Anyone still using the verbiage “What you don’t know can’t hurt you” needs to stop now because it’s exactly the opposite. Paying someone to complete a job you know nothing about and then trusting them to do the job right is financially irresponsible and should be avoided at all costs. Auto mechanics are certainly not the only profession where consumers can be taken advantage of, but it’s one of the most prominent.
Mechanics often get a bad rap because they are viewed as being sneaky, underhanded, dishonest people that are always trying to screw consumers over. While you’ve probably heard your fair share of auto repair nightmares, a well educated and well prepared customer will have an infinitely greater chance of finding an honest and well respected mechanic, and that’s what were going for here today.
Finding a good mechanic can be one of the most valuable adds to your portfolio. Between normal check-ups, routine maintenance and emergency repairs, the average consumer spends thousands of dollars in auto repairs for each car they own. And over the course of your life, that’s a lot of cars! Just as you would with any other financial decision, seeking out the right body shop takes a little research, a little time and hopefully a little fun. With the step-by-step checklist below , you can ensure that you’ve done your homework, which should translate into big time future savings and an even bigger peace of mind.
- Ask Around – Testimonials are a great way of finding out if a mechanic is the real deal. Start by asking your friends and family who they use as their mechanic. If you’ve moved into a new area, then the Internet is your greatest asset as you can search for reviews and reports about recent work provided by body shops in your area. A good mechanic will want to treat his customers right because referral business is what the industry is all about. But having a few good referrals does not necessarily mean you can call off the search.
- Bring Your Car In For a Test Run – Before spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a repair, test a few shops out in your area by bringing your car in for regularly scheduled maintenance like oil changes, tune ups, and routine inspections so you can get a feel for the place. Take a look at all of the certifications and awards they’ve got hanging up and check out the overall cleanliness and organizational habits of the staff and shop. A good auto repair shop will be organized and well staffed.
- Ask for References – Not every body shop will be able to provide you references on the spot, and that’s not necessarily an indication of a problem. But one that denies the request does so because they either don’t have anyone that can put them in a positive light or are simply irritated by your request and don’t feel they need to in order to garner your business. You are paying someone to complete a job, which makes hiring a mechanic just the same as hiring an employee. Would you ever hire someone for your company who didn’t have any references?
- Written Estimates, Written Estimates, Written Estimates - When it does come time to take the car in for serious work, a written estimate should always be the first thing done. Different states have different laws, but most allow for a free written estimate, courtesy of the body shop. Have them write down everything that is wrong with your vehicle, the specific parts needed to be replaced or fixed, the amount of manual labor that it will take to complete such a task and the overall cost of the repairs. Mechanics are less likely to overcharge for repairs after they have provided an estimate in writing because you now have proof of what needs to be done and at what cost. Ask them to be as specific as possible on their estimate because that will help you with Step #5.
- Do Your Homework – After gathering a few estimates, compare them side-by-side to make sure the repairs they suggest are the same. If you find differences, run a few checks online about what they suggest to repair and you may find it’s unnecessary. Call your mechanic that suggested the repair and without letting them know that others suggested something different, ask why that specific part needs to be replaced. If you’re still a little uneasy, check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to see if this company has received any complaints for poor service. Once you have all of the information in front of you with referrals, references and prices, choosing the right shop for the job should be easier than it was before you started.
- Keep Everything - When an auto shop replaces an old part for a new one, ask them to give you the old one. Some things like oil and tires must be disposed of right away but other things can be rightfully returned. If you notice that these parts are still in good shape or are damaged in a very strange way, take them to another mechanic to have them analyzed. Sometimes mechanics replace things that have no business being replaced and if you ask for those parts, they might break them after they’ve been removed! Also keep your receipts and maintenance records because your warranty provider or the IRS may request to see them in the future.
Before you are in dyer need of car or truck repair, you should already have a go-to mechanic that you can trust. Never wait until the last second in choosing a mechanic, because rushed decisions are always bad decisions. It also wouldn’t hurt to have a little background knowledge on the basics of auto repair so if a mechanic tries to pull a fast one on you, you’ll know to move on.
Published or updated April 27, 2011.