Trying to find a great auto repair shop can be quite a challenge, yet finding a great shop can be quite rewarding. The question is, how to get from the looking stage to the found stage. Unfortunately, most people don’t have the "inside information" they might need. Just as unfortunate, in my opinion, is the lack of really helpful information on the topic.
My hope in writing this article is to be of help and dispel some of the misinformation that is so prevalent.
Dealerships employ factory trained experts
Dealerships hire from the exact same employee pool as all shops. Choosing a dealership for service is no assurance of anything. Training is widely available to shops willing to invest in it. Some do and others don’t and the same goes for dealerships.
Look for ASE certification
While there is nothing wrong with ASE certification, a sign hanging out front means nothing. A shop could have [or have had] one technician that was certified and nine that are not. No one polices the use of signs that proclaim, "We employ certified technicians.
Look for industry affiliations
Generally, trade associations are prohibited from denying membership to anyone in the trade. There are seldom any type of background checks and paying dues is often all that is required to be a member. A large advertising budget does not indicate competence or integrity.
So how is a person to choose a good shop?
There are two situations under which a shop may be needed, and a procedure for finding a shop in each. The first is the emergency repair. Clearly the best approach is to avoid emergencies with a good maintenance program. Still emergencies do arise. For example:
Your vehicle breaks down while traveling
With emergency repair there is seldom time for a thorough search as outlined below, quick advice is needed. Seek advice from someone who does NOT stand to gain from your choice. Make a call to a parts store or a shop that does NOT do the type work you need. Ask, "If your Mother’s vehicle was broken which shop would you recommend?" Call several and see if one shop is referred more than others.
An even better approach
When possible, finding a regular shop, before service is needed is a much better approach. Time invested ahead of need can pay huge dividends down the road. The first step is to do a bit of homework.
Ask friends, coworkers and others that drive the type vehicle that you own, who they use. As important is to ask, "Why do you recommend them?" Be certain the reason given is what you are looking for in a shop.
Look for a name(s) that comes up more than once in referrals. Several folks recommending the same facility is a very good sign. If the shop has a website, pay a visit. Read carefully the things that are written and how they are written. Does the expressed information match your aims in auto service?
Next call the competition and ask what they think of the shop you’re considering. This may seem odd, but can offer quite a bit of information. Don’t expect a glowing recommendation from a competitor, but ask, "Do you think they are trustworthy," and "Do you think they know what they are doing?"
Lastly make a call or visit to the shop. A few observations can reveal a great deal. There are two very broad categories of folks in the auto repair trade, in my opinion. Those who are there to fix your vehicle and those that are there to sell you something.
One easy way to tell which you are speaking with is to see how they market their services. I find, a shop interested in quality repair will ask for symptoms and will not quote prices without knowing what is wrong with a vehicle. If you ask for a "tune-up," they will ask, "What kind of problem are you having?" Knowing the exact symptoms, they can recommend the correct course of action.
Selling a "tune-up" or "a brake job" for $XX.XX is known as menu pricing. It might surprise many to know the words tune-up and brake job have no standardized meaning. Instead, they mean whatever the shop wants them to mean.
Menu pricing misleads folks into thinking a complex task can be made to appear simple. Instead it relegates the duty of diagnosing the problem to the client. Ask for a tune-up, pay the price and the car is still hard to start. "We did a tune-up, that’s what you asked for." It illustrates to me the intentions of the company offering it. A low price offer is nothing more than a way to get the vehicle in the shop. Nothing is ever free and shops that mislead up front will likely mislead far more once the vehicle is disabled in the shop.
Many of the things that make a shop excellent at auto service may also make them less convenient for small repair. For instance, most will work by appointment and stay very busy. In such a case you may consider two shops. One for oil changes, flat repair, etc. and one for actual repair and diagnostic work. Many of our clients come in once a year for a general inspection or more often if they need an honest opinion.
A true craftsman’s primary interest is fixing the vehicle properly
By offering great service they earn an honest living. There are also those who’s primary interest is to make money. They simply do so by repairing vehicles. A little work up front can help direct you to the type individual with whom you would rather deal.