With Spring in full swing, I wanted to start out this year with some tips on choosing the right repair facility. Have you had a vehicle repaired and left the repair facility only to have the same problem return? How about paying for an automobile repair and felt “less than happy” with the experience? Had a breakdown on a trip, and had no idea where to turn for good help?
These things have happened to most of us at one time or another. This month I want to provide some tips on choosing the right repair facility, what to look for as far as accreditation, labor rate and how to tell if the facility and mechanic is trustworthy. Even though the main reason for this blog is to help with “Do-It Yourself” and saving money, there will be times when a repair facility is necessary. I want to focus on these necessary situations and recommend five things to help make a well-informed decision.
Choosing the Right Repair Facility – Certification
Most legitimate repair facilities use the “National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence” (ASE for short) testing for technician certification. Look for the ASE blue seal prominently displayed on the outside of the building, as well as individual employee certificates on the walls of the waiting room. Other forms of accreditation, such as NAPA Autocare, Parts Plus, Raybestos, TRW, Moog, Carquest or AAA are equally important so look for appropriate signage.
Now to be fair, I have known “Master” technicians with numerous certificates hanging on the wall and I wouldn’t trust them to repair my sandwich let alone my vehicle or boat. Step 2 is doing some homework
Choosing the Right Repair Facility – Research
The number one resource I recommend is friends and family. Ask around, and use internet search engines to check reviews. There are many sites dedicated to this. I have found most times just looking at their Facebook page and reading through some of the “Posts by Others” can quickly enlighten us on how happy their customer base is with their services.
Try and read between the lines and determine if the complaint was a legitimate one or just one of “those” people who cannot be satisfied no matter the circumstances.
For instance, maybe the wrong repair facility was chosen to start with. For example, do not take a vehicle to a tire shop for major transmission repair! Do not take a 2017 Mercedes to a Subaru dealer and expect them to have everything on hand to perform even the most basic of services.
The same can be said of outboard engine repair shops. It’s not wise to take a 2014 250 Pro XS to the guru down the street known for rebuilding old carbureted outboards. There is specific diagnostic equipment needed to properly access and troubleshoot the on-board systems. Before trusting this kind of word-of-mouth, find out if he has the proper equipment. Most smaller repair facilities do not have the resources to keep up with the ever-changing technology. Purchasing the latest diagnostic tools and sending employees for training on every manufacturer/specialty is very expensive.
Shop around for the needed services. Most established repair facilities advertise coupons and seasonal specials. Make phone calls and just ask what their hourly rate is for mechanical repairs, and if there is a diagnostic charge. Which brings us to step three.
Choosing The Right Repair Facility – Estimates In Writing
Sometimes there will be several different price levels based on the particular malfunction or service needed. For example, a water pump replacement may be $55 an hour but a check engine light may be $75 an hour.
A little more explanation. Let’s say one morning there is a puddle of coolant under the vehicle, upon raising the hood it’s obvious coolant is dripping from the water pump. In this scenario, a mechanic will want to do a pressure check to verify and inspect for additional leaks. In this case, we would ask a mechanic, “how much to replace my water pump?”
A case where the hourly rate may be higher is when more advanced tools are needed. A check engine light, anti-lock brake light, or airbag light would require dedicated diagnostic equipment and training to troubleshoot. Because of the costs associated with the tools and training needed, a rate can be much higher.
Always ask for a clear and up-front estimate in writing before any work is performed. If the shop or mechanic is sketchy on the details or refuses to provide one, go somewhere else! Remember a customer always has the option of saying no. However, if the mechanic has already performed services they must be paid for before leaving. Such services could include: diagnostic fees to this point, towing charges, and tear down labor if any work had been accomplished to this point. A little forethought brings us to step four.
Choosing the Right Repair Facility – Shop Around Before An Emergency
Obviously, this one will not work while on the road traveling, but if the vehicle is close to needing tires, brakes, 30,000-mile service or the dreaded timing belt replacement; start research early before it becomes a “have to” situation. Don’t wait until the week before a big trip to get necessary repairs. Which brings us to step five.
Choosing the Right Repair Facility – Be Flexible But Firm
Customers have the right to ask questions and have them explained in terms everyone can understand. Ask to be shown the problem on the vehicle, ask for the old parts and have a trusted friend look at them to verify there was an issue. Most repair facilities will escort a customer into the shop area to speak with the technician who diagnosed and is responsible for the repairs. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, try to build a rapport with the technicians and office personnel. Bring them donuts or breakfast biscuits (surprising how far this goes). Try to be patient. If it appears they are covered up with work and everyone is busy, don’t expect them to drop everything and start on your car immediately or even the next day. Remember there are other customers waiting on their vehicles too. Shops must prioritize based on the customer’s needs and which technicians are available at the moment. My shop will try to get traveling customers as soon as possible to minimize the amount of time and money spent in motels. It takes some shuffling around to get this done but do not be afraid to talk to the shop owner/managers about the situation and what your expectations/needs are.
I hope this edition of the UB Blog has helped you make an informed decision about how to find the right repair facility.
Everyone have a great spring and remember
“Your Mileage May Vary”
Check out the UB Garage Blog for more great Do-It Yourself articles on everything from trailer brakes to bearing replacement.