Developing a good relationship with your auto mechanic can put your mind at ease. When your car starts making an unusual noise, or refuses to start, you'll have somewhere you can turn for answers.
In addition, bringing your car to your garage for routine auto maintenance will keep it healthy and running longer. It should also help keep your total car ownership costs down since you may avoid costly repairs in the future.
So how do you find a good, trustworthy mechanic? We asked several automotive experts for their best advice.
1. Get recommendations
There’s no shortage of places to get advice about mechanics. Websites like Yelp and Angie’s List are good places to start, but they shouldn’t be trusted indiscriminately, says Richard Reina, an automotive technician and product training director at CARiD.com, an online retailer for aftermarket auto parts.
Reina tells people to look for consistency, asking, "Am I seeing a trend in the reviews? Are they well-written to the point where they are believable?” He also recommends checking the Better Business Bureau and your state’s consumer protection agencies to “help you weed out an organization that's had multiple complaints about it."
But ultimately, experts suggest prioritizing recommendations from friends and family members. "The best way to find or get a referral on a mechanic is word of mouth," Reina says. “Speak to people who you know, and ask how happy they are with where they go to get a car serviced."
2. Look for certifications
Once you’ve gathered some names, do research on each one. First, make sure the mechanic is certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, or the ASE. This is a big deal at most shops — and it should be a big deal for you, too. “Reputable shops oftentimes only hire ASE-certified mechanics,” says Steve Peterson, owner of a Christian Brothers Automotive franchise in Castle Rock, Colorado.
Beyond looking for ASE-certified technicians, the Federal Trade Commission recommends checking whether the shop has a current license if your state requires repair shops to be licensed or registered.
You should also consider a mechanic’s experience with your specific make and model, in addition to his or her overall training and experience. This is especially important if you drive a high-end or imported vehicle. Dealership service departments will have specialized mechanics, but you’ll likely pay more than you would at a local garage.
3. Be informed — and expect the same from your mechanic
You may not be an expert in auto repair, but you can still bring knowledge to the shop when you drop off your car. Your vehicle’s owners manual includes a maintenance service schedule with the work your car needs done at various mileage intervals. If your mechanic suggests you pay for extra services outside of these, that may be a red flag.
However, repairs outside of scheduled maintenance certainly come up. Look online for ballpark prices on specific repairs, and keep a detailed record of past tuneups and replacements. And, “Beware a mechanic who suggests you need a repair you’ve already had done,” warns Rob Infantino, founder and CEO of Openbay, an app that helps customers find mechanics and gather auto repair quotes.
Your technician should also gather information about you. Find a mechanic who listens, recommends Joe Torchiana, director of the Torchiana Automotive Training Institute. “A good mechanic or service advisor will ask a lot of questions about your symptom, and will be able to repeat your answers back to you,” he says. “The better they understand your problem, the better they can pinpoint the areas to check, and the more they can save you in diagnostic charges.”
4. Ask the right questions
After you’ve established what brings you to the shop, there are still a few questions you should ask. First, if your car is still under a factory or extended warranty, check if the work your mechanic does will be covered.
Drivers should also ask for a price quote before allowing any work to be done, ideally broken down into parts and labor, Reina says. If you’re given just one large number, he advises asking what parts and labor you’re getting for that price. The FTC goes one step further, recommending that customers ask for a written estimate.
When going over estimates with their mechanic, drivers should “Look for some ‘bedside manner,’” Infantino says. “Someone who’s especially good will take a few minutes to explain why the labor rate is particularly high, or show you the wear and tear on the part you should replace,” he says. By the same token, if you can’t get any personal attention, look elsewhere.
Infantino also recommends asking for any fees not included in the estimate — like a tire-disposal fee in a tire replacement — and a list of priorities. “If you have an older car that requires several repairs, an honest mechanic will give you a sense of which jobs to prioritize,” he says.
5. Test them out
Look for a mechanic before you need an urgent repair. This gives you more freedom to assess an auto shop, or to try it out on a smaller job. It may also make good financial sense. “Go in for your regular maintenance,” Torchiana says. “Someone who’s changing your oil can also give you a heads-up for coming repairs. If you know you might need new tires in the next few months, you can budget accordingly.”
The bottom line
Going to the mechanic doesn’t have to be anxiety-inducing, and it shouldn’t make you feel incompetent. “Make sure the repair shop you choose treats you with courtesy and respect,” Peterson says.
Drivers should also trust their instincts, even if they feel inexperienced. Torchiana says, “If you’re not sure about the necessity of a repair, get a second opinion.”