12 Keys to Finding a Car Mechanic You Can Trust

Here's how to find a reputable auto technician who charges fairly -- and why you need to do so before it's too late.

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 whom you trust to ensure your car is ready to handle the heat — and who charges fairly? No one wants to overpay for car maintenance. So, consider these ideas to find an auto technician who 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 may pressure you to use his favorite shop, which is 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. If you know someone who owns the same type of car, even better.

Other sources to check include:

  • Angie’s List: The company prides itself on vetting all reviews.
  • Better Business Bureau: The BBB website enables you to search for shops in your area and see whether they are accredited or rated by the BBB and, if so, how they are rated. BBB ratings range from A+ to F.
  • AAA’s Approved Auto Repair network: Shops that have the Approved Auto Repair designation sign agreements to provide reliable, high-quality service performed by technicians with manufacturer or ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certifications, according to AAA.

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 certifications and memberships.

A key certification is that of the nonprofit National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, also known as ASE. It’s awarded to mechanics rather than auto shops.

To qualify for ASE certification, they must pass a test and have two years of on-the-job training, or one year of training and a two-year degree in automotive repair. They must also retest every five years to maintain the certification.

Having all this background doesn’t guarantee you are honest, but it does mean you are probably competent.

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.

5. Weigh indie repair versus 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 Car Talk 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 probably want to go to the dealership.

6. 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, drive on.

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