Finding someone to work on your car may be relatively easy, but finding a mechanic you can actually trust can be more difficult.
In this article, I’m going to tell you how to find a good mechanic and what to look for. I’ll also share some of the top national repair shops, according to the experts.
Many of these tips come from Team Clark’s research as well as advice from money expert Clark Howard.
Do You Need a Good Mechanic? Read This
Before we get into the list, let’s make one thing clear: Clark prefers that you take your car to an independent repair shop rather than one associated with a dealer.
There are a couple of exceptions: 1) if your car is still under warranty; 2) if your vehicle has been listed in a technical service bulletin or recall. In those cases, the dealership is obligated to perform the service for free.
Tip: Establish Mechanic Relationships Before You Have Car Issues
“The most important time for you to figure out who your mechanic’s going to be is before your car breaks,” Clark says.
“Have a relationship with a mechanic you go to for the low-voltage things, by that I mean regular maintenance on your vehicle,” he adds. “So you know who they are and they know who you are. You have that layer of trust.”
Follow These Steps To Find a Good Mechanic
Let’s take a close look at each of these steps.
1. Ask for Referrals
“The first thing you do is you ask people you know,” Clark says. “You ask your friends, you ask people you work with who they have used to repair a car.”
Once you get a list of mechanics, here are the things you need to consider.
Is the Mechanic ASE-Certified?
A mechanic with ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certification has the backing of the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. Those credentials mean that the mechanic has completed rigorous training and education on the fundamentals of auto repair and maintenance.
Repair shops that participate in ASE’s Blue Seal program typically employ highly-trained mechanics. Visit ASE.com to find a Blue Seal shop near you.
Does the Mechanic Take Credit Cards?
If you run across a mechanic who doesn’t take credit cards, only cash, you should probably look elsewhere.
Clark stresses that credit cards offer the most protection when it comes to paying for things. By federal law, if you dispute a credit card purchase for a service or product you didn’t accept — or as being unauthorized or fraudulent — your liability is limited.
How To Research Auto Repair Shops Online
Here are some online resources you can use to find a good mechanic near you:
- Yelp: The site often has user-generated lists and reviews of local repair shops from real people.
- Kudzu: The online directory features local reviews on mechanics and other professionals.
- AAA: The motor club offers members a list of AAA-recommended repair shops you can choose from.
- Better Business Bureau: Check out BBB.org for ratings and complaints about the business.
- Google: Auto repair shops with Google Business Pages also feature customer reviews.
2. Comparison Shop
Now it’s time to whittle down the list further based on factors that are important to you.
Here are some things you may want to consider when comparing mechanic shops:
- Whether the mechanic works only on a certain brand of cars
- Distance to the mechanic shop
- Hours of operation and availability (How soon can the repairs be done?)
Once you decide on a mechanic and make an appointment, ask for a free estimate before any work is done.
3. Get It in Writing
“You want whatever they say they’re going to do in writing,” Clark says. “You’ve got to do these things right upfront to prevent as many hassles as you can.”
This is important because many mechanics will list the parts they’re going to replace but not the symptoms that the car is experiencing.
“Too often they’ll just write ‘do a tuneup’ when you’re saying the car is intermittently losing punch while driving. The problem then becomes that you sign your name to authorize ‘do a tuneup’ while the true nature of the problem remains undiagnosed,” Clark says.
When you view the estimate or service ticket, you should typically see these items:
- Parts Cost(s)
- Labor Cost
- Service Charge(s)
“The service ticket should always list the problem with your car,” Clark says. “So if you have them do a repair and the car’s still having the same problem, they haven’t done their job.”
Know How Much Repairs Will Cost Before the Work Is Done
Clark says because of the way state mechanic lien laws work, you want to make sure that the estimate includes the total repair cost along with specific information on the work you’re authorizing.
“If you don’t strictly have that written down, a mechanic can do whatever he or she wants to your vehicle. They can bill you any amount of money, and they have a legal right to possession of the vehicle,” Clark says.
If you already know how much the estimated repairs are, if the mechanic comes to you with an additional issue, you can make a more informed decision on how to proceed.
Bonus: Avoid Extended Warranties
An auto repair shop may try to sell you an extended warranty, but Clark says that’s almost always a bad idea.
“Extended car warranties and auto repair service plans can be enticing in an era when people are keeping their cars longer,” Clark says. “But I say most of the time they’re a waste of your money.”
Because these service plans can costs thousands of dollars, Clark says it’s best to save those funds for repairs later.
“For that money, you supposedly have the peace of mind to use the service plan for repairs when your car breaks down. But guess what? The contract for that supposedly ‘bumper to bumper’ coverage has so many loopholes that it’s almost impossible to get any repairs covered!”
Finding a trusted and dependable mechanic may seem like a daunting task, but it can be done with a little effort.
Clark says communication is the key.
“Always talk with the mechanic doing work on your car,” Clark says. “I am not a fan of the traditional dealer service model where you only talk to the service ticket writer, not the mechanic actually doing the work. If you are dealing with a service writer, be sure they note the symptoms you’re seeing in your vehicle, not the remedy.”
One thing you can do to reduce the likelihood of costly repairs is to stay on a maintenance schedule. Doing simple things like changing your oil and rotating your tires can go a long way toward saving you big money down the road.