Tips for choosing the right auto mechanic
The cost of owning a car does not stop with buying the car. Whether for an oil change or needed repairs, you need to find a trustworthy mechanic or auto shop.
BBB has tips to help you find the right shop and ensure a smooth experience when looking for an auto mechanic or repair shop:
Do your research. Start your search on BBB.org. Do they have a BBB profile? What is their BBB letter grade? How long have been in business? What is their complaint history and, more importantly, how have they responded to complaints?
Ask friends and family for mechanics they trust. If you need major repairs, you may want to find a dealer or repair shop specializing in the type of repair or a specific make or model car. Make sure the shop has proper licenses and complies with local laws. Look for certifications like an Automotive Service Excellence Seal. ASE certification indicates that some or all technicians have met basic standards of knowledge and competence in specific technical areas. Make sure the certificates are recent but also remember that certification alone is not a guarantee of good or honest work. Check business profiles at BBB.org to see if a business is BBB Accredited and in good standing and to read reviews and complaints. You can also check other online review platforms to see if the shop has a record of complaints.
Maintain your car properly. Read your vehicle’s manual for suggested routine maintenance to keep it humming along and reduce the need for repairs. Look for information such as the type and weight of oil to use in different seasons, proper maintenance intervals, and the maximum load your car can carry or tow. If your car has a manual transmission, find the proper shift points for maximum engine life (usually the same as described for maximum fuel efficiency). Pay close attention to changes in your car’s performance, any lit dashboard signals, and unusual smoke or odors.
Understand your warranty. Make note of anything you need to do to keep your warranty valid. If you are getting work done while the car is still under warranty, check to see if there are guidelines you must follow and if you must take the vehicle to a specific location. If in doubt, ask questions at the dealership where you bought your car. If your warranty has expired, shop around for a reputable mechanic to perform the work.
Plan ahead. Don’t wait until you have an accident, or your car stops running to look for a mechanic. You will be much more stressed when facing an emergency, so do your research when you can take your time and make educated decisions.
Have a professional diagnose the problem. Self-diagnosing problems can lead to unnecessary costs if you ask for specific work that doesn’t actually fix the issue. Describe the problems you are experiencing, with as much detail as possible, but have the auto body shop do a diagnostic (ask first if there is a charge for that) and determine what should be done. Don’t rush the technician into making an on-the-spot diagnosis of the problem.
Get a written estimate. Be sure to get a detailed estimate, including repairs, labor, parts, and expected time to complete the repairs before signing to have the work done. Ask if there is a charge to get the estimate before requesting one. Ask for any details on costs connected with the return of parts, the cost of shop supplies, the cost of disassembly, inspection, and diagnosis of the vehicle, and the cost of reassembling the vehicle if you choose not to authorize repairs. If there is anything you do not understand, ask for an explanation. Make sure the estimate states the mechanic will ask for authorization before doing additional work or incurring extra costs. Include your name and telephone number so the mechanic can reach you. If there is any uncertainty about the repair, get a second opinion. For larger repairs, you should also get multiple estimates. Never sign off on an estimate that is blank or appears to be incomplete. Be sure to understand all shop policies regarding labor rates, guarantees, and acceptable payment methods.
Pay attention when you pick up your car. When you pick up your vehicle, get a complete and detailed written summary describing everything the mechanic did. Ask the service manager to go over it with you and explain all the work they did and the replacements they made. Also, if they replaced any major parts, ask to see what they did. Depending on the state or province, some laws allow customers to keep all replaced parts if requested before the work is started, as long as the parts do not need to be returned to a supplier or manufacturer. Be sure that your bill itemizes the repairs, so if a problem occurs later, you can show what was done. It should also note the car’s odometer reading before and after the work is done. Are there any charges you do not recognize or understand? If the shop cannot explain a charge, it may not belong on your bill. If you requested to approve work before it was done, and you see charges on the bill that you did not authorize, you should ask questions about those items.
Get all guarantees in writing. If the shop guarantees its work, get the guarantee in writing. A written guarantee should include what it will cover, such as parts, labor, or both, how long they are guaranteed, and any exclusions. It should also outline whether the guarantee is adjusted for time or mileage and if it transfers to a new owner if you sell the car. Save all paperwork, bills, and receipts.
Be a smart consumer. One of the best ways to protect yourself against disreputable car repair shops and scams is to practice “consumer automotive strategy.” Watch your car if possible. Do not leave valuables in your vehicle when leaving it in the shop. Be aware of common scams used by dishonest repair shops. There are many things disreputable mechanics can do to make a car appear to have more problems than it does. For example, simply switching the spark plug wire connections can prevent a car from starting. If you feel you have been taken advantage of, you should first complain to the repair shop’s service manager or the facility’s owner. If you cannot resolve the complaint satisfactorily, contact the BBB where the car was serviced. You can also contact your local consumer protection or state attorney general’s office. If the mechanic who did the work is ASE certified, ASE may be able to take action if enough complaints have been filed.
Follow up with problems. If you continue to have issues with your car after the work is complete, take it back to the shop that performed the original repair. If issues persist, it will be easier to identify who is responsible for the repair. If you are unable to reach a satisfactory repair, you may wish to file a complaint at BBB.org/complaints. If your issue involves the warranty for the car, you can open a dispute with BBB AUTO LINE in the United States. In Canada, if the car is a recent model, it may qualify for CAMVAP arbitration.
Rick Walz is the President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Northern Indiana, which serves 23 counties. Contact the BBB at 800-552-4631 or visit www.bbb.org.