When it comes to finding a good mechanic, I’ve always relied on the recommendations of others. We’ve moved around a good bit over the years, so finding a new mechanic has been a fairly regular occurrence for us. While our friends and colleagues have never steered us wrong, there are a number of things that you can do to increase your odds of having a good experience.
Ask the right person
Beyond simply asking for personal recommendations, I’ve found that it helps to ask the right person. Look for someone that’s lived in the area for awhile. Someone that’s been around the block a few times can not only steer you to a good mechanic, but can also warn you away from the bad ones. Another tip here is to ask someone with a similar car to your own — not every mechanic knows how to work on every brand of car. Another reasonable source of information is the Car Talk Mechanics File.
Choose the right kind of shop
It’s important to understand the difference between the different types of repair shops. While dealerships will be full of mechanics that specialize in your particular make/model, they also tend to have the highest prices. When it comes to warranty work, the dealership is a no-brainer. But if you’re paying out of pocket, you’ll wind up paying more by going to the dealership. If you can’t find a good alternative, this is likely worth it. But if you can, you’ll save yourself a decent chunk of money.
Next up, we have the chain store auto shops. While these places typically offers lower prices than a dealership, the workmanship may suffer. Often times, such places are staffed by entry-level employees and the quality of work will be highly variable. If we need anything more than a new battery, we usually go elsewhere.
Finally, we have independent repair shops. This is by far my favorite option, but it’s not always easy to find a good one. In most cases, the prices will be a good bit below what dealerships charge, and they’ll have mechanics on-site that specialize in a wide vareity of makes/models. You’ll also get a bit more personal attention at an independent repair shop, and you’ll probably also get better continuity, with the same people servicing your car year after year.
Check for trade association affiliations
So you’ve decided that you want to go to an independent repair shop, and you’ve gotten a few recommendations. What next? One thing to look for is whether or not the shops you’re considering are affiliated with trade associations such as the Automotive Service Association (ASA), National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), American Automobile Association (AAA), etc. This isn’t foolproof, but these sorts of associations require members to adhere to certain ethical standards and, in some cases, certification means that mechanics meet minimum training standards.
Miscellaneous warning signs
When choosing a mechanic, it helps to do a bit of extra homework. Here are some things to be on the lookout for:
- Double check to make sure they handle cars like yours — a quick tour of the parking lot should suffice.
- Check for complaints with the Better Business Bureau.
- Check the terms of the warranty — six months is great, 30 days…. Not so much.
- If the shop operates on a cash-only basis, you might consider taking your business elsewhere.
- While you want to be able to get in to see your mechanic on relatively short order, an empty shop is a bad sign.
A good mechanic is really only useful if you can make use of their services. Here are some other things to consider:
- Is the shop open convenient hours?
- Are they located in a convenient (and safe) area?
- Are they near public transit?
- Can you get a ride to where you need to be while your car is being worked on?