Before you have any maintenance or repair work done on your vehicle, you need to find a trustworthy mechanic.
How can you tell which shops are credible and reliable? Going by an advertisement isn’t a useful or good gauge, and neither is a visit to the shop. “Lots of shops and national chains have big, beautiful facilities,” says Jill Trotta, a vice president at RepairPal, a website that estimates auto repair costs. (RepairPal is a Consumer Reports partner.) “But that’s where the investment stops. Ask questions and look around. Often the shop that isn’t as clean or doesn’t have a beautiful waiting area means they might be investing in training, tools, and their staff.”
Here are some basics for identifying a good shop, according to John Ibbotson, chief mechanic at CR’s Auto Test Center.
Ask for Recommendations
High-quality mechanics build a good reputation in their community. Ask around. This becomes especially relevant if you ask someone who has a car that’s similar to yours.
Look for Online Reviews
You can find information about local mechanics through AAA, Angi (previously called Angie’s List), RepairPal, and Yelp. Consider asking for recommendations from people in Facebook groups for your area.
Find Specialty Shops
Garages that focus on the brand of vehicle you have are more likely to have the latest training and equipment.
Check for Certification
A quality mechanic and shop should be certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). To become certified, technicians need to pass one or more of ASE’s 52 tests. To remain ASE Certified the technician must be retested every five years.
Check With the Better Business Bureau
Auto repair shops rank 16th on the Better Business Bureau’s list of companies that get complaints. Go to the bureau’s website to check on any repair shops you’re considering.
Give the Shop a Trial Run
You might want to try out some local shops for smaller repairs or maintenance work, such as oil or filter changes. Note how well the mechanics treat your car and how well they communicate with you.
Ask About Warranties
See whether the shop stands behind its work with a guarantee of some kind. To compare shops, inquire about their warranty for a common repair, such as brake work.
The Federal Trade Commission has helpful information on auto warranties and service contracts.
Sanity-Check Your Repair Estimate
Repair estimates can be confusing. But there are ways to make sure you’re not being overcharged for repairs beyond basic maintenance, such as oil changes. Start by checking CR’s Car Repair Assistant to find out roughly how much a specific repair should cost in your area. Compare that with a written estimate from your mechanic. Ask for an estimate that has the cost of parts and labor broken out.
Don’t be afraid to ask why a repair costs as much as it does. There may be a good reason, Ibbotson says. Keep in mind that a cheaper fix might not always be the best one. A good shop might use parts covered by longer warranties or have uniquely qualified technicians.
You might get a better price from an independent mechanic if going somewhere other than the dealership won’t void the warranty. But you should remember that dealers sometimes have special tools that independent shops don’t have. The best check is a trustworthy mechanic who isn’t afraid to answer questions or explain the work they’re doing, Ibbotson says.
Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the February 2019 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
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