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19 tips for finding a great mechanic

You can drive a well-maintained car for 300,000 miles, but you'll need a good mechanic to make it that far.

By Stacy Johnson May 22, 2012 10:50AM

This post comes from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News.

 

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyI own a clunker, which is why I've been to the auto repair shop three times in the last year. And I've been to three different shops. Why no return visits? Because I wasn't happy with the service, price, or both.


I'm not alone. In a recent survey, Consumer Reports polled 5,400 people, and 27% said they weren't happy with the auto repair service they received. Of the dissatisfied, 38% said the price was too high, and 28% said the job wasn't done right. 


In the video below, Stacy Johnson shares five of his best tips for finding a mechanic who won't let you down. Check it out, then read on for more tips.

1. Research before you need one. If you wait until your car breaks down, you'll be rushed into making a decision. 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 following tips 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 in the phone book. I found my third mechanic by asking everyone I knew for referrals, then researching the mechanics they named. Referrals are a great place to start, especially if you know people who own cars similar to yours.


Image: Man working on car © Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images4. Talk to other owners. In the video, Stacy explained how he's found mechanics by talking to other Mercedes-Benz owners. He suggests checking out the used-car classifieds and calling people who own your make and model to see which mechanics they've used.


You can also use an Internet forum for your car. For example, StangNet is a forum for Mustang enthusiasts, while JeepForum.com is for Jeep lovers. Once you find a forum, browse the pegged messages for threads on mechanics, or just post a message. 


5. Ignore the tow truck driver or anyone else with a monetary interest in where you take your car. 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 had failed to mention.


6. Read reviews. There are plenty out there. For example:
7. Look for certifications and memberships. For instance:
  • ASE certification. Mechanics must pass tests to obtain an ASE (or Automotive Service Excellence) certification.
  • ASA membership. Automotive Service Association members must pledge to uphold certain standards, including excellent customer service and high-quality work.
  • 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 AAA 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 could find yourself right 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 to see the equipment. Some less-than-honest mechanics will tell you they have something when they don't.


9. Don't shop by 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 on just price. The mechanic may be cheap for a reason. Narrow your list to two or three highly recommended mechanics, then compare price. 


10. Ask for a warranty. A great mechanic has no problem backing up his work with a warranty or guarantee. Look for the longest warranty with the most options. Be wary of 30-day or less warranties. Ninety days or more is reasonable.


11. Ask about parts. Ask what brand or type of parts the mechanic uses and why. Some mechanics use only 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 have on hand. The service manager admitted he's seen shops add $30 to a bill for the use of three towels. 


13. Look for a shop with a customer satisfaction guarantee. If a shop isn't willing to back up the work, it's probably not going to treat you (or your car) right. Ask the mechanic what kind of customer satisfaction policy the shop has.
 
14. Find a mechanic who specializes in your car. 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 may not be satisfied. 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 time to take off in the middle of the day, 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 lacks customer service skills. If the shop bay is dirty and littered with parts, he's not being professional. 
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, can you really trust him to rebuild your engine or replace your brakes?


19. Ask questions. 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, and you deserve to know where it's going and why.


More from Money Talks News and MSN Money:

9Comments
May 23, 2012 7:39PM
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#2 In most if not all markets, professional independent garages have the same labor rate as dealerships. Ask around at the different shops what their rate is. Ask to be shown the labor rate guide to verify that the job you're having done is being billed correctly. If they try to keep that from you, you are being over-charged.

#7 While ASE certificates can be a good jumping off point in choosing a mechanic. They are not the end all be all determining factor. ASE tests are actually very easy to pass with no mechanical back ground what-so-ever. My wife who is an insurance adjuster has 3 and has never worked on a vehicle EVER. 

#9 This one is really kind of redundent.

