Going to the mechanic is almost never fun. Between making an appointment and losing the use of your car, it’s an inconvenience, and to top it off, if you’re like most drivers, you have no idea if the price you’re quoted is fair. Even though you may not have the knowledge or experience of a trained mechanic, there are still a few ways you can assess the professionals working on your vehicle.
1. Get recommendations
There’s no shortage of places to get advice about mechanics. Online review sites and forums are a good place to start, but they can’t be trusted completely. Charles, a mechanic and blogger at The Humble Mechanic, reminds drivers that there are many reasons to suspect anonymous reviews: “Was the reviewer mad that they had to spend money? Did an employee write the review? Is it a review of a specific mechanic? Odds are, it isn’t.”
He adds, “Every shop has some techs who are better than others. But even great techs have bad days.”
So where should you go for balanced, reliable recommendations? Most sources suggest prioritizing word of mouth from friends and family members over information from websites. If you do find your mechanic this way, Charles recommends that you always mention who referred you.
2. Look for certifications
Once you’ve gathered some names, do research on each. 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,” said Steve Peterson, owner of Christian Brothers Automotive in Castle Rock, Colorado.
You should also consider a mechanic’s experience with your specific make and model, in addition to his or her overall training and experience. Charles advises, “You wouldn’t go to a burger joint and order a pizza. The same goes for finding a mechanic.” This is especially important if you drive a high-end or imported vehicle.
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. Look online for ballpark prices on specific repairs, and keep a detailed record of past tune-ups and replacements. Rob Infantino, founder and CEO of Openbay, an app that helps customers find mechanics and gather auto repair quotes, warns, “Beware a mechanic who suggests you need a repair you’ve already had done.”
Your technician should also gather information about you. Joe Torchiana, director of the Torchiana Automotive Training Institute, recommends drivers find mechanics who listen. “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. 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. Drivers should always go over estimates with their mechanic, according to Infantino. “Look for some ‘bedside manner.’ 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 said. By the same token, if you can’t get any personal attention, look elsewhere.
Infantino also recommends drivers ask 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 said.
Finally, ensure that your car will be protected after the repair is completed. “Determine if your existing car warranty can, and will, be honored by the shop and what type of coverage is offered on the work that they perform,” Peterson said. If your mechanic won’t guarantee his or her repair, don’t trust them with your vehicle.
5. Test them out
Look for a mechanic before you need an urgent repair. This gives you more freedom to honestly assess a shop, or to try them out on a smaller job. It may also make good financial sense. “Go in for your regular maintenance. 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,” Torchiana said.
The bottom line
While going to the mechanic may not be fun, it 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 said.
Drivers should also trust their instincts, even if they feel inexperienced. Torchiana adds, “If you’re not sure about the necessity of a repair, get a second opinion.”
With a little extra effort on your part, you can find a technician who makes you feel comfortable. With any luck, this relationship will last through many years, and multiple cars.
Woman talking to a mechanic about her car image via Shutterstock.