If you own a car, at some point you’ll end up in an repair shop wondering, “How much is THIS gonna cost?!” Of course, you don’t want to drop your vehicle off with just anyone. Find out which questions you need to ask your mechanic to ensure you’re leaving your car in honest, capable hands.

1. Can I get a free written estimate?

Before blindly leaving your car with a mechanic, ask if the diagnostic exam is free. If it’s not, find out how they determine the price — is it an hourly rate? A flat fee? Will it be waived if you decide to use their repair shop? Once they’ve figured out the issue, be sure to ask for a detailed written estimate of the repair. (And get a comprehensive written report too!)

According to the California Bureau of Automotive Repair, “A written estimate must include the total estimated price for parts and labor for a specified repair or service. The estimate must also itemize the parts to be used and the method of repair. The repair shop must stick to the method of repair and the parts listed unless you agree in advance to any changes.”

With that in mind, don’t forget to ask the mechanic to contact you if there will be any changes in what they originally quoted you. If they find more extensive damage or encounter another issue, they’ll need to get in touch with you BEFORE proceeding in a new direction.

2. What caused the problem?

Once the issue’s been identified, you’re entitled to understand what caused it. An experienced and honest mechanic will explain the problem and how it happened — and likely advise how to avoid it happening in the future.

3. What happens if I don’t fix it right away? 

Ask the mechanic what they’d do if they were in your shoes. That way, you can get an idea of which car repairs need to be done right away and which ones (aka how much you’ll need to spend) will be coming down the pike.

4. What types of warranties does your repair shop provide? 

Most shops give some type of guarantee for their labor, parts, and services. It’s important to know in advance what that warranty is. Some, for example, offer warranties for 12 months or 12,000 miles.

Once you’ve chosen a shop, pay attention to your initial impression of it. Is it clean and well-lit? If you get a good gut feeling about the mechanic and space, ask more questions to see if it’s the right fit. If something turns you off, go somewhere else. And don’t be shy about asking  questions. You’re entitled to know what’s happening with your car every step of the way during the repair process.

And if you’re an Esurance policyholder, good news: you can take advantage of our E-star® network, which helps drivers find a reputable mechanic nearby. Also included? RepairView®, our online monitoring tool, so you can check in and see exactly how your car repairs are coming along.

Safe and smart | Car safety

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about Hannah

Hannah Fairbanks is a freelance writer living in San Francisco with her husband and 2 daughters. When she’s not writing, you might find her reading, packing bento box lunches for her kids, and making sure she gets in at least 10,000 Fitbit steps a day.