An automobile is just part of life for most people unless you live in a big city with great public transportation. A car is a necessity to get back and forth to work and live daily life. They can be costly. Finding a good auto mechanic is essential to saving money and not getting ripped off. But how do you find an honest mechanic and where should you look for one?
Performing regular maintenance on a car is one of the first steps in saving money. Regular oil changes and filter are a good start. Vehicles are some of the larger purchases we all make in a lifetime and it is important to maintain them to avoid costly repairs. However, it is inevitable that at some point a car will need something fixed.
It is increasingly becoming more difficult to do our own mechanic work at home. Cars have more onboard computers and diagnostics often requiring a special tool or knowledge to make repairs. Even with this technology, experience is sometimes required but there are some things we can all still do to save a little money.
Do It Yourself
Like just about any service that costs money, if you can do it yourself you will save money. Even though cars have become more challenging to repair on our own, it is possible. In fact, simple repairs anyone can do with even more technical ones a possibility. The best mechanic is often yourself. You will know what is going into the job that needs to be done and if it is done right. Furthermore, you may also often do a better job than taking a car to a local mechanic.
Easy things like air conditioning cabin filters, wiper blades, and turn signal bulbs should all be something everyone can easily learn how to do. Repair shops will charge outrageous prices for even the simplest things. As an example, I once had a car in a repair shop and they told me the cabin AC filter needed to be replaced. The cost was about $50. A five-minute YouTube video on where to locate the cabin filter and a $15-dollar part installing it myself solved what was needed. A total of about a half hour of my time.
Google or YouTube It
You will see me reference YouTube in quite a few articles. I use it all the time with cars and so should you. It will save you a ton of money. I have looked at a lot of car repair videos online and one of my favorite channels is Scotty Kilmer. The content informs viewers on how cars work and how to fix them. In addition, viewers can learn about things to look for at repair shops to not get scammed.
Also, use Google or another search engine to search for issues. I have frequently done this with great success. There are many auto repair stores that will run a diagnostic code check for free on your car. Do this when there is an issue and then afterwards search for it and solutions. I have found there are a lot of good mechanics that like to generally help people online in discussion boards.
Many auto repairs we can all do at home, what if you do need to take your car to a shop to get it repaired? Where should you take it and how do you find a mechanic you can trust?
The Truth About Auto Repair
There are several options when looking for someone to work on our car. From chain store mechanics, dealerships, and mom and pop shops, they all have some pros and cons. But, which one is the best choice?
Let’s first start with the car dealerships or as I like to call them the stealerships. Contrary to what many people may think car dealerships do not make a ton of money on new car sales. Used auto sales can make them much more and their service departments are a big part of their business.
Pros of Service at an Auto Dealership Service Department
1. The technicians at dealership service departments are trained in typically one type of vehicle and they specialize in the types the dealership sells. This can be a good thing. But, it does not necessarily make a dealership mechanic any better than one at a mom and pop shop.
2. Dealers typically only offer OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts. This can be good and bad. A lot of times an aftermarket part is less expensive and can perform just as good as OEM. Yet, there are times when aftermarket parts are just not as good. It is comparable to generic medications. Most are good, but sometimes there is not a suitable substitution.
3. If your car is under warranty you should be able to take it to any repair shop. However, taking it to the dealership regularly they will have a record of the repairs. If anything goes wrong, they can’t blame it on someone else.
Cons of Service at an Auto Dealership
1. You are just a number. Unlike building a relationship with a smaller local repair shop, the dealership will treat you just like you are another number and figure on their balance sheet. Unless you are a big spender that buys a new car every few years and they get to know you, your business or possible complaint will not mean much to them.
2. Car dealerships make a large part of their income on servicing cars. Their service advisors are often paid a commission for selling things you may not need. They will have the incentive to do a one-million-point inspection on a car and point out every little thing.
3. Higher labor costs. In other words, almost always the labor costs at a car dealership will be more than another repair shop other than the dealership.
Large National Auto Repair Shops
The big national repair shops, such as tire stores that also do repair work, are very similar to the car dealerships. Their labor charges may be slightly lower and they may offer parts other than OEM, but they are also often paid on commission. Thus, they are inclined to do the one-million-point inspection on your car when you take it in. They will then point out everything they can think of to sell and possibly scare you into buying.
Some of the national repair shops are also individually owned as a franchise for someone to buy making them individually owned. This can be a good thing if you find one you can trust. But more than likely they will have sales goals they need to meet or exceed.
The Local Small Auto Repair Shop
There are pros and cons of local small auto repair shops, but to me, the pluses outweigh the minuses.
