’t let that get you down. There are plenty of honest mechanics out there who are capable, professional, and committed to their trade, and whose top priority is the safe running of your vehicle.
3. Official Certifications
How long has the shop been in business? Chances are, if the shop has been around for years, it is a reputable place which does good work and keeps customers happy and coming back.
What certifications do the mechanics have?
Look on the wall for an ASE certificate from the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence.
This means that the mechanics have gotten training and have had to take standardized exams to demonstrate their knowledge and skill to work on various vehicle systems. Ask the mechanic to explain the merit of the certification. Hopefully, as he talks, he’ll shine as an expert in his field.
See if the shop has an affiliation with AAA. If they do, that’s a good thing, and you’ll see an AAR certificate which means that it’s a AAA Approved Repair shop.
4. Customer Service Matters for Building Long-Term Relationship
I’m always a proponent of good customer service. Friendly service is important, and it’s not too much to ask, especially since a lot of car repairs involve a pretty significant monetary outlay. Even an oil change for certain cars is close to $100. You want to deal with mechanics who will interact with you cordially and explain the car repairs patiently.
When you don’t have an excellent ‘automotive vocabulary,’ it’s easy to feel dumb when listening to your mechanic, especially if he’s a fast-talker. Don’t resort to the nod-and-smile response when what you really need is a clear explanation. It’s your money and you are the customer, so make sure you’re treated with respect as you seek to understand the specifics of the service.
Don’t waste your time with a mechanic whose tone implies that you’re an idiot. I speak from experience here. Since the man was around my Dad’s age, I didn’t feel the freedom to be stronger in my interactions with him. Now that I go to a different mechanic who treats me right, I regret that I stayed with the other shop for several years.
And, oh the money I wasted on costly diagnostic computer tests which often led to nothing! That old shop definitely nickled and dimed me, and unfortunately, it was to the tune of hundreds of wasted dollars.
You want to build a relationship with a mechanic who will stop in conversation when you have questions and help you understand what’s going on with your car. You also want to take note of how they keep the shop. If the shop is kept clean and neat, they are likely going to treat your vehicle with the care you’d expect.
Don’t hop around to shops or try to look for the cheapest oil change. If the oil change is cheap, they are likely using the least expensive oil filters and oil. Worse, they are probably looking to find something wrong with the car in order to upsell you. If the same mechanic team is taking care of your vehicle, they are going to be proactive about things like brakes, serpentine belts, fluids, air and cabin air filters, as well as tires.
A good shop will always check out the vehicle and make notes. Wear components such as brakes, fluids, filters, belts, and hoses shouldn’t be surprise maintenance items. All of these items wear out. Each time a vehicle is serviced, the shop should be able to tell you what to anticipate and they should be able to show you exactly what they are telling you.
5. Trust Your Instincts
Have you ever said to yourself, “I knew I shouldn’t have trusted him!” I have. And I’ve kicked myself for not trusting my instincts. When something’s fishy about a business, there are usually signs that you pick up on. Problem is, when we’re taking time away from normal life to deal with car issues, we’re aiming to get the problem dealt with efficiently so we can get back to business.
Let’s face it, cars are a hassle when they’re not in working order. They’re even a pain when we need to deal with basic maintenance issues like oil changes and tire rotation. That said, we know these things are part of the deal and very important.
My caveat is: don’t settle for doing business with a questionable mechanic just because you’re there and you just need to get it done. If you’re getting a bad gut feeling, trust it and move on. You’ll be thankful you did. Trust yourself.
6. Investigate Reputation
This is similar to the Review category, but on a larger scale. These days, a lot of towns and cities have local business awards (like the Sizzle Awards) based on votes cast by locals who use the products and services of the featured businesses.
In my experience, these awards are legit and give a good snapshot of establishments worthy of my business. Check out the auto shops awarded ‘best in business’ over the past 3 years. Chances are, if they made the list, they’re worth a visit, and probably worth your investment for the care of your car.
7. Know the Numbers . Know the Facts
If you’re about to pull the trigger on choosing a specific mechanic to work on your car because you’ve followed the wisdom outlined above, ask for a detailed estimate. Take ten minutes to check those numbers against ones you find on the internet for the service you need. RepairPal.com and AutoMD are great online resources which spit out a particular repair cost range when you enter the year, make, and model of your vehicle.
Make sure what you’ve been presented by the mechanic is within range. Keep an eye out for extra charges which can slip in and add up. Question ones that raise a red flag. Your mechanic should be able to talk you through the numbers on the estimate and you should be satisfied with the explanations.
If you’re not, be sure to ask pointed questions like, “Is it industry standard for me to be charged $50 because you hooked up my car to the computer even though you can’t do the work dictated by the code it produced?”
Ask questions on the front end so that you’re not surprised on the back end. One time I took my car in to get an oil change and mentioned that I thought I needed brake pads replaced. (Same place with the rude, older man) To my surprise, when reviewing my bill at pick up, the line item under the oil change details was a charge for the “work done” to investigate the brake pads even though it was determined that replacement was unnecessary.
I was charged $50 for that! And we’re talking about a place that had enjoyed our family’s multi-car business for years. That pushed me over the edge, so I made the change to a mechanic the next town over who came highly recommended by my kid’s teacher. His shop is 20 minutes away instead of five, but well worth the drive.
Knowing the facts: Many people are under the impression that they have to take their car to a dealership while the vehicle is under warranty in order to maintain the warranty coverage. That is completely false! The manufacturer’s warranty stipulates that to maintain the warranty the maintenance has to be performed.
Dealerships like to imply that you need to see them specifically because they make 70-85% of their revenue from their service departments rather than from actually selling cars.
When it comes to our cars, we all know that it’s important to drive a safe vehicle that’s kept in good repair. We also know that regular maintenance can save you lots of money on costly repairs in the future. So you can’t put a price on peace of mind, excellent customer service, and consistently reliable repair work.
It’s not too much to ask….but you will have to dig into the due diligence that will give you the confidence to choose the best mechanic. You’ve got this! And once you do the work, you can hopefully stay with the same shop for many happy years to come and not have to worry about doing any more research.