One of the more daunting tasks we as car owners face is how to find an automotive service center you can trust. Whether you’ve just purchased your first vehicle, moved to a new area or your favorite repair shop closed, you are going to need to find a reputable auto service center to take your vehicle for routine maintenance or emergency repairs.
When it comes to auto service centers, there are three basic types: Dealerships, Independents, and Specialists. Most dealerships have service departments that are very familiar with the types of cars they sell. While dealerships may have factory-trained technicians with the latest equipment, their estimates tend to be higher than independent repair shops and they aren’t always conveniently located nearby which may find you having to drive farther to get to one.
Independent repair shops traditionally have the best customer service ratings and attention to detail. As a customer, you are more likely going to be working with an owner or the technician that is working on your vehicle. This allows you to build a trusting relationship with the person and shop. Since there are more independent repair shops than dealerships, independent repair shops are more conveniently located close to you. But more repair shops to choose from means having to determine which shops are trustworthy and which ones aren’t.
Specialists are independent repair shops that specialize in a certain vehicle brand, origin or year. For example, there are classic car repair shops, or shops that specialize in European cars. Since they only focus on a particular niche, they are able to provide very efficient services. Specialists could be a good option if you drive the type of vehicle they specialize in or need specialized work done.
Now that you know what types of auto service centers there are, how do you go about finding them? Start by compiling a list:
- Ask your family and friends for recommendations.
- Check each repair shop’s website and Facebook page. The website should be up-to-date and have current information.
- Look for online reviews from Yelp, Google or any other trusted online review sites. Reviews can help give you a glimpse into other customers experiences, whether positive or negative.
- Check the BBB for additional information on the repair shops you find. Auto repair shops rank 12th on the BBB’s list of common complaints.
Using all of these resources, narrow down your list to one or two repair shops you think may be a good fit.
Now that you have one or two auto service centers on your list, it’s time to visit the facility and drop your vehicle off for a minor service such as an oil change or tire rotation. The first thing you want to do when you visit an auto service center is look for these symbols of excellence:
These symbols indicate the repair shop cares about you, their reputation, ongoing technician training, and quality work.
Next, you want to evaluate the facility based on these five categories: Appearance, Amenities, Technicians, Equipment, and Warranty. Here are some questions that you should ask yourself as you are walking through the facility:
- Is the facility clean and well organized? Do they maintain a professional image?
- Is the front desk person friendly and courteous?
- Is there a comfortable waiting area with clean restrooms?
- Do they offer a pick-up and/or drop-off service or have loaner cars as an added convenience for customers?
- Are their technicians ASE certified? Look for ASE Certifications hanging on the wall for each technician. If there aren’t any certificates posted, ask about them.
- Do they have up-to-date equipment and service data? Is any of that information available on their website?
- Do they offer any warranties for the work they perform? The standard is a 12-month/12,000 mile warranty for parts and labor but some of the more quality repair facilities will offer 36 months/36,000 miles.
- Was the estimate explained to you thoroughly and did it contain all of the procedures necessary to properly and thoroughly complete the required service?
- Do they have a policy to always contact you and get approval before they do any additional work on your vehicle that is outside the scope of the original estimate?
- Do you get a good feeling? Sometimes it’s best to trust your instinct.
Keep in mind that cheaper is rarely better and better is rarely cheaper. Cheaper could mean their mechanics are paid low wages or are inexperienced, the equipment is older and out of date, and there is no warranty for the work they perform. The cheapest repair facilities tend to see the highest turnover in customers due to unsatisfactory work and/or customer service.
Sources: Finding an Auto Repair Shop You Can Trust, AAA | Where to Go for Car Maintenance and Repairs, Consumer Reports | Choosing a Mechanic for Auto Repair and Service, Better Business Bureau | Find a Repair Shop, Automotive Service Excellence |