How to Find a Car Mechanic You Trust
Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.
Finding a car mechanic you trust can be difficult. When you take your car into a shop, you are trusting that the mechanic will use their skills and discretion to find the best solution to your vehicle’s problem.
Although cars have become more reliable in recent decades, everyone finds themselves at the auto shop at some point. Whether you are taking your car in for routine maintenance or an unscheduled major repair, you want to take it to a car mechanic with great skills and a fair billing system. Repairs for even the most basic fixes such as a starter can range from around $400 to $600. More technical fixes, like a replacement AC compressor, can run between around $700 and $1,000.
The cost of owning a car can add up quickly. In 2018, AAA determined that it cost approximately $8,849 a year to own and operate a new vehicle. Any additional repairs can be enough to make anyone’s budget stretch even tighter. In fact, according to a AAA study, one in three Americans could not cover an unexpected repair without going into debt.
One way to keep costs reasonable is to find a good car mechanic that you trust. We have found ways to find a reliable mechanic that will not try to nickel and dime you to death.
7 tips to choosing a repair shop or mechanic
A good car mechanic can be difficult to find. However, there are many great car repair shops waiting to be found. Here are a few places to get started looking for your next trustworthy car mechanic.
- Ask family and friends. Talk to your family and friends about their car mechanics. If you hear only good things about a particular shop, then start there.
- Find online reviews. A service like RepairPal.com is a great place to find reviews about local shops. Based on certifications and customer reviews, you will be able to narrow your search.
- Get multiple opinions on large repairs. Massive repairs like your water pump or radiator are going to cost you several hundreds of dollars.
- Confirm that the shop will work within your warranty. If your vehicle is under warranty, then you should confirm that the shop will honor the terms of that warranty. Otherwise, you need to move on.
- Ask for certifications. Finding technicians with either ASE or ASA certifications is critical.
- Stick to the dealership for certain repairs. Lauren Fix, an automotive analyst, recommends, “it is always best to go the dealer for recalls and technical service bulletins – these services can be without charge at the dealer.”
- Try out a shop with a simple repair. Give a shop a test drive with a minor repair to understand how the shop works. With this test, you will be able to see if you are comfortable with their level of service and price.
How to avoid an auto repair scam
The easiest way to be taken advantage of is to say, “I don’t know anything about cars.” Even if that’s true, there are things you can do to receive a fair deal.
You should ask to be shown the issue, do some research about the repair and use online price estimators to verify the cost of the repair. When you do your research, then it is easier to avoid an auto repair scam. Throughout the process, be willing to ask the mechanic questions about the repair. Good car mechanics will be willing to provide you with the details of the repair, the benefit of the repair and what to expect if you choose not to repair it.
Many people tend to focus on the price of the repair. However, Jill Trotta, a vice president of Industry, Marketing and Sales at RepairPal, advises that “you’re more likely to be taken advantage of at a shop that has undercut the price of a competitor. You could be making yourself vulnerable to cut-rate parts and incomplete repairs.” Of course, you should ensure that the repair cost is reasonable based on your research. However as Trotta advised, “the reality is that the cheapest way to get your car repaired is right the first time,” by a car mechanic you trust.
What to expect when getting car repairs
When you take your car in for regularly scheduled maintenance, you should shop around town beforehand. It is easy to determine the price of an oil change or transmission fluid change by calling ahead or checking out websites. However, major car repairs should be handled differently.
A car mechanic will diagnose your vehicle’s issue and determine the repairs necessary — you should expect a diagnostic fee for this process. Although some repair shops will perform a diagnostic for free, most will charge around $100 for a diagnosis.
You should ask for a written repair estimate in writing. This should include the condition that needs to be repaired, the parts required and the anticipated labor charges. On this estimate, it should explain that the mechanic will contact you if they need to add additional work that would increase the price. Both you and a repair shop representative should sign this document.
Before you sign anything, make sure that you understand what parts will be going into your vehicle. The choices are new, remanufactured or salvaged. The least reliable of these is salvaged parts. However, depending on the age of your vehicle, it may be the only option.
Just because you had your car diagnosed at one shop does not mean that you cannot shop around. It can be worth the effort to bring your car to a second shop to confirm the diagnosis. If you cannot physically bring your car to another shop, then Greg Kopf, a brand ambassador with CARiD, a one-stop shop for any vehicle parts you may need, assures, “it’s as easy as a phone call and most repair facilities will be happy to give you a ballpark estimate without seeing the vehicle.” With this, you can ensure that you are not being taken for a ride by an overpriced shop.
Financing car repair or maintenance costs
The unfortunate reality is that maintaining a car is expensive. With unexpected repairs adding to your annual car expenses, it can be difficult to pay for all of this out of your regular budget.
Luckily, you have several options for covering the cost of your car repairs:
- Build an emergency fund. An emergency fund can be used to fund anything life throws your way, including unexpected car repairs. Make it a point to contribute to your emergency fund on a regular basis to reduce your financial stress when a car emergency happens.
- Consider a personal loan. Personal loans can be used for a variety of reasons, including funding a car repair. If you have a good credit score, then personal loans could be a better option because you may have access to lower interest rates.
- Sell something. Most of us have random things in our homes that we no longer or never use. Take the time to sell an item you never use for cash to fund your car repair.
The right mechanic can save you in long-term expenses, so it is worth the effort to find a good one. Remember that your search for a good car mechanic can take time. Even if you start with the recommendations of family and friends, you still need to vet the mechanic yourself and decide if you are happy with their service. You always have the option to keep looking for a better mechanic.