#11. Factory parts are a consistent know quality whereas "aftermarket" parts can have a quality ranging from a part some guy repainted in his back yard and is reselling as "rebuilt" to a OEM spec equivelant part, You just never know without diligent personal research. the rule of thumb her should be is the part an assembly? ie: a/c compressor, steering rack or gear, ect. Buy factory part. Or is it a simple part? ie: brake rotor, control arm, timing belt. Buy aftermarket.

#17 keep in mind that mechanics are commission based employees. You wouldn't like it if someone wasted your time just to "test' your honesty. If you feel compelled to do this then make sure you give the mechanic a tip for his time. 50 cents a minute is about the going rate.

 

Remember that a shop will sometimes have several technicians working there. The guy that changes the oil is not the same guy that diagnoses a driveability concern. A good shop will have several technicians each with his (or her) own specialized field of repair. If you're happy with a repair get the tecnician's name so that you can request him next time. Or if the type of repair is different ask him if he thinks one of the other techs might be better suited for the job.

May 24, 2012 9:08AM
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#8
Stupid suggestion. 90 % of the consumer's have no idea what piece of equipment does what and saying show me the equipment is even dumber, how many people reading this know the difference between a tech 2 , modius or genisis scan tool or why one is better or worse to use on their car.

#12
 Shop supplies are a valid charge at times ( not towels ) brake fluid, brake cleaner, other fluids, fuses ect all cost the shop money and should be billed if used. In California the law say's if these are billed and not compleatly used the consumer is given whatever is left ie the half empty can.
May 24, 2012 2:34AM
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I am a mechanic. Been one for 20 years. Certs like ASE, Big Red (Honda), GM Pro, etc are great for wall art. They DO NOT mean that the guy holding the cert ACTUALLY can do what the cert says.
I DO NOT say don't get educated but understand that the only TRUE certs come from the MANUFACTURER. Example is motorcycle and lawn and garden tools, each of the manufacturers holds week long (or longer) schools that address stages of competence through fault finding,rebuilds,electrical failures,diagnostic procedures etc. ALL OF IT HANDS ON with a master level instructor who also has to pass the same tests EVERY YEAR. If you fail them it means you are just a "yard mechanic". The manufacturers also provide update schools for the mechanics to refresh some older points of concern and touch on the new features or new models. Schools like MMI,UTI,WYOTECH do not have this.

Dealers.........sometimes they can be high priced.....GET INFORMED by taking a couple of classes. THE INTERNET FORUMS ARE THE WORST PLACE TO FIND HONEST AND ACCURATE INFORMATION. You need to filter the posts for ones that show more personal favoritism, tough to do.  

Aftermarket vs. OEM.......this is a crap shoot. SOME OEM parts are good but ALLOT  of aftermarket are better. Oem is just that. A standard part that is produced with cost in mind, not longevity and not strength. Quite a number of the aftermarket parts are built for racing or heavy duty use so the materials are better the quality is higher ( so is the price sometimes) and the part has longevity in the design. This is also one were you need to have knowledge or you will get hosed.

shop supplies......NOT ALL SHOPS PAD THE TICKET....... look at your invoice....if you invoice says tire change and oil and filter change and there is nothing else like disposal fee or recycling tax, it is included in "shop supplies". Ask to see the supplies used. A quality shop will provide them for your inspection ( unless it is a waste fluid)

Mechanics and prices.......if you are thinking of trying to negotiate your repair....make sure the mechanic is not paid "commission" . If he is, talk to HIM/HER  NOT the service writer. The mechanic is paid based on shop hourly rate and his "flag" time. If you get a cut rate deal you have just taken the mechanics way to pay his bills out of his pocket...We don't appreciate having to tell our kids they can't have the new toy we promised because some cheap skate didn't want to pay for the time needed. If you ask most mechanics directly then we usually will help you out. cut us out of the loop...........not to good for the service we are doing to YOUR car.
It can fast or cheap or good. If it is good and fast it is not cheap, if it is fast and cheap it is not good. There is no cheap and good.  quality takes time, time is money.