Pro’s of Using a Small Local Auto Repair Shop
1. Labor costs are almost always lower than a chain or dealership repair shop. In particular, there are two ways labor is charged when a mechanic works on your car and not many people realize this.
The first method is using the labor time manual. What a mechanic does that uses this manual is to look at the hours it will take to repair something. If it says 2 hours and they get it done in 1 hour, they still charge for two hours. This is the common method dealerships and big repair chain stores will use.
The second method is billing for the actual time it takes to repair a vehicle. If a mechanic using this method of billing takes only 1 hour for a repair and the labor manual says 2 hours, they will only charge for 1 hour.
2. Small repair shops can often get OEM and aftermarket parts. An aftermarket part will save money, but there is no loss if an OEM part is needed. They can still often get it.
3. Smaller shops rely on word of mouth advertising. Larger retail auto places have a bigger footprint and advertising budgets. They will always get customers so they can afford to lose a few. The smaller mechanics have more incentive to do a good job and ensure the customer is happy in most cases.
4. Because smaller repair mechanics need and want repeat business, they will often not do the one-million-point inspection to sell you things you do not need. Their goal is to have the customer want to return. Although they still need to make a profit, they can be more trustworthy.
Con’s of a Mom and Pop Auto Repair Shop
1. You can get an inexperienced auto mechanic. Large retailers and dealerships tend to often get more experienced mechanics. This is due to the opportunity for them to make more money.
2. If a small repair shop is struggling to make ends meet, they may be more inclined to rip someone off.
3. Although the majority of mom and pop auto shops have the tools and knowledge necessary to work on most cars, they may not have this for more specialized repairs.
What are some of the warning signs of a bad auto repair shop?
Making the decision to use a local repair shop, a large retailer, or the car dealership service department can be challenging. There can also be arguments for the advantages and disadvantages of both.
But how do you know if an auto repair shop is a good one or a bad one?
1. They try to sell you other things every time you bring your car in for repair. To me, this is a big one. I realize people are in business to make a living. But if I have to spend a fortune to get my car fixed for whatever reason I cannot do it myself, do not try to sell me things I do not need.
2. Do they try to sell you things not covered in the recommended maintenance or factory guide? This one always gets to me. Nitrogen to fill my tires is not a need. People may argue the pros and cons of this, but air is free. Yes, a lot of gas stations charge for air, but you can buy a used air compressor or even a small one and keep it in your car. Tires lose air and there are road hazards all over. Paying to have your tires filled with nitrogen is a ripoff. If you get a piece of glass or a nail in your tire, your money will fly away into thin air.
3. Brakes are a big one to look out for. Most of the time you can get away with having 15% of your breaks before needing replacement. Yet, some repair shops will want to replace them when there is 50% left.
How do you find a reputable auto mechanic?
1. Research is the first key to finding a trustworthy auto repair shop. Talk to friends and family to find out who they use. Ask them what they like and do not like about their mechanic. Look the business up online and read the reviews. You can often see a pattern of possible issues if there are any. Also, look at their website. Most places have one these days. If they do not, it does not necessarily indicate they are not a good repair shop. You will just have to do some additional research on sites, such as the Better Business Bureau.
2. Check to see if their mechanics are certified. ASE certification is pretty standard. If they do not at least have this, then question why this may be.
How do you not get taken once you find an auto mechanic you may want to try?
1. Explain the problem in as much detail as you can and try researching the issue before you go in to have your car worked on. Having a little knowledge can go a long way to not getting ripped off.
2. Get any repair estimate in writing. A less than truthful mechanic can quickly add things to a final bill. If you do not get an estimate for repairs, you could be in for a big surprise.
3. Shop around. If you are trying a new mechanic for the first time, get a few quotes if the repair is costly. Do not tell the mechanics you are shopping. See what they have to say. Just like many services, you should always get three quotes as a general rule.
4. Ask to see the old parts. This may seem strange asking to see the old parts, but it can clue you in on if a mechanic is trustworthy. Yes, there are fraudulent repair shops that will charge to replace something and then never put in the repair part.
What is the answer to finding a truly honest mechanic?
According to Consumer Reports, 1 out of 4 people is dissatisfied with work done on their car. Unfortunately, finding a trustworthy auto repair shop with integrity can be a challenge. But they do exist and there are many good ones to go around.
In my opinion one of the best tools to have when looking for one and also when getting repairs done is education. You do not have to be an expert, but taking the time to learn about some of the basics of auto repair is good to have when seeing a mechanic. In addition, learning some of the basics as well as more technical items will allow you to over time make more of your own repairs. This will save you money and be well worth the time invested.
There truly is no right or wrong answer on which repair shop you use to work on your vehicle. This will often depend on the car and what you are comfortable with. But choosing the one that will save you money can be much easier to find than you think.