Your car is one of your biggest investments – and eventually, unfortunately, something will go wrong and you’ll need someone to fix the problem. While you could always bring the vehicle back to the dealership and have the service technicians there take care of the issue, most people look for independent mechanics to work on their cars to save time and money.
As with any service provider, you want to develop a relationship with your mechanic. Just like your personal doctor understands your medical history, your mechanic knows what has been worked on under your car’s hood and where the trouble spots lie. And just like you wouldn’t let just anyone give you your annual checkup, you don’t want to let just anyone work on your car.
But how do you find the right mechanic? In an emergency situation, you might just head to the nearest garage, but for routine maintenance and issues over the long-term, you need to have someone that you trust, and who knows what he or she is doing when the car goes up on the lifts. Finding the perfect mechanic for you takes a little legwork, but in the long run, the time you spend now is time that you won’t spend wondering if your car has been fixed properly – or whether you paid too much.
As with almost any service provider, the best place to start on the path to finding a mechanic is through your friends and family. Chances are they’ll be able to give you names of mechanics they like – and ones to avoid. While recommendations from people your trust are a good place to start, keep in mind that every situation is different and the guy that does your cousin’s oil changes for a low rate might not be the best one to work on your brakes. You can also look online at reviews and comments of local shops to find a place to start. Get the names and numbers of trusted mechanics, and take some time to give them a call and maybe visit the shop. Having someone lined up to call, before there is a problem, will reduce your stress – and you’ll know exactly what to expect.
It’s becoming more common for mechanics to become specialists in a particular make of vehicle, especially in the luxury or European car market. If you own a car that requires a level of specialized knowledge, such as a BMW, consider finding a mechanic that works exclusively on those cars. One caveat: many specialists are reluctant to use discount auto parts when they work on cars, so you might find that the cost for using a specialist is higher than elsewhere. On the plus side, you can be confident that your car is in good hands.
Even if you don’t own a high-end or rare car, you should inquire about your potential mechanic’s training and knowledge. Ask which professional associations the shop belongs to as well; for example, if the shop is AAA-approved, it has passed a rigorous set of inspections and examinations, including surveys of past customers. In most cases, for a shop to gain admittance into any type of professional association, all of the employees must pass the standards for knowledge, the shop must be in good condition itself and the business operates under the association’s code of ethics. While it’s not a guarantee that you won’t be taken for a ride, seeing the membership icon on the door is a good indication that you’ll be treated fairly – and that your car will be fixed right.
Speaking of cost, the lower hourly rates of independent mechanics is one reason that many people opt to bring their cars to the shop on the corner rather than the dealership. When you interview potential mechanics, ask about the hourly rates, and policies regarding parts, environmental and disposal fees and other costs. For example, ask if it’s possible to bring in your own parts that you’ve purchased from a site like partsgeek.com/, and what the mechanic plans to do with the old parts.
The most important part of finding the right mechanic is to do it before you need one. When your car breaks down unexpectedly, your panic might lead you to make the wrong decision. Taking time to do some research and build a relationship ahead of time helps keep you calm – and confident that you’ll be back on the road in no time.