The best way to find a good mechanic is to not need one. Do the required maintenance as your dealer/owners manual tells you and fix the problems as they arise. You pay allot less down the road. Also DO NOT modify your ride with race parts,huge tires/wheels,extra lights,etc etc and expect the vehicle to run forever and drive just like a stock version, it won't and it will need more work.

Again the best way to not get soaked, EDUCATE YOURSELF. Take classes, read the owners manual, buy the service manual and read it.

Also sites like yelp are not a good place to get accurate reviews. drive by the place, look for an organized, cleanish parking lot, take notice of what vehicles are in the lot. Are they lowered import racers? are they forklifts and dump trucks? Are they old and beat up?
A good shop has a car in EVERY bay and only a few in the lot waiting on parts or service and the vehicles in the lot are usually current models no older than 10 years (usually)

I can go on for days....    

May 22, 2012 6:53PM
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Be careful accepting aaa recommended  service mechanic. Some shops own the local aaa group.
May 24, 2012 10:28AM
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Find a shop where you can meet the owner and get to know him ! Do not believe anything about BBB or AAA they only send you to the shops that pay them a fee so it's about sales with them ! Find a shop that is a Repair Shop instead of a Sales Store and most important be fair with what you ask shop to do for you ! Some people want a magic wond instead of a good mechanic !  ASE certified is good but time and hands on years of experience will always beat  somebody with a class certificate ! Allstar Automotive in L.E. ,ca
May 24, 2012 7:08AM
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My spouse has been a mechanic for more than 30 years and I still find it amazing the number of people who do no maintenance on mechanical items they own and then wonder why they break.

 

Call any of the following and you will pay a fee for them to come to your door: Electricians, Plumbers, Heating and Cooling, any household Appliance repairman.

 

Do proper maintenance on your vehicle and it will last an extremely long time. My spouse has never been called to court to testify against a Dealership but he has been called to court to testify against independent garages.

 

 Just because it is on the internet doesn't mean it is true, more times than not it is untrue.

May 24, 2012 11:19AM
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I will back up mr.fix-it.  Being a repair shop owner for 18 years, at one point we were urged to become AAA certified.  We did at a cost of $3500.00 per year for two years.  AAA certification means you are willing to pay them a fee and has nothing to do with your honesty or professionalism.  Meet the owners and talk to your friends and co-workers.
May 24, 2012 1:08AM
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few things I would like to add:

I don't agree with skipping the dealership. If you do NOT know a good mechanic, dealership is your best bet to get the job done right. At where I live, highly rated repair shops charges no less than dealership. Why? because their overhead is no less than a dealership, constant training their employee, investing latest equipments, customer satisfaction cost a lot of money.

 

Lawyers, Doctors, Mechanics, 70% of them are good for nothing, you just have to hunt for the other 30% that knows what they are doing.

 

remember, ALWAYS haggle for better price with your mechanic, Automotive service price has a pretty big margin, you can almost always save 10-30% if you haggle, just like buying a car.

 

in a Mechanics perspective, I know everyone wants to get it done right, done fast, and done cheap. But even the best mechanic can offer 2 of the 3. Know which 2 do you want!

May 24, 2012 12:18PM
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i am 64 yrs old been repairing cars since i was 16/ have worked at a car dealership first gm, now toyota since high school. have been a service manager for half my career. i know how to repair cars.  the comment that you should skip dealer service is misleading. here's what usually happens; the owner takes his car to an independent shop who uses the customer"s money to try to fix the car but cant,  then sends the owner to the dealer, but doesnt give the customer back the $ he already spent the dealer has the proper diagnostic equipment to properly diagnose and repair his car because the dealer is REQIURED by the manufacturer to carry the diagnostic equipment. aslo the dealer has to warrant the LABOR as well as the parts for 12 months regardless of how many miles the customer puts on his car after the repair and guess what ? if you compare prices of the repairs, the dealer is usually competitive with the independent.. . dont be misled.. its all preception.. check it out.
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