So your car’s pinging. Whirring. Making a whoosh-clackety noise that has you concerned. But after hearing countless horror stories from friends who’ve been taken to the cleaners by their mechanics, you’re also understandably concerned that you won’t be able to find a great mechanic.
Fortunately, the odds are mostly in your favor. As of June 2010, there were 211,793 auto mechanic establishments in the U.S. You just need one (albeit a good one). So where to begin?
Here’s a step-by-step guide to finding repair shop love.
1. Play the field.
It’s a good idea to shop around before you have an emergency. An easy way to do this is to have regular maintenance performed at local repair shops. If a shop does a great job on an oil or tire change, chances are they’ll perform just as well on larger, more complex jobs. So do a little “dating” and remember what they say about first impressions. If you need a mechanic NOW, however, skip to step 2.
2. Get set up.
Ask friends and people you trust if they can recommend a good repair shop. As with most things, word of mouth is your best bet in finding a reliable auto tech. But if everyone you know happens to drive miraculously trouble-free vehicles, proceed to step 3.
3. Go online.
Search is magic. There are a number of online engines that can help you find a list of local shops. National Public Radio’s Car Talk offers a locator that helps you find local shops that meet your criteria. Just click on a shop name to see customer survey results and reviewer comments. You can also find mechanic reviews at MechanicRatingz. Once you have a few shops to consider, move on to step 4.
4. Know your stuff.
Researching mechanics online isn’t the most fun you can have in an afternoon (we know), but it could pay off. Check to see if a shop’s mechanics are registered with the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). Becoming ASE-certified involves a lot of experience and testing. The tests are notoriously difficult and staying certified requires a sizeable amount of industry know-how and expertise. (Tip: look for actual certificates, not just logos or patches.) You can also check to see if a repair shop’s registered with the Automotive Service Association. While these affiliations don’t necessarily guarantee quality, they’re a darn good place to start.
5. Get the dirt.
Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if the shop you’re considering has had complaints. Because we love our cars, and because a bad experience with a mechanic can be infuriating and expensive, people tend to follow through on complaints of this nature more so than with say, an unpleasant exchange at the downtown coffee shop. Double check — if nothing pops up, that’s a good sign.
6. Trust your instincts.
True, you’re not a mechanic, but you probably know more than you think. Look around. Is the place neat and ordered or does it look like your teenage brother’s bedroom? Is the staff organized and helpful or about as friendly as a Parisian waiter? Good repair shops know that customer recommendations are key to a successful business, and they work hard to present a clean, friendly, and professional environment in which to keep customers happy.
7. Drive happily ever after.
Once you’ve found a reliable auto repair shop and a good mechanic, all that’s left is the honeymoon (so to speak). Be sure to keep their contact info handy for the next time and if you’ve had a really great experience, don’t be shy. Sites like MechanicRatingz make it easy to give feedback. And unlike love, when you find a good mechanic, it is okay to share.