Going to a mechanic is sort of like going to the doctor. You don’t like to do it, your doctor probably knows that, but you both suck it up because to stay healthy you have to get a regular check-up. The same goes for your car. A car needs to visit the mechanic fairly frequently in order for it to continue running smoothly.
So when the time comes to find a repair shop, how do you go about finding one that’s affordable and offers good service?
Keep reading to find out.
Word of mouth matters a lot to mechanics. That’s how small-town shops get a lot of their business.
You can call multiple repair shops near you and ask for an estimate (for the repair and the hourly rate for labor). You have the right to know how much a repair costs. If a shop won’t tell you, if they’re rude, or seems especially expensive, take your business elsewhere.
You can also ask what certifications the shop has. Are the mechanics registered with the National Institute or Automotive Service Excellence (ASE)? Are they affiliated with other trade associations like the American Automobile Association (AAA)?
If they are, it’s not a guarantee of a solid operation, but these associations require mechanics to go through a certain amount of training in order to receive certification, so it’s likely they know what they’re doing.
Check with the Better Business Bureau
On that same note, you can always check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to see if there’s been any complaints about the mechanics or repair shops near you.
A few small complaints shouldn’t make you rule out a business entirely, but a shop that’s received a particularly high number of complaints should be avoided. Sometimes a higher price really does equal better service.
Look for reviews, or better…
Yelp or cartalk.com can be surprisingly helpful in your search for a mechanic. The internet has provided people with the ability to complain or rave about a business completely anonymously—and they do. At the very least, you’ll know if someone had a bad experience with a certain mechanic or shop.
But not all mechanics are going to have significant presence online. In fact, the best ones might not need to have a website or a Facebook page because they already have a enough business from word-of-mouth referrals. So how do you get a word-of-mouth referral if your friends don’t drive the same kind of car? Look to online forums. There are at least one or two active forums for every make and model of car imaginable. If you get lucky, you’ll find a thread or two discussing mechanics in your area. If not, you can try posting and asking for a recommendation.
Don’t take it to the dealership after the warranty has expired
A rule to live by when you’ve got an older car without a warranty—never take your car to the dealership. They charge more for everything—parts, hourly compensation, etc. Of course, the dealership is your cheapest option if you have a warranty because everything will be covered and of no cost to you.
At the dealership, there’s a good chance you won’t actually be met by the mechanic—an advantage you get with a smaller repair shop. There will likely be someone hired specifically for customer service that will explain what’s wrong with your car and take your money.
If you appreciate good customer service and a friendly relationship, you’re better off with a private garage (not that all dealerships are evil, but in my experience, they aren’t the greatest).
However, it is best to bring certain cars to the dealership. Take my Saturn Ion for example. Mechanics hate my car because Saturns aren’t made anymore so they can never find parts for it. Saturns were a short-lived production by General Motors that didn’t pan out.
GM dealers are able to find parts easier and their mechanics have more experience with the type of car. So while it may be more expensive, sometimes it’s best, if you’re in the same situation as me, to take your car some place that knows what they’re doing rather than chance it.
While major car repair problems are going to require a mechanic, you probably don’t even realize how much you can fix all on your own.
You can easily change the oil, windshield wipers, headlight bulbs, spark plugs, and more on your own. This route allows you to just pay for parts instead of parts and labor.
Luckily, we live in the age of technology where you can Google most of your problems and you’ll find a quick answer. YouTube is also filled with helpful tutorials if you prefer to watch videos.
You can also do things like they did in the old-days and read a car repair book (yes, they still exist), or even take a cheap shop class. Community colleges and vocational schools typically offer night classes or weekend course for under $100 (or not much more) that teach you the basics of car maintenance.
Finding the right mechanic can take some effort—you want to know they’ll fix your car and not cheat you out of a ton of money you don’t have.
Ask your friends, family, and the internet which places are the best around you. You’ll probably get some helpful advice on a decent mechanic in your price range.