Clark Howard’s #1 Tip on Car Mechanics

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If you’ve read our guide on how to find a trustworthy mechanic, you know that fixing unexpected vehicle problems can lead to some serious money woes out of the blue.

That’s why money expert Clark Howard wants you to put some forethought into expenses related to your vehicle, including any mechanic work that is needed.

Here’s Clark’s #1 Tip on Choosing a Car Mechanic

Here’s the most important thing Clark wants you to know about choosing a car mechanic:

“With any brand, I want you to have a relationship with a mechanic for routine maintenance — not when something goes wrong and you’re looking for a shotgun marriage with some shop. I want you to find that shop, that mechanic, you can trust ahead of time.

Clark says developing this relationship in advance can help you avoid problems. Here are some of the problems you might face if your car needs work and you don’t have a trusted mechanic available.

Service Writers

At many car dealerships, you’ll be introduced to a “service writer” when you bring your vehicle in for repair. Clark says you might expect these folks to be interested in finding out what’s wrong with your vehicle so they can fix it, but that’s not often the case.

“What they’re all trained to do is not to write the symptoms that you’re having but to write a remedy that you sign your name to,” he says.

Anonymous Mechanics

When you go to the repair shop at a traditional car dealership, you typically don’t get to talk to the mechanic who will actually be working on your vehicle. “You don’t even know who the mechanic‘s going to be,” Clark says.

Ideally, you’ll want a mechanic with an ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certification, which means they have completed rigorous training and education on the fundamentals of auto repair and maintenance.

To see if your mechanic is ASE-approved, look for some signage on the wall or a seal near the customer service desk of the shop. You can also simply ask the customer associate at the desk.

Without inquiring, “You don’t know if that mechanic was last in their class or first in their class learning to be a mechanic,” Clark says.


Having Your Car Held Hostage

“In virtually every state, there’s what’s known as ‘mechanic lien laws,’” Clark says. These laws basically stipulate:

  1. What the mechanic is authorized to do.
  2. What the cost of the service is going to be.

Clark says some customers fail to put a dollar limit on their service tickets, which can bite them in the wallet. 

While it’s true that many mechanic shops will give you a courtesy call or inform you in-person about any additional work that needs to be done, that’s not always the case.

“If you have not restricted on a service ticket what they are authorized to do … they can run up a bill to whatever dollar amount they want,” Clark says. “And then they are allowed, under state law, to hold your vehicle hostage until you pay whatever sum they dreamt up.”

Final Thoughts

It’s important to have a good and longstanding relationship with a mechanic for major issues as well as small ones.

“I want you to make sure,” Clark says, “that you have a relationship, if you can, with a routine mechanic, and that he or she knows you and knows your vehicle.”

If you foster that relationship now, “then when the chips are down and your vehicle needs a major repair, you’ve got that person there for you,” he adds.

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