By Hiram Reisner
So you think the term honest mechanic is an oxymoron? They do exist.
A little strategic research is the key to finding a trustworthy auto professional, says Money Talks News' Stacy Johnson. Here are some of his ideas -- and more -- to steer you in the right direction:
1. Find a mechanic before you break down. Looking for a mechanic when your vehicle is on the back of a flatbed or hooked to a tow truck gives you little choice. If you haven't already picked a mechanic, you are at someone else's mercy. Your tow-truck driver will pressure you to use his favorite shop, a sign of an arrangement -- and no assurance of quality.
2. Start with recommendations and reviews. Ask people you know if they are happy with their mechanics. You also can use locally focused social media sites to harness your neighbors' views.
If you know someone who owns the same car, even better. If not, there are likely online forums specific to your vehicle, according to Jalopnik, a car aficionado website. See what names and ideas surface.
You're now presumably considering several candidates; time to find more good reviews. Here's a strong starting line-up:
- Angie's List -- The company prides itself on having a thorough vetting process for all reviews, including those on auto mechanics.
- Better Business Bureau -- The BBB lists accredited shops, searchable by location, with ratings of A+ through F.
- AAA-Approved Auto Repair Network -- All shops in the network must offer 12 month/12,000 mile warranties on all repairs; use Automotive Service Excellence or manufacturer-certified technicians; and pass an annual AAA inspection. (You don't have to be an AAA member to use the site.)
- CarTalk Mechanic Files -- CarTalk has a database of more than 30,000 mechanics with ratings and reviews. You can narrow it down by ZIP code.
- An Automotive Service Excellence certification is a sound indication of a professional. Major plus: ASE certifies the mechanics, not just the auto shops. In addition to passing a test, ASE mechanics need two years of on-the-job training, or one year of training and a two-year degree in automotive repair. Having all this background doesn't mean you are honest, but it does mean you are probably competent.
- The Automotive Service Association is a membership group for shop owners that has been around since 1951. The ASA site allows you to locate recommended mechanics by ZIP code.
5. Steer clear of the dealerships. Unless your car is still under warranty for parts and labor, avoid dealerships because the repairs are usually more expensive. Also, note what repairs and parts remain under warranty and for how long (see below). AutoMD helps you compare local services by providing quotes for specific repairs on specific makes of cars from shops in your area.
6. Ask for personal references. Any reputable mechanic shouldn't have a problem providing you with ways to contact satisfied customers. The issue of privacy might arise, but the shop should have enough recommendations to give you a list. The true professional also might have letters of praise.
7. Ask lots of questions. You want the mechanic to detail what is wrong with the vehicle. Even if you don't know an engine from a light switch, asking questions indicates that you aren't going to take everything at face value.
If the mechanic cops an attitude or refuses to answer your questions in layman's terms, you have the answer to your key question. Drive on.
8. Scope out the shop. There are at least three things you can learn by scrutinizing the shop:
- If the shop is full of smiling mechanics and customers it's a good sign.
- Watch how customers react when they leave the premises. If you see dissatisfaction you can assume the obvious.
- Also note the condition and cleanliness of the working areas. This can tell you plenty about the quality of work.
10. Ask for a warranty. Warranties can vary greatly, so ask ahead of time. Make sure you understand what is covered and get it in writing. There is no "standard warranty" on repairs, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Warranties may be subject to limitations, including time, mileage, deductibles, businesses authorized to perform warranty work or special procedures for reimbursement. If you do a lot of traveling in your car, look for a shop that is backed by a national warranty program.
11. Subject the mechanic to a credibility test. Take your car to the shop when there is nothing wrong and see if the mechanic returns with a list of services that need immediate attention. Scratched!
You could also ask a mechanic to do a routine maintenance task -- such as an oil change -- and see if you are satisfied with the workmanship and demeanor.
12. Get a second opinion. You think you found the perfect mechanic, but something doesn't feel right -- and you don't know if the price is right. So you want a second opinion. If you know someone who understands cars, all the better. If not, take it to the No. 2 on your list. It might cost you more, but be worth it in the end.
Another method Stacy suggests is going to the classifieds and finding someone who is selling the same car as yours. Call them up and explain what you are looking for.
13. Don't ever feel pressured. The key is to not be pressured into a decision. Remember, as Stacy emphasizes, you are the customer and you can drive away any time you want. "At any time during your interaction with a car mechanic, if he gets angry at your questioning or desire for a second opinion, it is a good sign he is not honest," Stacy says.
Finally, just because a mechanic is recommended as being good doesn't always mean he is honest. However, in most cases, they go together.
Did you use a unique roadmap to find an honest mechanic? Share it in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And share this story with your social network; we all need a mechanic eventually!