13 Steps to Find an Honest — and Qualified — Auto Mechanic

You're ready to hit the road this summer. Here's how to find a reputable auto technician who makes sure your car is, too.

The emerging warm weather means many of us will be spending more time behind the wheel on vacations, weekend trips and more.

Do you have a qualified auto mechanic to ensure your car emerges from winter ready to handle the heat and road challenges of spring and summer? That may be especially important this year. No one wants to overpay for car maintenance. As it is, reports indicate that gasoline prices are poised to rise — perhaps up to an additional 40 cents per gallon.

Consider these ideas to find an auto technician that keeps your car in optimal shape with minimal expense.

1. Don’t wait for a breakdown

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Looking for a technician when your vehicle is on the back of a flatbed or hooked to a tow truck gives you little choice. If you haven’t already chosen who will repair your car, you are at someone else’s mercy. Your tow-truck driver will pressure you to use his favorite shop, a sign of an arrangement — and no assurance of quality.

2. Start with recommendations and reviews

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Ask relatives, friends and neighbors if they are satisfied with and would recommend their auto-repair technician.

You also can use locally focused social media sites to harness your neighbors’ views.

If you know someone who owns the same type of car, even better. If not, there are likely online forums specific to your make of vehicle, according to Jalopnik, a car aficionado website. See what names and ideas surface.

You’re now presumably considering several candidates, so it’s time to find more good reviews. Here’s a strong starting lineup:

  • Angie’s List: The company prides itself on having a thorough vetting process for all reviews, including those on auto mechanics.
  • Better Business Bureau: The BBB lists accredited shops, searchable by location, with ratings of A+ through F.
  • AAA-Approved Auto Repair Network: All shops in the network must offer 12 month/12,000 mile warranties on all repairs; use Automotive Service Excellence or manufacturer-certified technicians; and pass an annual AAA inspection. (You don’t have to be an AAA member to use the site.)
  • CarTalk Mechanic Files: CarTalk has a database of more than 30,000 mechanics with ratings and reviews. You can search by ZIP code.
  • Yelp: Edmunds highly recommends Yelp as the best go-to crowd-sourced site to find a reputable auto repair shop.

3. Look for certifications and memberships

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Today’s cars are basically computers on wheels, which is why you don’t want to trust backyard mechanics or hobbyists with your ride. Even when you engage a professional auto technician, check the person’s certification and memberships. Here are two signs of a qualified technician:

  • An Automotive Service Excellence certification is a sound indication of a professional. Major plus: ASE certifies the mechanics, not just the auto shops. In addition to passing a test, ASE mechanics need two years of on-the-job training, or one year of training and a two-year degree in automotive repair. Having all this background doesn’t mean you are honest, but it does mean you are probably competent.
  • The Automotive Service Association is a membership group for shop owners that has been around since 1951. The ASA site allows you to locate recommended mechanics by ZIP code.

4. Don’t shop by price alone

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Understand that you’re not just paying for labor and parts but also for the professionalism and technical expertise of the technician. More expensive does not mean better. On the other hand, a bargain is not always a bargain. Again, today’s cars are basically computers on wheels. Make sure you only trust a qualified technician.

5. Weigh indie repair vs. dealerships

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Car repairs at dealerships are traditionally more expensive, though some strive to offer competitive rates. Still, a survey conducted by CarTalk found that dealerships generally charged 15 percent more than independent repair shops. But if your car is still under warranty for parts and labor, you will want to go to the dealership. If you have work done outside of the dealership make sure it doesn’t void any existing warranty. AutoMD helps you compare local services by getting quotes for specific repairs on specific makes of cars from shops in your area.

6. Ask for personal references

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Any reputable technician shouldn’t have a problem providing you with ways to contact satisfied customers. The issue of privacy might arise, but the shop should have enough recommendations to give you a list. The true professional also might have letters of praise.

7. Ask questions

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You want the mechanic to detail what is wrong with the vehicle. Even if you don’t know an engine from a light switch, asking questions indicates that you aren’t going to take everything at face value.

If the mechanic cops an attitude or refuses to answer your questions in layman’s terms, you have the answer to your key question. Drive on.

8. Scope out the shop

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There are at least three things you can learn by scrutinizing the shop:

  • If the shop is full of smiling mechanics and customers, it’s a good sign.
  • Watch how customers react when they leave the premises. If you see dissatisfaction you can assume the obvious.
  • Also note the condition and cleanliness of the working areas. This can tell you plenty about the quality of work.

9. Make sure the shop has the latest equipment

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The latest model cars are more like advanced computers. If the mechanic says he has the latest diagnostic equipment or the latest tools for your vehicle, ask to see them and have him explain how it works. Attitude problem? Drive on.

10. Ask for a warranty

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Warranties can vary greatly, so ask ahead of time. Make sure you understand what is covered and get it in writing. There is no “standard warranty” on repairs, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Warranties may be subject to limitations, including time, mileage, deductibles, businesses authorized to perform warranty work or special procedures for reimbursement. If you do a lot of traveling in your car, look for a shop that is backed by a national warranty program.

11. Subject the technician to a credibility test

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Take your car to the shop when there is nothing wrong and see if the mechanic returns with a list of services that need immediate attention. Scratched!

You could also ask a technician to do a routine maintenance task — such as an oil change — and see if you are satisfied with the workmanship and demeanor.

12. Get a second opinion

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You think you found the perfect mechanic, but something doesn’t feel right — and you don’t know if the price is right. So you want a second opinion. If you know someone who understands cars, all the better. If not, take it to the No. 2 on your list. It might cost you more, but it will be worth it in the end.

13. Don’t bow to pressure

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The key is not to be pressured into a decision. That’s why it’s important to choose a technician or service center before you have a major problem with your car. If you go to a technician and are presented with a list of unexpected repairs, don’t feel obligated to comply. Get a second opinion from another shop.

Did you use a unique road map to find an honest mechanic? Share it in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And share this story with your social network; we all need a mechanic eventually!

Nancy Dunham contributed to this post.

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