Looking for a Reliable Mechanic? Be Sure to Ask These 10 Questions

Before you let anyone work on your car, ask them these 10 questions. Based on their answers, you'll know if they're the right mechanic to do the job.

Finding a reliable mechanic is similar to finding a reliable doctor or painter. To feel comfortable and confident, you need to know some facts about the person you’re going to let manage your health, paint your home or work on your car. To find the right mechanic, these are the 10 questions you should ask. The answer to all of them should be “yes,” except for No. 6.

1. Are you certified or Master Certified? Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifies mechanics (technicians) to ensure they can diagnose crucial automotive systems. These technicians are retested every five years. Certification shows a technician is up on all the changes in modern vehicles. If a technician is not ASE certified, look for updated manufacturers or third-party training certificates on the office walls to see what training they have. Dependable shops are proud to display these.

2. Does this shop belong to any automotive associations? Organizations such as the Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association (AMRA), American Automobile Association (AAA) and Automotive Service Association (ASA) offer training and evaluate repair businesses to make sure they provide ethical customer service, adhere to industry standards for workplace safety, properly dispose of hazardous waste and other regulatory issues.

3. Can you provide customer references? Do some digging yourself. Check with friends, family members, co-workers, the local Better Business Bureau, as well as online reviews from verified customers. Hang out in the waiting area to see how the repair shop’s employees treat the customers.

4. Are you familiar with my car’s make and model? Most repair shops are generalists, working on the most popular makes and models of vehicles. However, many shops now have technicians trained and certified to service specific makes and models. Of course, taking your car to a dealership service department ensures your car is repaired by an expert trained and experienced with a particular make and model. Just expect to pay more for parts and labor.

5. Can I decide the type or brand of the replacement parts? New Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts are a direct fit and made for a specific year, make and model, but can be the most expensive. Replacement parts from dependable manufacturers are a great option, but may require slight modifications to fit your vehicle. Both usually have one-year parts and labor warranties. Used parts are also an option, but only if they come with a full parts and labor warranty. If you want options, ask about this up front.

6. Is there a charge for an estimate? Ask if there is a fee for the diagnostic exam to pinpoint the problem. Check if it’s an hourly rate or a flat fee. Most shops will perform a computer diagnostic scan for free, but usually charge if something needs to be taken apart to locate the problem.

7. Can I have a written estimate? You should ask for, and your technician should offer you, a written estimate, including parts and labor, before you approve any repair work. They should also make you aware of any additional related work that may be necessary when making the repair. Sometimes additional issues that weren’t covered in your original estimate are found, and a reliable technician will always contact you before making non-related repairs.

8. Can you explain to me the repair details in plain terms? Be sure your technician can explain the repairs and why they’re necessary in easy-to-understand language. This way you can ask more informed follow-up questions and have a better grasp of the entire process.

9. Can I get a second opinion? Do not agree to any service repairs you do not understand or think may be unnecessary. Two things to consider before getting a second opinion: Can you safely drive to another repair shop without those repairs? And will driving to another shop worsen the problem?

10. Can I see the old parts? Always ask for any parts that were replaced, and your technician should have no problem showing them to you. You can look up just about any part online and then compare what you find to the part you are shown. It’s not only educational, but it also helps confirm that the part was replaced. Be aware there could be a “core” charge (similar to a deposit) if the old part is rebuildable.

Robert Lacivita
Bob Lacivita is an award-winning auto technician and career and technical educator and freelance writer who has written about DYI car repairs and vehicle maintenance topics, as well as writing state, federal and organizational foundation grants, and helped design a unique curriculum delivery model that integrates rigorous, relevant academic standards seamlessly into technical/vocational training, for more than 20 years. His work has been featured in Family Handyman, a Reader's Digest book and Classic Bike Rider magazine, among others. Bob and his wife lived through 20 years' worth of DIY home remodeling while parenting two (now grown) boys and now relax by watching their three fabulous granddaughters.