How To Find An Auto Repair Shop That Is Right For You
Moving to a new town or city can be a trying experience, but it can become a positively traumatic one if your car suddenly develops a strange noise two days after the move. What do you do if you cannot fix it yourself? Whom do you take it to for diagnosis and repair in a town where you don’t know anybody, and especially a reliable, competent mechanic?
Most of us have lived though similar experiences, but a logical approach to the problem of finding a good auto repair shop often produces the desired results within a few days, provided you ask the right questions right from the get-go. Here are some pointers on how to find the auto repair shop that is right for you, and of course, your car.
Define your needs
The first thing to do is to ask yourself what you need. For instance, if your car is still covered by a warranty, you run the risk of having the warranty invalidated if you take your car to an independent auto repair shop. In such a case, you are far better off taking the car to a dealership, even though the dealers are more expensive; but then again, you could get the repair done for free if the problem is covered by warranty conditions.
However, the real problem starts if your car is not covered by a warranty. If this is the case, you need to ask yourself the following-
Is your car an import?
European cars are more often than not quite a bit different from cars produced in say, the North American or Japanese markets. The most important differences involve suspension setups, brake systems, emission controls, lubrication requirements, and even safety equipment/systems, which often require specialized knowledge and equipment to diagnose and repair.
In these cases, you need an auto repair shop that has proven experience in working on your car, but more importantly, you need a shop that is conversant with the particular problem your car is experiencing. Finding such as a shop can be a daunting task, but there are proven ways of doing it. The following tips will help you find such a shop, but they will also help you find a reliable repair shop regardless of the brand, or origin of your car.
The best source of information is always local knowledge, so ask neighbours, colleagues, and even the local taxi drivers for recommendations. This is the quickest way to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, since you will get warnings as well as recommendations.
Make a shortlist of the positive recommendations, and give them a call to get the following information:
Do they provide written estimates?
In some jurisdictions, it is not a legal requirement for repair shops to provide written estimates on costs and the time it will take to complete a repair, but it is always a good sign if an auto repair shop does provide this, since it eliminates nasty surprises. With a written estimate, you know exactly what the repair will cost, what parts are required, and how long the repair will take. If a shop does not provide such an estimate, cross it off your list, and proceed to the following point-
Do they guarantee their workmanship and parts?
Again, not all jurisdictions require auto repair shops to guarantee their workmanship and parts, but if they do, you have half the battle won. Modern cars are highly complex, and a botched repair could make a car unsafe to drive. Therefore, you need a guarantee that the requested work will be performed professionally and reliably, and the only way to be reasonably sure you get this, is for the shop to issue a guarantee that the work they do is done professionally, and correctly the first time round. If a shop does not provide reasonable guarantees, cross it off your list.
Are the technicians qualified, or certified to work on your car?
Qualifications and certifications mean nothing if they do not relate to your car. For instance, Lexus cars are built by Toyota, but if you have a problem with your Lexus, and it is out of warranty, you need to take it to a shop that employs mechanics who know their way around a Lexus. There is little point in taking it to a shop that works on all Toyota products except Lexus models, since from a practical point of view a Lexus is as different from a Corolla, as it is from a Cadillac.
There are other examples, but this one should illustrate the point that you need to use mechanics that are qualified to work on your specific car to prevent a recurrence of the problem or worse, the distinct possibility that a botched repair could create new problems. If they cannot work on your car, cross them off your list, but by now, you should have a few candidate shops left on your list, so do the following-
Visit them in turn
First impressions may be important, but you need more than a good first impression if you are going to leave your car in the hands of mechanics you don’t know, so you need to check up on a few things during your first visit to any particular auto repair shop. Here is what to be on the lookout for:
Check for abandoned cars in the parking lot
Check for cars in the parking lot that have obviously not been worked on for a long period. This is always a bad sign; it could mean that the shop cannot repair the vehicle, but more often, it is a sign of poor customer relations. Cars that cannot be repaired should be referred to shops that can fix them, or be returned to their owners, so walk away- you could end up with your un-repaired or un-repairable car in the parking lot as well.
Check for other cars like yours.
Shops that advertize the fact that they work on a specific vehicle/model will almost always have a few of those vehicles either in the shop, or outside in the parking lot. Take it as a good sign if you find cars like yours in, or at an auto repair shop, since it is almost certain that they will be able to repair yours as well.
Ask for information
It goes without saying that the reception area should be clean, tidy, well organized, and that the reception staff should be friendly and professional. However, you need more than that; such as the fact that the reception staff should be willing to explain the nature of the problem you are experiencing with your car in a way that makes sense to a non-professional, for instance.
More importantly, they should be willing to answer all your questions on the causes of the problem, as well as the repair procedure. Put in another way, the reception staff should be able, and willing to tell you what caused the problem, how they are going to fix it, what parts they are going to use, how long the repair will take, and exactly how much it is going to cost you.
If they can do all of that without hesitation or obfuscation, you may have a winner, but there remains one final test, which is well, putting them to the test.
Have the repair done
The old adage that “talk is cheap, but money buys the whiskey” applies to car repairs as much as it does to anything else, and since you have to trust some mechanics some of the time, now would be a good time to see if you can trust this particular crowd.
However, it would be a mistake to trust them blindly. What you need to do is to phone around to obtain cost estimates for the same repair from at least four or five other shops, based on the estimate you got from your candidate shop(s), but price in itself should never be the final deciding factor on which shop you use.
Assuming that the shop(s) you have visited have all met the criteria listed above; you will be in a position of strength if you have several competing estimates. Use this to bargain for a better price, but bear in mind that no shop is obliged to meet, or beat any other written quotation.
If your chosen repair shop’s price falls within a few percent of the average of all the cost estimates you have, it means that their pricing is fair, and that they will very likely take good care of you and your car, since they want your repeat business.
Nonetheless, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and if your chosen auto repair shop completes (and guarantees) the repair at the stated price and within the stated timeframe, you would do well to stick with them. Over time, the mechanics will get to know you and your car, which is an excellent way to build a relationship based on trust between you and the shop.
One more thing
Going from shop to shop, means that nobody ever gets to know your car, and the sometimes-peculiar problems it may develop. It also means that to most shops, you will always just be another customer, instead of being a trusted, favorite customer, which goes a very long way toward always getting professional, friendly, and reliable service from an establishment that knows your car, and how to fix it at the best possible price in the shortest possible time.