Having maintenance and repairs done on your vehicle is just a part of car ownership. Even the most serious and dedicated Gear-Heads still need help from professional mechanics and shops sometimes – there are only so many diagnostics you can run yourself, and with some issues, a second-opinion always helps. Finding the right service shop takes more than you just running a search for “car service near me” and hoping you get lucky with the top result.
Based on surveys, auto mechanics are some of the least trusted professionals in America, which is a shame because the work they do is very important. Sadly, this reputation has been well earned by some unscrupulous mechanics out there that have given the rest a bad name. With a little research and effort, however, you can significantly improve your chances of finding a good mechanic that you can trust and work with for years to come. This article might not cover every possible consideration, but use this as a basic guide to get you started, and common sense should take you the rest of the way.
#1 – Know the Difference between Maintenance and Repairs
This might seem like a strange place to start, but it will make sense in a moment, I assure you. Before you go to a shop for car service near you, you need to know what you need done to your vehicle, so you know what to ask about and look for. “Maintenance” refers to routine work that needs to be done to your vehicle to keep it running properly, typically on a set schedule. Things, like having your oil changed, rotating your tires, and adjusting your alignment, are all types of maintenance.
“Repairs,” on the other hand, refer to work that needs to be done to fix something that has broken or is otherwise malfunctioning. Replacing a part of your engine that is damaged, fixing damage to your vehicle’s body, and fixing or replacing a bent axle from driving up on a curb are all types of repairs. If all you need is regular maintenance, then you can go to any certified shop or a local dealership and have the work done without it affecting any warranties you have. When you need repairs done, however, you should go to your local dealership to make sure someone else doing the work does not void any warranties your vehicle is under.
#2 – Do Some Research
Knowledge is your best defense against winding up with a mechanic that wants to take advantage of you or overcharge you for work. Learn about your vehicle and the mechanical systems involved – when a service professional talks about a lube job, adjusting your alignment, or other types of maintenance and repairs; you should know what it means. You don’t need to know how to do it yourself, necessarily, but if you understand what is being said to you, then you can catch anything that seems fishy when someone tries to pull one over on you. You should also look for information and reviews online for any car service location near you that you are interested in going to.
#3 – Ask your Friends and Family
Of course, before the internet, there was still a great way to learn about local businesses: friends and family. If you’re looking for a new place to go for car service near you, then ask people you trust where they take their vehicle. This is especially useful if you only need basic maintenance performed or if someone you know has a similar vehicle to yours from the same manufacturer. While you can still get bad recommendations from friends, the chances of you finding a good place on a recommendation from someone you trust are pretty high.
#4 – Check the Better Business Bureau
When you do find a place that sounds good, before you visit them, check their history with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) in your area. This can show you if there have been a lot of complaints against them for practices that seem less than honest. Just remember that the BBB is not a government agency and they are far from perfect. Don’t simply trust everything you see reported to the BBB or assume that no reports mean that a business has never had an issue – use this as one of many resources at your disposal.
#5 – Look for Certification
There are two things to look for here, and both are important. First, look for some kind of certification for the shop or dealership’s service center itself. This is usually something like Napa or AAA certification to show that they have a good history. Second, look for certification of at least some (if not all) of the technicians and service professionals themselves. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence or ASE is the certification you should look for when talking about the technicians.
#6 – Look for a Shop that Specializes in Your Vehicle
One of the best ways to know you’ve found a good place for your car service is going with a shop that specializes in your vehicle. That doesn’t mean finding a mechanic who works exclusively on 2007 Chevy Impalas – instead, you want to find a shop that specializes in Chevrolets (usually with GM and Buick in there too). One of the easiest ways to do this, of course, is to go with the service center of a reputable car dealership near you – usually, the one you bought your vehicle from. If you choose a good dealer in the first place, then knowing where to go for service becomes a lot easier.
#7 – Start Small
If you think you’ve found the right place for car service near you and you want to be sure, start with something small. Take your vehicle in for an oil change, to have your filters replaced, or for a lube job. This will give you a sense of the overall type of service and professionalism that you can expect from that business. You’re much better off discovering they have problems with meeting deadlines and costs when it’s just an oil change and not a full engine rebuild.
#8 – Watch for a Good First Impression
At the end of the day, a shop or dealership providing car service near you is a business, and you should expect them to act professionally. When you find a place online, they should have a website that’s easy to use and gives you information about hours and phone numbers so you can get in touch with them easily. As you arrive at a shop, look around and make sure it is clean, and at a professional location.
Sure, mechanics might have oil and grit on them – they work with vehicles that have a lot of grease and dirt going on. But the shop should look pretty clean overall and well organized. The best professional chefs often end up with food on their aprons and clothing from the work they do, but their kitchens are spotless. A good mechanic should work the same way – tools that are organized, a clean shop, and overall solid professionalism.
#9 – Get an Estimate for Time and Cost
Before you commit to having any work done, you should get an estimate from the shop about how long it will take and what it will cost. Any mechanic or technician that has a problem with this is someone you don’t need to give your business to. Get the cost estimate in writing, so you have a way to show later what they said if you need it. While a time estimate is just that, an estimate, you should expect them to come pretty close to it. Patience is good, and nothing is perfect in this world, but a one-week job should never turn into a two-month ordeal.