Finding an honest, competent mechanic to diagnose and repair your car can be a mysterious and intimidating proposition. Keeping this in mind, the consumer would do well to read this article and pay heed to the tips and warning it contains. Automobile repairs can of cost thousands of dollars, so it is definitely worth the extra time it takes to do a little homework about your car, it’s problems, and the prospective service providers in your area.
Do your Homework
The very most important thing a person can do to avoid getting ripped off in car repairs, or any repairs for that matter, is to be informed. This means doing a little online legwork to find out more both about the nature of the repair and to the reputation and trustworthiness of a particular dealer or independent repair shop. There are a number of free resources available to you the consumer that will help prevent you from being taken advantage of when your car needs servicing; You can get a good idea of what is wrong 9 and just as importantly what isn’t wrong)before you hit the shop by using the CarMD tool ($99; www.carmd.com). Just plug the hand-held device into your car (every model after 1996 has a standard connection port under the dash) and it reads the car's computer codes. You can then plug it into your computer for a full report of what problem the codes indicate, the most likely fix, and what labor and parts for the repair cost in your area. The report also lists recalls for your vehicle and summaries of technical service bulletins (recall notices are also available at www.nhtsa.gov). Being armed with this information
not only helps you understand more clearly where you stand, it also indicates to the prospective mechanic that you are a well-informed consumer who knows, and cares, about the facts concerning their car and it’s care. Another valuable resource is the car-care guide at www.carcare.org . With this tool you can learn more about typical repairs, known issues with your particular car, and also get some suggestions about appropriate questions to ask the mechanic. Don’t be shy about asking questions, both before and after the work is performed, and always ask to see the old parts that were replaced and verify whether the ‘new’ parts installed were original equipment manufacturer parts or third party “aftermarket” parts. Never accept used or rebuilt parts unless there are no other alternatives. This is particularly important when dealing with small independent shops. Most of these shops are quite ethical, but there are some out there that will misrepresent parts obtained at the junkyard as new or rebuilt parts and pocket the cost difference. Dealers almost always use OEM parts if they are available. You may be able to request that a dealer use non-OEM parts as a money saving measure, but be aware that the dealer will then almost certainly warranty only his labor, NOT the non-OEM parts. This means if the parts fail you will be required to pay for the replacement parts but not for the labor of removing/installing the part.
Dealer vs. Independent Shops
While dealers typically charge more for a repair than an independent shop may charge for the exact same repair, there are some intangibles that need to be taken into consideration. One big advantage of going to the dealer is that most dealerships are looking to build a long term relationship with their customers, and because of this they are willing to stand behind their work to a degree that smaller independent shops are not willing, or able to do. Keep in mind that most car dealerships are closely monitored by the manufacturer because the reputation of the manufacturer is at stake and most manufacturers spend millions of dollars per year to build a good reputation and will not tolerate a dealership that besmirches their coveted reputation for quality. Also, many dealerships are able to offer sizable discounts on their bills, and in the event of a major repair this can amount to hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Another factor to consider when choosing between independent shops and dealers is the training the technicians have in servicing your specific brand of vehicle. Most independent shops cannot afford to send their techs to training for every brand of automaker, so the dealers techs are probably significantly more informed about the specific issues and corresponding repairs than a independent tech would be. Given the high degree of technological sophistication employed in the manufacture of modern cars, the amount and quality of training your technician has received is of critical importance when selecting a repair facility to take your car to.
You can use the same resources to check on specific dealers or shops; Yelp, the Better Business Bureau, and of course good old word of mouth are all excellent methods to get a feeling for the reputation and trustworthiness of a shop. This step is perhaps the most important step of all when deciding where to take your car to get repairs and maintenance performed. An established business with a reputation to protect is far less likely to use shady tactics and far more likely to go the extra mile to make sure their customers are satisfied. Another factor in deciding between a dealer and an independent shop is the age and value of your car;a new car is much more likely to justify the expense of going to the dealer for even minor repairs and maintenance, whereas an older, less valuable car may not warrant the level of care and warranty protection the dealer provides and then the consumer may very well be better of with a “fix it cheap, drive it until it dies” approach.
“I know a guy who knows a guy”
I won’t deny that you can save a ton of money by going with a “shade tree” mechanic operating out of his home garage or similar non-professional setting, but please realize that there are many ways that this strategy can end up costing a lot more than going to a professional shop. Because this genre of tech typically includes no warranty on either parts or service, if things go badly you will likely have no recourse and may in fact end up with further damage to your car to the extent that it is not worth fixing. This kind of a deal has ruined many a friendship (and many a car!) and should only be considered if you are desperate to get the repair completed and absolutely cannot scrape up the money for a professional mechanic.
You get What You Pay For
In the final analysis, the old adage that “You get what you pay for” applies to car repairs as much as it does anything. While taking the car to a dealer might cost you more than some of the other repair alternatives, if your car is fairly new and you plan to keep it for an extended time then the extra expense of dealer servicing is easily offset by the level of service and quality of warranty the dealer offers. Dealers also provide advisors who can recommend preventive maintenance that can save you a bucketload of money down the road. On the other hand,if you have and older car and you are just trying to squeeze another year or two of driving out of it before buying another car, then doing a little comparison shopping at small, independent shops may be the most cost effective way to go. Whatever your situation, spending the time to do some free research on the internet is a wise decision that every car owner should make.
An article like this one cannot cover all of the many aspects of choosing a car repair solution for every car and driver , if you follow the simple suggestions presented here you will drastically decrease your chances of getting taken in by an unethical mechanic and increase your chances of find competent, reliable auto repairs at a fair price. There are many examples of both really good and really bad mechanics out there, and it is up to you to do the footwork to determine who is good and who is not in your particular area. Good luck and happy motoring!