Finding a repair shop and mechanic you trust to both fix your car well and not take you for a ride isn’t easy, and it can be difficult to know how to choose a place you can trust. Craig Whitney, founder of an automotive repair app called RepairLync, gave Quoted some insight into why the industry-customer relationship is often so fraught: “The automotive repair and maintenance industry is a $62 billion dollar industry that has some gaps in the consumer to business relationship. As with any unforeseen high cost, there are a few problems.” The first problem, Whitney explained, is the trouble of ensuring customers that they’re getting a good price for the work on their car. He notes that it can be difficult for customers to swallow a $3,000 unanticipated transmission repair if they don’t understand the labor and parts that go into the fix. Not understanding pricing can lead customers to think the shop is dishonest, says Whitney.
While we can take steps to educate ourselves where we can on car matters, we can’t all be car experts. The alternative, then, is to find a mechanic and repair shop we trust. To make the process a little more bearable, Quoted asked people on the inside—mechanics, car repair shop owners, auto insurance insiders, and automotive industry veterans—for their tips and tricks to get the best service and value.
WORD OF MOUTH:
A common theme emerged amongst our experts: Word of mouth is still one of the strongest and best ways to choose an auto repair shop or a mechanic. It may sound obvious, but even in our digital world, with thousands of reviews at your fingertips, asking someone you know (or a few someones) is still a good bet.
Of course, word of mouth isn’t always an option, so if you can’t get a common consensus from those you trust, we’ve got some more help.
If you’re looking for a repair shop, the internet is a wonderful resource. But sometimes the sheer amount of information available confuses more than comforts. To help sort through the reviews, comments, and webpages, Quoted asked the experts:
1. First, know what to search for:
Ron Montoya, a Consumer Advice Editor for car shopping website Edmunds.com, told us: “To help you narrow down your mechanic search, type “auto repair” into the search field and enter your ZIP code. You can filter the results based on distance, most reviewed and highest-rated. The goal should be to find a shop that strikes a balance between a good rating and a substantial number of reviews.”
2. Second, know where to search:
David Bakke, a car insurance expert at Money Crashers, recommends looking at the shop’s social media pages for insight into customer satisfaction. Sam Bell, owner and chief technician at the Lusty Wrench in Cleveland, Ohio, says, “Check Angie’s List or a similar referral and rating service.” Another good resource from Bell: “The Car Talk Mechanics files are amusing, and cautionary tales abound: ‘The only thing John is missing is the eye-patch and parrot so you’d know what a pirate he is!’ Check the International Automotive Technicians Network for nearby member shops. IATN is the largest network of automotive service professionals in the world, and though IATN membership is no guarantee of expertise, it does indicate a sincere desire to find the right solutions to complex problems.”
3. Third, know how to sift through the online reviews:
James Garnand, owner of Hi-Tech Auto Repair in Phoenix, Ariz., told Quoted, “There are good businesses with bad reviews and bad businesses with awesome reviews and 5-star ratings.” How to sort through? Garnand’s advice: read deep. “A great way to see how a business treats its customers is to see their replies to good and bad reviews online. Do they take the time to respond and try to fix the issue or do they ignore or show no care for the customer’s concerns?”
Bell added: “Look for high ratings that don’t sound like they were all bought and paid for. Individualized details, like some quirk of the car, are often a sign of authenticity.”
TRY AN APP:
Whitney gave us insight into automotive apps: “RepairPal and OpenBay are mobile apps that help consumers when they know what work they need. RepairLync is a Connected Car app that can do that, and even send your vehicle computer diagnostics straight to several repair shops. This means that you don’t need to know what’s wrong – the app will tell you, and give this information to shops. Repair shops then quote the repair cost, or give more information on the diagnosis. Consumers then choose a repair shop based on ratings, location, and price.”
CHECK CREDENTIALS AND ASSOCIATIONS:
Sure, you think, of course, the credentials. Makes sense. But for the uninitiated, the various mechanic and repair shop certifications are confusing, at best. Garnand says the best shops will “be certified and their certifications will be current.” Our experts’ tips for the best credentials and associations:
- Automotive Service Excellence (ASE): many on the inside say this certification is crucial
- Automotive Service Association: membership means adherence to a code of ethics and excellence in customer service, among other advantages
- Better Business Bureau: not just a complaint center for your never-satisfied aunt, the BBB offers potential customers excellent insight into a business
HOW TO AVOID BEING TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF:
Barbara Terry, national automotive expert and current spokesperson for Cars.com’s new “Service & Repair” feature gave Quoted her tips:
- Educate yourself. The more you know about your car, the better off you will be. Knowledge is power. Get to know your vehicle, so that you are familiar both with it and with the owner’s manual. The owner’s manual will come in handy in understanding basic maintenance needs so that you are well-prepared before walking into the shop.
- Keep maintained. Keep current on your vehicle maintenance, as per your owner’s manual—this will help to minimize the repairs that may be necessary.
- Verify service. Ask the mechanic to show you the part that needs replacing. Also, ask to see it and the new part, once the work has been completed.
- Speak up. If you feel you have been mistreated, overcharged or otherwise treated unfairly, put in a complaint. You can ask to speak to the manager, write the company headquarters in many cases, and file a complaint with the local Better Business Bureau.
FROM A CUSTOMER WITH HER CAR IN THE SHOP:
Quoted spoke with Kimbirly Orr, a car owner with her wheels in the shop as we
speak type. A resident of Denver, Col., Orr needed repairs from an accident and a hailstorm. She shared her decision-making process with Quoted: the number one reason she chose the shop, (Nylund’s Collision Center in Englewood. CO), was because the business had glowing online reviews. “After searching Google and seeing this award-winning business on a local business directory, I was thoroughly impressed with the way I have been treated every step of the way. Online reviews can go either way—trumped up or true. Based on my experience alone, I find these reviews amazing and consistent with my experience.” What made this repair shop so impressive? Orr told us: “The owner himself went to bat for me against my insurance company who wanted to use sub-standard parts on my car.”
Orr used an online customer service directory, and the Better Business Bureau for her research. She also checked out Nylund’s Collision Center’s own website.
TIPS FOR EMERGENCY REPAIRS WHILE TRAVELING:
Unfortunately for those who take to the open road, many of the above options might not always be practical. If you’re stuck on the side of an unfamiliar highway with smoke coming out of your engine, “closest and fastest” might top your list of desired auto repair shop qualities. But even if you must work quickly and with few resources, you can still make a good choice.
Garnand told us: “First call your local shop. They may provide a national warranty through a network of shops or perhaps even know a shop where you are.” Garnand also suggests contacting the nearest parts store and asking them where they would take their mom’s car to get fixed.
A FINAL NOTE: FAST TIPS FOR SOLUTIONS NOW: THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN
“When choosing a repair shop, investigate at least three in your area and compare prices.”—Bakke
“An easy way to judge is by the cleanliness of the shop. A clean shop and busy parking lot means steady work but detail-oriented service.”—Kraft
“Make sure the mechanic you’re looking into specializes in your car, brand, etc.”—Rob Kraft, Nationwide Insurance agent in Baltimore, Maryland
“You can trust who your auto insurance company is recommending, but it may not be the best fit for you and your car. If you have a shop that you would like to use, speak to your insurance company to see if they would be willing to let you use that particular shop.”—Terry
“There are many fly-by-night outfits in the business. Make sure you find someone with a good history and a strong financial base. Many of the worst players go out of business, only to reopen the next day under a new name.”—Bell
Have any more tips? Let us know in the comments!