Chris loves automobiles and has maintained, repaired, and/or restored over a dozen of them in the last 15 years.
Fraught with rumors of unethical business practices, repairmen that up-sell you, and a system designed to keep consumers in the dark, finding an ethical, honest auto repair company that you can trust sometimes feels impossible. With a little research and perhaps a few phone calls, finding the right auto shop to repair your vehicle doesn't have to be difficult. By carefully narrowing down your search using the following tips, you should be able to find a mechanic or auto shop that you can trust.
Researching Companies: The Internet
The first step in choosing an auto shop is to start by researching companies in your area. The most obvious way to begin this task is to get on the Internet and start searching using your favorite search engine. I recommend beginning your search either at a mapping service (e.g. Google Maps or Bing Maps) or at an online repository of auto shops (such as AAA). These resources can help you to narrow your search by geographic location as well as by their online rating. Use this process to make a list of every repair shop that is reasonably close enough to your area to make it convenient.
However, keep in mind that it may worth your time to visit repair shops that are considerably further away than what you would normally consider. Quality, trustworthiness, and price are all very important factors when looking for a mechanic. Therefore, don't be afraid to drive a little further to get to a good shop.
If you are using a repair shop's online review rating as a criterion, keep in mind that online reviews are generally not as reliable as one would think. Unless the reviews are hosted on an independent site that curates its reviews, you can be sure that many high and low ratings will be fake.
The reason online reviews are not always reliable is three-fold. First, companies often pay people to place great reviews on sites in order to skew and improve their rating. Second, people tend to only take the time to write a review if their experience with the shop was exceptionally terrible or exceptionally excellent. Third, companies can use a variety of methods to remove poor reviews from the internet further skewing the results. Nevertheless, when considering ratings, the amount of the reviews that a company has is just as important as what the rating actually is. It also helps to look at trends in their review ratings as well. The timing and trends in reviews are very telling.
After you have generated a list of repair shops that appear to have a good reputation (and are close enough to your home), it's time to narrow your search even further. I recommend visiting the actual shop's website to gain a better understanding of the company's values and reputation. Although you can't necessarily judge a book by its cover, the quality of a company's website and the content on it can give you an idea of how the company does business. Some companies even offer pricing online as well as deals, coupons, and list of specific services they provide.
Researching Companies: Asking Friends and Acquaintances
When looking for an honest and ethical mechanic, it's a good idea to continue your search outside of the virtual world. One easy method of locating a shop is to ask your friends, neighbors, and coworkers about the shops that they do business with. If you've already generated a list of companies from your Internet research, you can ask your friends if they have had any experiences with the ones on your list and/or if they've heard anything about them.
If you are lacking friends and family, you can also ask your employer for a recommendation. Many businesses have company vehicles that require maintenance and repair. Fleet managers will often contract with local auto repair companies and mechanics in order to ensure that their vehicles are maintained on schedule and for the best price possible.
Sometimes a local mechanic can provide a repair service that the fleet management department can't. When evaluating your company's recommendation for a repair shop, it's important to consider the length and type of relationship that your company has had with the repair shop. Obviously, if your company has been doing business exclusively with one auto shop for 20 years, there is a good chance that that shop is reliable and does a great job.
Making Contact With the Mechanic
Hopefully, by this point, you've narrowed your list of possible auto repair shops to just a few candidates. If so, it would be a good idea to start making some phone calls to the companies on your list. Before calling the shops, you should be prepared to both ask and answer questions.
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The goal of calling the auto repair shops is to assess the company's level of customer service as well as their knowledge and confidence in repairing or maintaining your specific make and model of vehicle. If you know what work needs to be performed on your car, it would be good idea to ask the shop for a verbal estimate of the price and time to complete the job. Keep in mind that some shops may be reluctant to give this information over the phone, as some car repairs may require an inspection before an accurate quote can be given.
To help assess the quality of work that a shop can do, ask how many mechanics they have on staff, how many have completed formal training/education, and how much experience the mechanics have. If they have ASE-certified technicians on staff, then you will have a higher level of confidence in the work that they can perform.
Understanding the breadth of knowledge that an auto shop has can indicate the level of quality that you might expect from the business. Furthermore, a varied crew of mechanics is more likely to do both an efficient and effective job of addressing your repair needs than a specialty shop would. A specialty shop (such as an auto body and paint shop) will be exceptionally good at one specific task but might not be very good at engine work.
Additional Shop Offerings
Another thing to consider when looking for a car repair shop is to look at the additional services that the company provides to its customers. Does the business provide rental or loaner cars to patrons? What about towing and shuttle services? Other things that differentiate one shop from another can include such offerings as secure overnight parking (for those big repairs), free Wi-Fi, a clean and friendly waiting room, and a convenient location near places where you might find something to occupy your time waiting. While these factors shouldn't necessarily sway your choice in finding a repair shop, they are an indicator of how they might treat their customers.
Establishing Trust With Your Mechanic
Even after doing all the research, there will likely still be some uncertainty that needs to be addressed prior to agreeing to repairs. When you arrive at the shop of your choice, be prepared to ask the mechanic more questions. This is one of the most important parts of choosing an auto repair shop as you can now establish a level of trust with the person working on your car. Trust is probably the most important factor in choosing an auto shop.
First, the mechanic will need to inspect/test the vehicle to give you an estimate of the repair job. You should receive a written cost estimate, which details exactly what work needs to be done, what parts are needed, and how long it should take. Some repairs can't be assessed so easily and a written estimate may not be available at that time. If this is the case, most shops will offer to diagnose the problem for a small fee that is later waived if you go forward with a repair.
Once you have the estimate, you need to ask the mechanic to explain the problem to you, the cause, and what options you have for dealing with it. The mechanic should explain any uncertainties that may exist prior to the work starting. A trained/experienced mechanic should have no problems answering these questions in order to gain your trust and make you feel at ease.
During your visit to the repair shop, the mechanics should also keep you informed of the progress of your repair. Feel free to ask them about the progress of the repair if you haven't heard anything in 1-2 hours. In addition, don't be afraid to ask if you can see the repair work for yourself as well. The mechanic will most likely agree to show you what's wrong with the vehicle and should let see keep the old, broken parts if request. For example, I always asked to see the old belts when they are being replaced on my vehicles.
Finally, the last piece of trust involves receiving a warranty or service guarantee on the labor as well as the parts. Auto repair companies that offer warranties or service guarantees use these to help build trust with the customer. No company wants to redo or correct any work they previously completed, so offering a service guarantee is a way to show the customer that they are confident in the work that they do. Warranties also help to put the customer at ease because they know that if any problems arise, they will be taken care of at no additional cost.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2018 Christopher Wanamaker