Automobile repair is a very different animal depending on whether your car is stranded on the side of the highway with an overheated engine, has been running fine for two weeks with the check engine light on, or is sitting with a dead battery and faulty alternator in the driveway. The one thing that every driver needs, however, is an automobile repair shop where the car can be taken for quality repair service at a fair price. For some drivers, this task feels like the quest for the lost city of Atlantis. Here’s what you need to know about finding the best, local automobile repair service.
Finding Top-Rated Auto Mechanics
Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet when it comes to finding an auto mechanic who you know you can trust. Asking your friends, family, and/or neighbors where they take their car is a great place to start and even the point of greatest emphasis, but it’s not the end-all, be-all, especially if the referral comes after only a couple of trips to the shop. After all, if an auto mechanic invents or exaggerates damage, over-charging a customer, that customer might still come away with a positive impression. ASE and AAA certifications are an important measure to gauge an auto repair shop’s professionalism and competence, but they’re hardly a reliable screen for more nefarious practices. You might also find an excuse to visit the shop ahead of the repair. Take a look around to see if things look orderly and well-run. But, again, you can only learn so much before you hand over the keys. The key is to push on as many different levers as you can and, when they will all point toward a reliable automobile repair service, you have your winner.
Tips for Protecting Yourself against Auto Mechanic Scams
The worst-case scenario is to run into the seemingly respectable auto shop only to be lied to and taken for a ride in the most pejorative sense of the word. Honest auto mechanics are probably more frustrated with these scams than you are, as they indirectly sow the seeds of distrust when they’re doing their level best to deliver high-quality service at a fair price. These tips are far from sure-fire methods, but they’re more informative than the widely-known stock advice about word-of-mouth referrals and checking for certifications.
- Take Charge Early
First and foremost, always ask the mechanic to discuss the nature and cost of the repairs before the work is done. In some states, this is the law, but it should be the shop’s policy, no matter where you live. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing and are all but certain to take the mechanic’s advice, insisting that this conversation takes place should give the impression that you’re a savvier, more discerning customer.
- Fool the Mechanic, Fool Yourself
On a similar note, if you know what area of your car is having trouble, do some research beforehand so you can ask one or two informative questions. If you’re having brake problems, and the mechanic tells you the rotors need to be replaced, ask to see the rotors and inquire about the possible wisdom in having them resurfaced instead of replaced.
Even a single, smart question may create doubt in the mechanic’s mind about whether you will roll over to any suggestion that’s offered. Plus, during your research, you’re liable to come across genuinely valuable information about your car. Instead of fooling the mechanic, you may pass as an informed consumer.
- Understand the Difference between Parts and Labor Charges
The labor needed for any number of auto repairs is published by the manufacturer, but these numbers are often padded and experienced auto mechanics routinely beat these time estimates. Find out if the savings are going to you, the mechanic, or the auto shop’s profits.
Likewise, ask about the feasibility and savings associated with refurbished parts. Simply making sure your bill is properly itemized and taking the time to peruse this bill will eliminate some of the most obvious scams and over-charging.