Consumer Reports Car Experts on Finding a Trustworthy Mechanic
Trust is Hard to Come By...But Not Impossible
Lately we’ve learned that there are a number of scams perpetuated by chain service centers and some dealership garages that at best only pad the repair bill and at worst cause new damage to your car. Whether it’s due to greed or incompetency, car owner mishaps with their vehicle repairs is a problem. In fact, according to Consumer Reports’ analysts, “…Auto repair shops rank 16th on the Better Business Bureau’s list of companies that get complaints.”
In my mind, trust is a lot like respect---you have earn it, to get it. And it should be no different when it comes to service centers and garages when it comes to one of your most important assets toward daily living. Unfortunately, however, most of us make crucial decisions based more on face value than on reasoning. For example, CR analysts explains that you cannot always judge an automotive service by its store front:
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…. “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.”
Tips on What to Look For in a Mechanic and His Garage
To help you find a service center or garage that has already shown itself to be trustworthy through certifications that show it is trained to so the job, and has earned its trust in practice with previous customers, here is a summary of tips (with some amendments) on what to look for in a mechanic and his garage recommended by Consumer Reports recently.
Tip #1: Ask for Recommendations---While this may seem like a no-brainer, too often car owners base their choice solely as a matter of convenience and choose a place located between home and work. A better approach is to find someone with the same model or make as your car and ask them where do they go and if they have ever had any problems with the garage and what the cost of the repair came to. This way, you will have gained three bits of info---the name of a garage, whether a customer was happy with the work, and a cost to compare with other service centers and garages.
Tip #2: Look for Online Reviews---You can find information about local mechanics through AAA, Angi (previously called Angie’s List), RepairPal, and Yelp. You should also consider looking for recommendations from people on social media sites in your area. Many neighborhoods have one of those “looking for/selling/free to-the-first-person” sites where you can post a mechanic/garage question for who they recommend…and “who they would never go to again!” often with some useful comments on service and cost.
Tip #3: Find Specialty Shops---Finding a garage focused on one make of car is typically a good sign of someplace more likely to have the latest training and equipment.
Tip #4: Check for Certification---whether it is a service center tech, a dealership garage or a specialty shop, you want the person(s) working on your vehicle to have accreditation by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). To become certified, technicians need to pass one or more of ASE’s 52 tests; and must be retested every five years to maintain their certification(s).
Tip #5: Check With the Better Business Bureau---Going to the Better Business Bureau website to look up any repair shops you are considering in your area is a good step, but understand that many automotive repair shops that are quite good are not BBB members. Therefore the BBB site may not have any useful reviews aside from unchecked customer ranting that could be misleading.
Tip #6: Give the Shop a Trial Run---This is actually my favorite tip because it helps you assess whether or not this might be a good garage. Start with lower-cost simple maintenance and repairs to see how well the garage does the job. Take some before and after photos of fluid condition, parts, and dusty, dirty areas around where a maintenance or repair is performed to ensure that you were actually serviced as claimed on your bill. If the mechanic finds an issue, have him explain it to you, get an estimate, and do some research before agreeing to the additional work.
Tip #7: Ask About Warranties---All work and parts should come with some warranty. Asking multiple garages what their warranties are concerning specific repairs like brake work or transmission fluid servicing is a good way to shop around for a garage.
Tip #8: Sanity-Check Your Repair Estimate---One point CR car experts make that is an excellent one is that getting a repair estimate does not really mean shopping for the least expensive estimate. In many cases, going with the cheapest estimate means that you are also getting the cheapest parts and/or not being adequately serviced using the right equipment.
A good approach is to talk to the mechanic and ask for a breakdown in their estimate of how much the part costs, the part recommended by them (you can later look up many parts online to see if others have found problems with specific parts as well as find less expensive alternatives that will work as well), the expected amount of labor involved and how much labor costs for the service. And of course, what their warranty is for the repair.
“The best check is a trustworthy mechanic who isn’t afraid to answer questions or explain the work they’re doing,” says John Ibbotson, chief mechanic at the CR Auto Test Center.
If you are unsure of what a repair and parts should cost and are uncomfortable with go to a service center or garage to ask these types of questions, the good people at Consumer Reports offers a CR Car Repair Assistant service associated with RepairPal.com to provide a rough estimate in your area for many repairs.
Here’s a YouTube video from CR about car maintenance myths you need to know about before going to a garage to service your vehicle:
Car Maintenance Myths | Consumer Reports
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Timothy Boyer is Torque News automotive reporter based in Cincinnati. Experienced with early car restorations, he regularly restores older vehicles with engine modifications for improved performance. Follow Tim on Twitter at @TimBoyerWrites for daily Tesla and electric vehicle news.
Photo by Enis Yavuz on Unsplash