Is your car’s check engine light on? Or maybe there’s a clunking noise coming from the undercarriage? Uh-oh—it sounds like you need to visit a mechanic, a.k.a. automotive technician. But how do you find one who’s skilled enough to fix your car right the first time?
I’ve been in the automotive industry for many years, so people often ask me to recommend a good mechanic. There are a handful of local shops I suggest, as well as some I advise against.
You probably don’t have years of experience as a mechanic. You probably feel a bit out of your depth, worried about paying too much or not having good work done. You’re hoping for a mechanic who’s knowledgeable, honest, and offers fair pricing, but you know those qualities aren’t universal.
So what’s the key to finding the right mechanic? Do your homework.
What to Look for in an Auto Mechanic or Repair Shop
Automotive repair is just like any other line of work: Some industry professionals are good—others not so much. Obviously, you only want the best in the business wrenching on your car. Here are four things to look for in an auto mechanic or repair shop:
1. ASE Certification
Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification is something the mechanic working on your car should have. This accreditation proves the individual has at least two years of industry experience and is knowledgeable enough to pass a written test.
But keep in mind: There are many different areas of certification. So, if you’re having your transmission rebuilt by a mechanic who’s only certified in brake repair—that could be a problem.
To protect yourself, you ideally want an ASE-certified master automotive technician. An ASE-certified master automotive technician can work on all parts of your car. Master techs have certification in eight core areas of auto repair: engines, transmissions, drive axles, steering/suspension, brakes, electrical, heating/air conditioning, and engine performance. Basically, they’re well-versed in cars from bumper to bumper.
2. A Good Reputation
Reputation is just as critical as certification. Do an online search and look for repair facilities that have rave reviews. You can also do some background research to find out if a shop has been in business for a long time. If they’ve been around forever, there’s a good chance they’re knowledgeable and fair.
Asking friends and family for recommendations is an even better strategy. If someone you know has had an exceptional repair experience, you probably will as well. Your mom isn’t going to send you to a sketchy repair shop.
There’s no replacement for experience, and you want to make sure your mechanic has plenty of it. For example, some quick-lube shops hire workers with little to no automotive knowledge. And you might not think an oil change is something that can go awry—but trust me, it is and it does.
Even a straightforward service, such as a lube job, can leave you with a massive repair bill if performed incorrectly. Choose someone who has plenty of experience and knows what they’re doing. Your wallet and your car will both thank you.
4. Patience and a Willingness to Explain Things
If you were an automotive whiz, you probably wouldn’t be taking your car in for repair. A good, honest repair shop understands that. That’s why they take the time to explain any work that your car might need. And they do it in a friendly and helpful way without being condescending.
What You Want to Avoid at All Costs
1. Unnecessary Upsells
Some shops try to upsell you unnecessary services. Don’t get me wrong—routine maintenance is essential to your vehicle’s longevity. But if, say, you just had your air filter changed at one location, and a different shop is trying to sell you the same service again, that’s a problem.
You know that thing buried deep inside your glove box, called an owner’s manual? Dig it out and follow the automaker’s recommended maintenance schedule outlined in the back. That way, you’ll know when maintenance is due. You’ll also know if a shop is trying to sell you unnecessary service.
2. Condescending or Aggressive Attitude
Some shops can be downright pushy and condescending. All too often, they’ll target women who they assume can be bullied into unnecessary service or repairs. If a repair facility treats you in this way—run, don’t walk.
3. Bloated Repair Bill
There are instances where it’s smart to replace one part when you replace another. For example, it’s a good idea to service your car’s brake rotors along with the brake pads. And it’s wise to replace your engine’s water pump along with the timing belt.
But, sometimes, shops try to pad repair bills with unnecessary parts and labor. There are two reasons for this. For one, they want to sell you extra stuff (duh), and secondly, they don’t want to take the time to diagnose the vehicle properly. So, they stick on extra bits and pieces to cover their behinds and pad their wallets. Not cool.
Does your repair bill seem bloated? Then ask the shop to break it down for you. If their story sounds sketchy, call someone you trust or another shop for a second opinion.
4. Poor Diagnostic Skills
Cars are becoming increasingly complex and some shops have a hard time fixing them. As a result, they’ll keep throwing parts at a problem until it’s fixed (hopefully).
If you think you’re getting the runaround, don’t be afraid to ask your mechanic how they came to the conclusion that XYZ needs to be replaced. A trustworthy professional will be able to tell you in detail. Furthermore, they may be able to show you the problem and subsequent analysis.
Once You Find the Mechanic of Your Dreams…
Finding the right mechanic or repair shop can be a challenge. Once you discover an automotive professional who’s truly great, don’t be afraid to recommend them to your friends and family. Chances are, your loved ones are looking for a good place to take their car, too.