Put your mechanic in check

Manage your visit to the car repair shop with these savvy strategies

Getting satisfaction on car repairs is one of the most challenging and, all too often, frustrating experiences a consumer can face. It can be difficult to find a place that does a proper oil change, properly diagnoses an intermittent problem or completely mends major crash damage. Let’s look at solving two of the toughest problems: finding an honest and qualified professional and getting the best work possible for a fair price.

The best time to find a mechanic is before you need one. Ask friends, associates and neighbors-particularly those with similar vehicles-if they’re satisfied with the professional they use. To further investigate a contractor or repair shop, contact the Better Business Bureau (BBB), attorney general’s office or local chamber of commerce to find out if there are any complaints against the business. After you’ve made your selection, check it out by taking your vehicle in for routine service-have your oil changed, for example. Then ask yourself the following questions: How does the shop rate in cleanliness? Does the service manager take the time to answer your questions in a way you understand? Does the technician listen to you when you explain the problem? Are you comfortable in the shop’s environment? Can you establish a reasonable level of trust? Does the mechanic satisfactorily answer your questions about his qualifications? A good mechanic will explain them with pride. Here are some other suggestions:
Let your mechanic know you’re looking for a long-term “relationship.” Choose a shop that will work with you and become familiar with your vehicle. Remember, a good mechanic spots trouble before it becomes expensive and keeps you informed about your car’s needs. That’s far different from the unscrupulous mechanic who will try to get you to pay for unnecessary repairs.

  • Look for signs indicating membership in trade organizations. Those from the BBB, Automotive Service Association (ASA) and, for crash repair, Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR) indicate repair shops that are probably professional, responsible businesses in the community. Most importantly, look for mechanics trained by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). Such technicians actually pass tests in specific areas and requalify every five years. You will almost always see them proudly display their certificates and wear a shoulder patch on their uniforms.
  • Don’t always go for the lowest price-consider quality, too. The best shop is the one that does quality work the first time and delivers on a promise. Talk to other customers who are waiting for their cars. Ask if they regularly visit the shop. Return customers are good signs.
  • Get a second opinion, particularly for expensive repairs. Once you get an itemized estimate from one shop, take your car to another shop. Without mentioning the first diagnosis, see if the second mechanic discovers the same problems and the same solutions. This allows you to compare costs and the amount of time it’s going to take to get them done. Before allowing anyone to examine your car, ask if there is a fee to evaluate the car even if
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