Finding a Good Mechanic
Here, homework helps
So how's your car running? At the moment, everything's just fine, right? Then this is the perfect time to find yourself and your wheels a good mechanic.
This is not something you want to put off until an emergency situation arises. Believe me, this is not something you want to put off until an emergency situation arises—then you try to tend to go with whatever garage is most convenient, and if you're like me, you feel more secure about your odds playing blackjack in Atlantic City.
So—based on my own brutal experience and conversations with friends and service technicians alike—here are some things to keep in mind when selecting a good mechanic:
> Your best defense is being a smart consumer. For the car owner, at the very least this means boning up on your car's maintenance schedule, as listed in the service manual. This will get you into a preventive maintenance mindset, and prove less expensive down the road.
> Recommendations from friends and associates can prove useful.
> See if your local Better Business Bureau has a file on the facility in question. 'Nuff said.
> You can shop around by phone to compare prices and warranty info. Parts are always under some sort of warranty, but there are no standard warranties in this business.
> Avoid shocks to your system and ask how labor is priced—flat fee or hourly.
> The more complicated or expensive the maintenance or repair, the more you owe it to yourself to get a second opinion.
> Signed copies of written estimates are the law in most places. Make sure you get one.
> Find out what kind of parts are being used—new, rebuilt/remanufactured/reconditioned, or salvage. Salvage parts aren't necessarily a bad thing, particularly for older/rarer cars.
> At service or repair time, make sure you have some means of getting to where you need to go after you drop off the car—a friend, service facility shuttle or mass transit. This makes location pressure less of a consideration.
> You're going to have to climb a confidence curve once you've made your choice. If possible, have them start off with relatively simple and straightforward work, such as wheel alignment or exhaust repair. If you go away happy, you'll feel less anxious that fateful day when you have to bring your pride and joy in on a hook.
> Look for a neat, well-organized facility, and eyeball the quality of vehicles the employees drive—they should be as good as your own car.
> The service writer—the person behind the counter—should be professional, courteous, and able to satisfactorily answer every question you have.
> Ask for customer references, and follow up.
> Brand specification is a useful organizing principle. Chances are, you wouldn't take a Bentley to Sven's Swedish Servicing. This is where dealer service can have a leg up on an independent, aftermarket facility.
> You might wonder what all those community service awards and softball team trophies in the service lounge have to do with quality car repair, but consider this: The underlying message may be that the local customer base trusts these guys.
> The nice thing about professionalism these days is that it is certifiable. The various types of ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) Certifications are national standards testifying to a mechanic's chops. Trade school diplomas and brand-specific certifications can be reassuring as well.
> A good mechanic is, at heart, a good businessman. Long-term profits come from repeat business, so, if you're happy with your experience, go back to the place and start building a relationship. It's like marriage. If things aren't what you'd hoped for, talk out the problem, and give the place a chance to resolve things to your satisfaction before you walk out in a huff.
> Keep all paperwork. You'll need it in case a problem comes up after you leave the shop.
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