How to Find a Good Mechanic & Reduce Repair Costs
If you’re a fairly handy person, you probably do simple car repairs yourself, such as changing the oil or replacing headlights. However, for more complex jobs, such as replacing a radiator, you need a mechanic – and it’s worth taking the trouble to find a good one.
It takes time and effort to find a mechanic you can trust, but doing so saves you both time and money in the long run. If you rush your car to whichever garage is nearest when something breaks, you can’t be sure the mechanics there will know what to do with it. You could end up taking the bus to work for days on end while the shop tries to fix the problem – and possibly spending hundreds of dollars on “fixes” that you don’t need. A good mechanic, by contrast, will get the job done right the first time and charge you a fair price.
That’s why the time to look for a good mechanic is before your car breaks down. This gives you time to look at lots of local mechanics, checking out their credentials, prices, and the quality of their work. That way, when something does go wrong with your car, you can feel confident you’re taking it to someone who knows how to handle it.
All good mechanics have three important qualities in common:
Good mechanics can save you money in several different ways:
It’s easy to talk about how important it is to have a good mechanic, but it’s not so easy to find one. You have to put in a bit of work to find mechanics in your area and to sort out the wheat from the chaff.
There are some things, such as a mechanic’s credentials or costs, that you can check online or with a phone call. However, to get a real sense of how good they are at their job, you’ll need to get hands-on. You have to see the shop, talk to the mechanic in person, and try them out with a simple job before you commit.
The best mechanic for you has to be one you can get to easily. That means the first step to finding a good mechanic is to look for garages that are close to your home or workplace. Here are a few ways to search:
By this time, you’re likely to have a fairly long list of possible mechanics. To narrow it down, check the mechanics’ credentials. Here are a few sites to consult:
When you pick up your car from the garage, you want to know that the bill for the repair is reasonable. A fair price is close to the average price that other mechanics would charge for the same job. If it’s much higher, that could mean you’re being ripped off; if it’s much lower, that could be a warning sign that your mechanic isn’t putting in the necessary work.
To compare prices for different mechanics, find out the baseline price for a sample repair. If there’s nothing your car actually needs, check out the price for a routine maintenance job, such as an alignment or a timing belt replacement. Do an online search for this type of repair, along with the make, model, and year of your car and the word “cost.” You can also enter this information into the NAPA AutoCare Repair Estimator, which finds typical costs for the repair in your area of the country.
Write down the range of prices you find from this search. Then, call up the mechanics on your list and ask them to give you an estimate for the same repair. Compare their prices to the range you wrote down to see if they look reasonable. The ideal price should be somewhere near the middle of the range – not too high, not too low.
While you’re at it, you can also ask the mechanics how long this repair will take them. Comparing their answers will give you an idea of how long you’ll have to wait to get your car back after having it serviced. A shop a few miles away could end up being more convenient than one right around the corner that keeps you waiting an extra day every time you need a repair.
At this point, you should have your list of mechanics pared down to a few finalists. The next step is to take a look at each repair shop in person. Checking out the conditions will give you a sense of how well the business is run. Here are a few things to look for:
While you’re at the repair shop, go in and ask them a few questions about how they do business. If you can, try to talk to the mechanic in person, not just a receptionist. You might feel awkward asking to do this, but experts say it’s the best way to get a sense of what kind of work you can expect. Mechanic Chris Johnson, speaking with The Art of Manliness, says your goal should be to “establish a relationship with them, much as you would your barber or your pastor.”
Here are a few questions to ask your mechanic:
Once you think you’ve found the right mechanic, it’s time to try them out. However, you probably don’t want to jump in at the deep end with a major repair like an engine rebuild. It’s better to start off with a small, simple job, such as an oil change or a routine inspection, before deciding whether to put your car in this person’s hands. Think of it like choosing a doctor – you’d rather get to know a new doctor during a basic checkup than major surgery.
After this first job, ask yourself a few questions:
If the answers to all these questions are positive, congratulations: You’ve found your new mechanic. You can now entrust your car to this person for all kinds of repairs, big and small, and be confident the job will be done right.
When looking for a mechanic, it helps to understand a bit about how your car works. If you know nothing at all about what’s under the hood, you have no way of knowing whether a mechanic’s being honest when they tell you a part needs replacing. They could be pointing to something that has nothing to do with your problem and you wouldn’t be able to tell.
At the very least, read your owner’s manual. It won’t go into detail about your car’s systems, but it will tell you the basics about what kinds of service your car needs and how to diagnose a problem. For more information, you can check out sites like Popular Mechanics or the Gearhead 101 series on The Art of Manliness. These sites offer a basic overview of how the various parts of a car work.
You can also do a simple online search on “how a car works” or check out a library book about cars written for children or teens. These resources are easy to understand, even for a complete novice. By getting the basic facts about your car, you’ll be able to check up on your mechanic and make sure they’re being straight with you.
Who’s the best mechanic you’ve ever had? How did you find that person?
Amy Livingston is a freelance writer who can actually answer yes to the question, “And from that you make a living?” She has written about personal finance and shopping strategies for a variety of publications, including ConsumerSearch.com, ShopSmart.com, and the Dollar Stretcher newsletter. She also maintains a personal blog, Ecofrugal Living, on ways to save money and live green at the same time.
How to Find a Good Mechanic & Reduce Repair Costs
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