Before having any maintenance or repair work done on your vehicle, you must find a mechanic you can trust.
How do you know which stores are credible and reliable? Going through an advertisement is not a useful or good indicator, nor is a store visit. “Many stores and national chains have big, nice facilities,” says Jill Trotta, vice president of RepairPal, a website that estimates auto repair costs. (RepairPal is a Consumer Reports partner.) “But that’s where the investment ends. Ask questions and look around. Often times, the store that isn’t as clean or doesn’t have a nice waiting room means they could invest in training, tools and their staff.
Here are some of the basics for identifying a good store, according to John Ibbotson, chief mechanic at CR’s Automatic Test Center.
Ask for recommendations
High quality mechanics build a good reputation in their community. Ask around you. This becomes especially relevant if you ask someone who has a car similar to yours.
Look up reviews online
You can find information on local mechanics through AAA, Angi (formerly Angie’s List), RepairPal, and Yelp. Consider asking people in Facebook groups in your area for recommendations.
Find specialty stores
Garages that focus on the brand of vehicle you own are more likely to have the latest training and equipment.
A quality mechanic and workshop should be certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). To become certified, technicians must pass one or more of the 52 ASE tests. To remain ASE certified, the technician must be retested every five years.
Check with the Better Business Bureau
Auto repair shops are ranked 16th on the Better Business Bureau’s list of companies that receive complaints. Go to the office’s website to check out the repair shops you are considering.
Give the store a try
You may want to try some local stores for repairs or smaller maintenance jobs, such as oil or filter changes. Notice how well the mechanics treat your car and communicate with you.
Find out about guarantees
See if the store backs their work with any warranty. To compare stores, find out about their warranty for a common repair, such as brake work.
The Federal Trade Commission has useful 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 overcharged for repairs beyond basic maintenance, like oil changes. Start by consulting CR’s Auto 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. Request a quote that includes the cost of parts and labor.
Don’t be afraid to ask why a repair costs so much. There may be a good reason, says Ibbotson. Keep in mind that a cheaper solution is not always the best. A good workshop may use parts covered by longer warranties or have specially trained technicians.
You may get a better price from an independent mechanic if going somewhere other than the dealership will not void the warranty. But keep in mind that sometimes dealers have special tools that independent stores don’t. The best check is a trustworthy mechanic who isn’t afraid to answer questions or explain the job he does, Ibbotson says.
Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the February 2019 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
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