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Make the Right Decision When Choosing an Auto Repair Shop

Over time, car engines and parts have become increasingly complex, and most people just aren’t all that familiar with the inner workings of their vehicles. So it is often difficult to determine whether an auto repair facility makes honest assessments and charges fair prices.  Fortunately, there are a number of guidelines that provide assistance in determining that an auto repair shop is both competent and honest.

First of all, don’t choose a shop based on its location.  Although this may be the convenient choice, it may not be the best choice. The National Automotive Parts Association (NAPA) suggests that you find a reputable repair shop before you need repairs. When you are not worried about your current transportation needs, and not rushed to get a repair completed, you will make a more informed and logical decision regarding car repairs.

Ask Questions.  Contact local repair shops and ask about their experience with your particular vehicle make and model.  Do they specialize in certain types of repairs?  Don’t be afraid to ask the shop for a few references.  An upstanding facility that wants your business should be happy to provide them.  A reference call only takes a few minutes and could save you a lot of grief later.  Also, ask neighbors, family, friends, and co-workers to recommend repair shops they have used that do good work at fair prices.   

Investigate.  Contact your local Department of Consumer Affairs or Better Business Bureau to see if complaints have been registered against the repair shop you’re considering.  You can also ask if an independently owned and operated shop is associated with NAPA.  A shop must have a reputation for service quality in its community to be certified as a NAPA Auto Care Center.

Plan an On-site Visit.  Upon arriving at the shop, notice whether the vehicles being repaired are equal in value to yours.  Is the staff helpful and considerate? Is the facility well organized and tidy?  Does it have modern equipment? 

Within the shop, all policies (guarantees, labor rates, methods of payment, etc.) should be posted and/or explained to your satisfaction.  Inquire if the facility provides a written guarantee on parts and labor, and ask about customer satisfaction policies.

NAPA Guidelines.  Some shops advertise “free inspections,” but this is often not to your benefit.  Inspections take time, and the facility must somehow recover the cost of the time it spends on the inspection. This process usually results in an attempt to sell you repairs–whether they are necessary or not.  According to NAPA, “All reputable auto care centers must charge a nominal fee for basic inspections.”

NAPA recommends against basing your choice of repair shop on price alone.  In addition to parts and labor, you are also paying for the expertise of the mechanics.  The shop should have modern equipment as well as the skilled technicians required to make the needed repairs.  Does the shop have the ASE symbol prominently displayed?  ASE-certified technicians are trained and tested to achieve certification in a variety of repair specialties.  Furthermore, they must be re-tested every five years to maintain the nationally recognized ASE-certification.  The display of trade school diplomas and certificates of advanced course work from car manufacturers can also help identify qualified technicians.  Since it is the technicians themselves who are personally certified, not the shop, you may want to ask for assurance that a certified mechanic will handle the repairs on your vehicle.

Communicate. Once you have chosen a shop, discuss beforehand what parts will be used to repair your vehicle.  Brand name parts are typically built to the original manufacturer’s quality or better, and they usually come with warranties. ON the other hand, remanufactured parts and non-brand name parts often cost less and may also carry warranties.  Ask the staff to discuss the pros and cons of which parts to use.

Disagreements can occur due to lack of communication between the customer and the shop.  It is easy to become intimidated when communicating with a repair shop, and you hear a lot of words and concepts you don’t necessarily understand.  A sign of a reputable facility is the ability to communicate your vehicle’s problems to you, along with your options for fixing the problems.  Do not be afraid to ask questions about the repairs as well as the costs.  It is equally important to give the shop a full description of the problem.  If the car is “making a strange sound,” try to explain exactly when it happens.  Does it happen when braking or accelerating? when the engine is hot or cold? on a full or empty fuel tank?  The point is to do your part to assist the mechanic in accurately diagnosing and repairing the problem.

In these economic times, the average cost of a new vehicle exceeds $28,000, and consumers may need to drive their cars longer.  Basic vehicle maintenance and good repair service are the best ways to keep your car running smoothly for many years to come.