Put your mechanic in check

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

you don’t commit to the work.

  • Ask the shop how it disposes of hazardous material. Every fluid in your car-antifreeze, oil, gasoline, etc.-is hazardous. Be aware of how the repair facility disposes of these materials. A shop that cuts corners when it comes to dangerous chemicals is also likely to cut corners in other areas.
  • If you own an unusual car, network with other car owners for information and resources. Owners or enthusiasts of off-road vehicles, high-performance sports cars or antiques often form car clubs. If there’s an organization-from a formal club to an Internet news group-this can be an ideal way to share information. Club members love to discuss how and where to keep their cars running. Specialty shops are often owned by enthusiasts who may have extra insight into your particular model.
  • Consider using the shop recommended by your insurance company for collision damages. Collision repair can be a special case because an insurance company is typically involved. You may or may not be obligated to go to one of their “approved” shops. Even if you’re not, it might be a good idea to take their recommendation, particularly if the contract guarantees the repair will be done properly. This covers you even if additional damage is discovered later-either during the repair or several months down the road.
  • Have newer cars evaluated with modern equipment. These days, sophisticated computerized equipment is often needed to diagnose various symptoms. Newer cars have more complex electronics than their older counterparts. With so many electrical problems (the most common complaint with new cars), well-equipped repair shops are starting to look more like laboratories than garages.
  • Keep track of the problem. Just like a doctor, your mechanic needs to know where it hurts. The best thing to do is write things down. If your car is making strange noises, describe them as accurately as possible. The most difficult trouble to diagnose is an intermittent problem. Take note when it occurs, such as whether the engine is cold or hot, if it happens when cornering or braking or if it begins to happen more frequently. The more information you have, the easier and faster the technician will find and fix the problem-even an expert mechanic is not a magician.
  • Give a clear description of what you want evaluated. All too often, the service manager is told: “Give it a tune-up and check it out.” That statement could be interpreted many different ways. A thorough check-out would require dismantling and thousands of dollars in labor. Service managers realize that’s not what you want, so they just make a quick visual inspection, unless a specific request is made. Instead of trying to tell the mechanic what the car needs, simply report any changes in the car’s performance. Also, read the work order carefully before signing it and be available by phone to authorize any extra work the mechanic discovers later.
  • When you pick up your car, have the technician explain and show you what was done. Get any guarantees in writing and make
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