How to find the best auto repair shops

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When the chips are down and you need a car repair, where’s the best place to get it done?

Back in 1987, I bought an Acura Integra. When it needed service, a friend who also had an Integra recommended a dedicated shop that only worked on Hondas and Acuras. It’s now 27 years later and I’m still going to the same shop.

Consumer Reports took a look at car repair shops and their respondents unanimously favored independent mechanic shops vs. going to the dealer.

Dealers are doing everything to try to win customers back, including offering free lattes, free wifi, and really rolling out the red carpet in all possible ways. But something about the dealership model that makes it inherently inferior to an independent mechanic shop.

When you go to the dealer, you have to go through a commissioned service writer, not the mechanic who actually maintains your vehicle. That’s where I believe the problem starts and ends.

Having said that, not all independent mechanic shops are good. You need to get referrals from trusted friends and family. The time to find an indie mechanic is not when you’re broken down on the side of road, either. You need to build a relationship by trying out a shop for routine maintenance.

Single brand shops that only focus on one or two kinds of brands are my favorite. If you’re new to an area, try using online review sites to vet shops.

To recap my advice, remember the following:

  1. Build a relationship with a mechanic before something goes wrong with your car.
  2. Look for a single brand mechanic in midsized and large cities. Read reviews on Kudzu, Yelp, or other review sites for recommendations.
  3. Do your scheduled maintenance to reduce the chance of a big repair. Simple things like oil changes and rotating your tires can save you money in the long run.
  4. Start with Consumer Reports to buy vehicles that have the highest level of reliability, especially if you drive your cars for the long haul.

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