How to Find a Great Mechanic (and/or Love)

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.


Related link

Super mechanics

Debunking a Legendary Gas Pump Myth

A few weeks ago, based on some (admittedly cursory) research, we posted this tweet:

#DidYouKnow that gas pumps deliver more fuel during cooler temps? As summer heats up, get more cool mileage tips:

We then went about our day feeling confident in the fact that we’d provided our followers with a useful, money-saving tip that could be put to good use.

And we might have gone on thinking this forever were it not for @ChrisSheehy who challenged our accuracy with a tweet of his own:

Better check your facts on this one – it’s a legendary myth : ) RT @esurance: …gas pumps deliver more fuel during cooler temps…

Uh-oh. Not wanting to be responsible for the dissemination of untruths (let alone urban mythology), we decided to do a little digging.

And so we dug. And dug. As it turns out, this is a much-debated gas pump myth across the interwebs, and we found a lot of smart-sounding arguments on both sides of the fence. Some sources claimed that yes, you do get more for your money when you buy cooler gas. Others pointed out that the average temperature of gas kept in underground tanks fluctuates very little and so your savings would be negligible. And others still argued that gas is warmer when it first reaches the station from the refinery, and so that’s when you should avoid buying it.

As you might imagine, all our digging made us slightly befuddled and more determined than ever to get to the bottom of the issue — which we did. Finally.

The truth behind the gas pump myth

Here’s the bottom line. At 60 degrees Fahrenheit, a gallon of gas measures 231 cubic inches. But the same gallon at 80 degrees Fahrenheit measures 233.7 cubic inches (according to the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food). So theoretically, if you pump a gallon of gas at 80 degrees, you’re paying for 233.7 cubic inches, but once that gas cools to 60 degrees in your tank, you only have 231. That’s just simple math and physics (wink).

However… (and here comes the important part) underground fuel tanks essentially function as huge thermoses. If the gas is warm when it’s pumped into the tank, it will likely stay warm for a while. Similarly, once the gas cools in the tank, it will remain at that cooler temperature regardless of how things may be heating up above ground.

Additionally, due to something called thermal inertia, ground temperatures at depths below 4 feet remain (roughly) between 50 and 60 degrees, providing further insulation for the thermos-like fuel tanks.

What all this math and science boils down to is this: The temperature of the gas at your local pump varies little throughout the day. And that, of course, leads us to conclude that whether you’re wearing a wool sweater or Bermuda shorts when you fill your tank, you’ll get roughly the same volume of gas for your dollar (or 3).

So there you have it … we stand corrected. But we know a lot more about gas temps and volume now than we ever did before and are all too happy to share our newfound wealth of info with you.

Oh, and thanks for the tweet, Chris. You had us at “legendary myth.”

Related links

CBS MoneyWatch article
Consumer Reports story

11 Cool Driving Apps (and 1 Shameless Plug)

Since we first posted this story, we’ve upgraded our smartphone driving apps to help you find everything from gas stations to pizza places (along with manage your policy and file claims). 

This week marks the launch of Esurance Mobile, our very own app for iPhone®. In honor of this occasion, we compiled a list of our favorite driving apps for all you road warriors. There are more than 225,000 apps to choose from, so narrowing it down required a little guesswork, a little research, and a little word of mouth. Some of these apps help you get from A to B, some pass the time while you’re riding shotgun, and some just make long stretches of highway a little more fun.

Enjoy the list!

The map apps

Google Maps. Let’s respect our app elders and get this one out of the way. More than 3 years since its iPhone® debut, the Google Maps app remains the most popular way to map a route and check out local businesses. It doesn’t hurt that it comes standard with every new iPhone®.

Skobbler. This free app features voice-assisted turn-by-turn navigation. Typically, apps with street-level functionality are on the pricier side, but Skobbler uses something called OpenStreetMap, an open-source mapping system that MacWorld calls “the Wikipedia of maps.” The price is right, and so is the download size (just 2.3 megabytes).

The useful apps

Gas Cubby. This is one practical app. It tracks your car’s gas mileage along with how much you pay per gallon, and reminds you when it’s time to rotate your tires or change your oil. We recommend downloading the free sponsored version to give it a test spin.

Where. Like the Yelp and All Around Me apps, Where is essentially a database of what’s around you. No matter where you find yourself, this handy app can guide you to the nearest gas station (and tell you the latest price per gallon), coffee shop, or movie theatre. The 3D map capability gives it a few bonus points, too.

Trapster. Speed-trap and hazard-avoiding apps are catching on quickly. And believe it or not, an app like Trapster actually encourages its 6.4 million downloaders to slow down and drive more safely. We’re keeping our eye on this somewhat counter-intuitive benefit.

The music apps

SoundHound (formerly Midomi). Have a song stuck in your head but can’t remember the words or the one-hit-wonder who recorded it? SoundHound can help. You can hum, whistle, or play a tune into this free app for iPhone®, and you’ll see the artist and song name displayed alongside available videos. And there’s even a link to the lyrics. (SoundHound gets a slight nod over Shazam for its ability to respond to hums and whistles.)

Pandora. In Internet years, Pandora is going on 100 by now, and a quick poll reveals that it remains the #1 iPhone® music app in our corporate office. Its playlist builder is perfectly suited to smartphones, and it only seems to improve over time. The app’s latest version supports the new iOS4 multi-tasking feature, which is a fancy way of saying that you can check directions without stopping the music.

The “I need-a-lift” apps

Avego. Plenty of apps are trying to make carpooling easy, which is a cause we love to support. By many accounts, Avego is the furthest along, and we especially like the feedback and ratings feature.

Zipcar. This free app is a must for Zipcar members. It lets you find a Zipcar near you and make or change a reservation. Once you’re near your rental, you can lock and unlock it through the app. You can also tap a button that makes it honk, just for kicks.

The bonus apps

Flashlight. You’ll never need this app until you really, really need it. Flashlight turns your entire screen a bright white color, so you can change a tire or find your wallet under the seat in no time.

Plants vs. Zombies. Full disclosure here — before we got our hands on this app, we had no idea plants and zombies maintain an intense rivalry. Plants vs. Zombies is a classic tower defense game, and it’s one of the coolest, most engaging ways to spend a few hours on a road trip (provided you’re not the driver, of course). And yes, it sounds silly. But check out IGN’s review if you won’t take our word for it.

Esurance Mobile. Monitor repairs, pay bills, contact your claims rep, handle an accident, get a quote, find a preferred repair shop, check your ID cards, and more. We are not above this shameless plug.

That’s our list (for now, anyway). We hope it’s a fitting send-off to our own free app for iPhone®. If you’re an iPhone® owner and a driver of cars, let us know if we missed any of your favorites by commenting.