You can drive a well-maintained car for 300,000 miles – but you'll need a good mechanic to make it happen. Here's how to find one.
I own a clunker, which means I’ve been to the auto repair shop three times in the last year. And I’ve seen three different shops. Why no return visits? Because I wasn’t happy with the service, price, or both.
And I’m not alone. As part of a survey on customer satisfaction for car maintenance and repair, Consumer Reports polled 5,400 people – and 27 percent said they weren’t happy with the service they received. Of the dissatisfied, 38 percent said the price was too high, while 28 percent said the job wasn’t done right. Surprise, surprise.
Finding a good mechanic who won’t overcharge isn’t an easy task, but in the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson shares five of his best tips for doing just that. Check it out and then read on for even more tips to help you find a mechanic…
Here are more details on Stacy’s five tips, plus a bunch more…
1. Research before you need it
Find a mechanic before you need one. If you wait until your car breaks down, you’ll be rushed into making a decision – and it might be the wrong one.
Start by verifying any warranties or service records you have on your vehicle to get an idea of what you’ll need in the future and what’s covered by warranties. Then use the tips below to gather a list of mechanics in your area and narrow it down to the perfect place.
2. Skip the dealership
If your car is still under warranty and the service you need is free or deeply discounted, then head to the dealership. If not, head to an independent shop – they’re cheaper. On average, AutoMD says drivers save up to $300 a year by using an independent shop over a dealership.
3. Get referrals
I found my first two mechanics out of the phone book, and I wasn’t happy. I found my third mechanic by asking everyone I knew for referrals, then researching the mechanics they gave me. Referrals are a great place to start – especially if you know people who own cars similar to yours.
4. Talk to other owners
In the video, Stacy explains how he’s found mechanics for his classic Mercedes – by talking to other owners. He suggests checking out the classifieds and calling people who own your make and model to see what mechanic they’ve used.
You can also use an Internet forum for your car – most have them. For example, StangNet is a forum for Mustang enthusiasts, while JeepForum.com is all Jeep lovers. Once you find a forum, browse the pegged messages for threads on mechanics, or just post a message. They’re car lovers, so you’ll likely find at least a few folks happy to help.
5. Ignore the tow truck driver
Or anyone else with a monetary interest in where you take your car. More often than not, they’re in it for the money, not for you. When my car died in a parking lot, I called for a tow. As soon as the tow truck driver arrived, he suggested (repeatedly) that I take my car to a “great mechanic I know.” When I refused, he gave me the mechanic’s card and insisted I call later. When I got home, I looked up the “great mechanic.” Not only did he get horrible reviews, but he was partnered with the tow truck company – a fact the driver failed to mention.
6. Read reviews
Read a few reviews on every mechanic you consider. There’s plenty out there. For example:
- CarTalk Mechanic Files – CarTalk has a database of more than 30,000 mechanics with ratings and reviews
- RankMyMechanic.com – Based on user reviews
- Consumers’ Checkbook – Nonprofit rating service with price comparisons
- Better Business Bureau – Search for a mechanic shop to see if they’re accredited by the BBB and if they have any complaints
7. Look for certifications and memberships
- ASE certification – Mechanics must pass knowledge tests to obtain an ASE (or Automotive Service Excellence) certification.
- ASA members – Automotive Service Association members must pledge to uphold certain ethics – like having excellent customer service and performing high-quality service.
- AAA – To join the American Automotive Association’s list of repair shops, mechanics must offer a 12-month-or-12,000-mile warranty. (You don’t need a membership to view the list.)
8. Find a shop with the right equipment
Modern cars have advanced computer systems that need special tools to diagnose problems. Make sure the shop you use has the right equipment for your vehicle. Otherwise, the mechanic may not fix the problem correctly and you might find yourself back in the shop.
Ask the mechanic what equipment he plans to use on your car and if that equipment is specific to the make and model. Then ask if you can see the equipment in person. Some less-than-honest mechanics will tell you they have something when they don’t.
