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A mechanic should possess the same qualities that you expect from your doctor and dentist; namely trust and reliability. No one wants to have a regular mechanic who takes advantage of him every chance he gets. Since car owners have so much resting on these grease monkeys, it's very important to find the right guy.
Searching for the right mechanic is a multi-step process. Word of mouth will often help you zero in on a garage that does good work and shopping around by telephone is always a good idea. You can also contact the Better Business Bureau or a local consumer protection agency for professional recommendations. However, you shouldn't be satisfied until you visit the garage in person and speak to the mechanic personally.
Once at the repair shop, there are a few questions you should ask the mechanic. Whether you need something fixed immediately or are simply searching for a garage for the next time something goes awry, these questions will help you determine what kind of mechanic you're dealing with.
Before a technician even lays a finger on your car, approach the head mechanic. There are three categories of inquiries you should make about his business: the credentials of the garage and competence of the workers, the price of the work being done and, finally, the policies and extra services. Let's take a look at the first recommended set of questions.
Quality of Work
Are you affiliated with the Automotive Service Association (ASA)? The Automotive Service Association (ASA) only affiliates itself with garages that have a consistent record of excellent service. If you cannot see the familiar ASA sticker or seal in the mechanic's office, ask if he has been given their kudos.
If he has, you can rest assured that the work done in this garage is of high quality. Warning bells should go off in your mind if he hasn't been approved by the ASA. Bringing your car to a garage that has no signs of an ASA inspection means you might be in for some questionable service.
Do you have an Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certificate? Another, more common known indication of quality service is an ASE certificate posted up somewhere in the garage. ASE workers do on-site evaluations of vehicle repair establishments across the country, handing out certificates to those places that conform to ASE standards. When you can't spot this exclusive piece of paper, ask if this garage has been approved. Again, if it hasn't, it's a sign that the workmanship is questionable.
What credentials do your technicians have? Today's cars are made up of a lot more than pieces of metal, nuts, bolts, and axle grease. Many components of modern cars run in sync with a computer, which can sometimes make seemingly simple jobs a lot more complex. Therefore, the technician who handles your car needs to be kept abreast of the latest automobile innovations.
Make sure these guys have been trained at a trade school and are not untrained rookies. The last thing you want is a careless, lazy worker installing a new transmission or doing some brake work on your ride.
Does your garage specialize in a particular type of car? A particular type of work? Without it being explicitly written on a sign outside the garage, many mechanics will admit they do their best work on a certain make of car or certain repair job. Ask about this, since you probably wouldn't want your Infiniti worked on at a place that is used to repairing Ford minivans. By the same token, it may not be wise to get a spark plug problem fixed at a garage that has a history of repairing air conditioners. Make sure you know what your garage's strengths and weaknesses are.
What would do if it was your car? This question tends to catch a mechanic off guard, forcing him to be truthful about the work needed to be done on your car. If he was truthful when outlining exactly what repairs were going to be done, he should have no problem answering you. However, if he was over-exaggerating the cost or amount of work, you might be able to see it in his face after posing this question.
A good mechanic will always give it to you straight: if you don't need to replace a certain part, he'll tell you. Of course, he should also be able to notice when urgent work needs to be done.
Price of Work
Do you charge an inspection fee? Though free estimates are common, they may not apply to your particular problem or garage. Before you let your car get a once-over by a technician, find out if it's being done free of charge. If it isn't, you may want to take your business elsewhere, since getting repairs without an estimate gives a mechanic the go-ahead to fix all kinds of "problems" without your consent.
Do I have an option of choosing new parts or used ones? Car repair shops work in different ways. Some have associations with scrap yards and other used-parts businesses, while others find it easier (and more profitable) to use new parts whenever possible. Ideally, though, the use of new or used components would depend on the situation. Look into what this particular garage usually does and comment on what you would like to do. If the mechanic says he was going to replace a certain piece of machinery with a new, very expensive one, ask him to consider a used-part alternative.
Of course, to make such a suggestion, you need to know your stuff. Don't always insist on used parts, since this can lead to frequent trips back to the same mechanic. Get second and third opinions when thinking of using second-hand parts.
Can I get an itemized invoice and an explanation of what was done to my car? Unfortunately, invoices from repair shops aren't easy to read. Often, this is done on purpose, so customers won't question every single detail of a certain job. Don't stand for this. Before technicians start working on your vehicle, specify that you would like a detailed breakdown on your invoice of the repairs done.
The mechanic may point out that an invoice showing all the different repairs will turn out to be several pages long. In this case, simply ask for him to tour your car and point out what was removed, replaced and repaired. Ask to see the old part that was changed.
Ideally, however, you would stand by your car (at a safe distance of course) while the team of technicians did their job. Your presence will ensure that your car will get proper treatment and that they don't take "extra" time in getting the work done. This works especially well on your first visit to a garage, before you have established a relationship with the mechanic.
Services and Post-repair
Will a courtesy car be supplied? A common service with dealership garages, a courtesy/rental car is not as common for private repair shops. If you have a major car problem that requires a few days work, it's important to have a courtesy ride so you can go about your business without unnecessary delays.
The lucky ones who find a private garage that offers this service should make sure the cost is, at most, minimal. It is common practice for rental cars to be free, so make sure this is a policy at your repair shop of choice.
What payment policies and guarantees do you offer? Every garage has different labor rates, warrantees and payment options, so it's important to find out how your mechanic works. Often these policies are posted somewhere highly visible in the garage, but if any point is ambiguous, be sure to have it cleared up before getting your car worked on.
Ask and ye shall receive
After you find out which part is going to be replaced, don't forget to ask about the warranty on it. Four months down the road, you don't want your transmission to fail and find out that it only had a three-month warranty. Check automotive buying guides for standards in warranties and ensure that your garage is following them.
With these questions as ammunition, you are well armed to find a great mechanic, whether you need him for an emergency or to keep in your back pocket in case of some unforeseen breakdown. Furthermore, you can find out if he offers a towing service in the event that your car breaks down in the middle of the road.
Having an honest car repair shop to go to saves you money and lots of worry, so take the time to find the right one for you.
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