9. Don’t shop price alone
I had a hard time following this advice when I was shopping for a mechanic, but resist the urge to go with the cheapest estimate. You don’t need to pay top dollar to get great service, but you can’t base your decision all on price, either. The mechanic may be cheap for a reason. If the work isn’t done right, you’ll end up with bigger problems later on.
Take all of the other tips into account first. Once you find three or more mechanics that meet other requirements, then compare price. This way, you’ll find a great mechanic and save money.
10. Ask for a warranty
A great mechanic has no problem backing up his work with a warranty or guarantee. Always look for the longest warranty with the most options. Be wary of 30-day or less warranties – 90 days or more is best and not unreasonable.
11. Ask about parts
Ask what brand or type of parts the mechanic uses and why. Some mechanics only use factory parts, but they’re more expensive than aftermarket parts – and they aren’t always needed. A good mechanic uses factory parts when he has to and aftermarket parts the rest of the time to save his customers money.
12. Ask about shop supplies
In Confessions of a Car Dealership Service Manager, Popular Mechanics asked an anonymous service manager for an example of a popular tactic used to pad the bill. The answer: charging for “shop supplies.”
When a shop charges for shop supplies, they’re charging you to use the stuff they already have to buy to keep their business running. The service manager admitted he’s seen shops add $30 to a bill for the use of three towels. So ask if the mechanic charges for supplies – and don’t trust one that does.
13. Look for a shop with a customer satisfaction guarantee
If a shop isn’t willing to back up their work, they’re probably not going to treat you (or your car) right. Ask the mechanic what kind of customer satisfaction policy they have. If they don’t have one, move on. For example, Jeff’s Auto Repair in Washington state offers this guarantee:
Providing superior service to our customers is not only the goal of Jeff’s Auto Repair and our Family of Service Centers, it is a commitment supported by Jeff Gietzen’s personal guarantee.
All of our technicians and service advisors are fully trained through our “service recovery plan” to ensure total customer satisfaction. Any dispute or dissatisfaction will be handled in a professional manner.
Customer follow-up by an independent contractor is a key tool we use to continuously monitor customer satisfaction. Any complaint, though rare, is addressed immediately.
While this guarantee falls short on specifics, at least it shows the shop takes customer complaints and satisfaction seriously.
14. Find a mechanic that specializes in your car
All cars are different. If you own an SUV, don’t take it to a mechanic that specializes in sports cars. You’ll get better service if you find a mechanic that works on your type of car.
When talking to the mechanic, ask if he specializes in a certain make or type of car. Many do. If not, ask what cars he has worked on recently or what type he works on the most.
15. Check the shop’s hours
If the shop doesn’t have convenient hours, you won’t be satisfied, and it might end up costing you. When I was searching, I found a great mechanic, but he closed at 3 p.m. and wasn’t open on Tuesdays. I don’t have the time to take off in the middle of the day to check on my car, so I went with someone else.
16. Stake out the shop
Want to see how the mechanic really works? Pause outside the shop. If you see customers leaving angry, he’s lacking customer service skills. If the shop bay is dirty and littered with parts, he’s not being professional. Move on.
17. Do an honesty check
My auto enthusiast friend suggests doing a little recon before you pick a mechanic. Take your car to the mechanic when you know nothing is wrong – but tell him you think there’s a problem. An honest mechanic will tell you there isn’t one. A dishonest mechanic will come back with a laundry list of needed repairs.
18. Start with a small job
Test drive a new mechanic with a small job like an oil change or air filter replacement. If the mechanic can’t do small jobs well, do you really trust him to rebuild your engine or replace your brakes?
19. Ask questions
Ask every question you can think of. The mechanic should answer all of them in layman’s terms and without attitude. If the mechanic blows you off, acts put out by talking to you, or doesn’t break down complicated concepts, don’t give him your business. It’s your money, you need to know where it’s going and why.
A good mechanic will save you money, but that isn’t the only way to save on car expenses – check out 6 Steps to Pay Less for Car Insurance and 5 Ways to Lower the Cost of Car Ownership for more ideas.