This article was one of the ones I wrote for the recently closed Candid Slice.
As a woman who has taken 15 cars in for repairs over 45 years in 4 different states, I experienced good, bad, and ugly encounters with auto repair shops. I have been lied to, dismissed, overcharged and even endangered! I hope the following lessons I learned may assist others in choosing a trustworthy car service garage.
1. Get recommendations.
Ask family and friends about their experiences with car shops. If at least two or more people recommend the same place, you have a higher chance of getting reliable service. Ask them to tell you about the whole experience. Were the mechanics friendly and accommodating, or not? Did they explain what was needed in detail, or did they talk in fast-forward? Pay attention to details that matter to you.
2. Research local car shops.
A list of repair shops complete with ratings, addresses, phone numbers and reviews are widely available on the internet. Search multiple sites and compare. If common problems appear across different sites, steer clear. Consider that the list may be incomplete and the reviews outdated. Ownership and employees change, and so does service. Outdated reviews may not be removed.
The helpfulness of the reviews likewise depends on the number of complaints versus the number of positive comments. Anyone may have one or two bad reviews. Some of them may be unreliable, so try putting them in context. If every other review is glowing and one person is screaming about price gouging, then that person may just be bad with judging prices. On the other hand, friends of the owner may write glowing reviews for their buddy. In that case, check the number of reviews and check their history. A competitor could also write a bad review to drive away business. Some sites have measures against this, but not all. Just assimilate the information and check things out yourself and trust your gut.
The Better Business Bureau also offers a list of some local businesses with their accreditation or reports. Again, be aware of the date the reviews were written. I found one on a business that was 10 years old! That doesn’t necessarily disqualify a car shop, but it may mean the business has moved or closed altogether.
3. Check out the business yourself.
Waiting rooms speak volumes about customer care. Are accommodations comfortable? How do the present customers look? Are they relaxed or are they disgruntled? Is there water or coffee available? Are all the facilities, including what you can see of the garage, relatively clean or neat? Is there a bathroom?
I have to admit this is not the gold standard for all good garages. There is one old car shop whose waiting room is only adequate and has one bathroom but I trust them implicitly. Their mechanics and service personnel are always polite and friendly. They have been owned and operated by the same man for over 20 years. Their efficiency and reputation are well known; and their list of faithful customers is long. I have also heard many tales of their kindness and willingness to go the extra mile. They have a 4.5 star rating too.
4. Observe customer care.
Go in and discuss your car and the services they provide. Listen to how repairs are explained to other customers while you wait. Are questions brushed off with excuses, or are their comments making the customer’s question seem silly?
Do they treat female customers as well as they treat male customers? Do they address female customers with “Baby, Sweety, Darling, Honey” or other words that make female customers feel uncomfortable? Some older mechanics, especially in the South, may use these terms out of habit. Be careful, regardless. Follow your gut. If you or your significant other feels uncomfortable, leave!
5. Check credentials and certifications.
Most garages have updated their equipment to care for newer cars and their complex computer systems. Make sure your mechanics are qualified, and their certifications are in order. Inspect their credentials online, or ask to see them at the shop.
One personal experience to think about: A friend recommended a mechanic. I took my car in to have the bushings changed and the tires had been realigned accordingly. Not one mile down the road the steering wheel suddenly began to intermittently and violently jerk to one side.
The assistant manager dismissed my call: “Sometimes uneven roads can cause this.” I assured him that was not the problem. Trying to be nice I told him I would drive the car a little further and see if it happened again. On resuming the drive the wheels immediately jerked to one side!
I carefully drove the mile back to them and firmly told them, “I have driven on all kinds of roads and know that uneven roads are not the problem! There is something wrong with the car that wasn’t wrong before!” On checking their work they found that one of the cameras they used to calibrate the wheels’ alignments had not been re-positioned after the last car; so the wheels had been aligned badly. They admitted this when I asked. I found out later that the position of the cameras are supposed to be checked before each alignment! It obviously had not been checked.
6. Don’t dismiss the Dealer.
Even though it may cost more, sometimes it’s better to take a car back to its dealership for repairs. Your dealership should know every nook and cranny of your car. Some of the better dealers will send out notices reminding you of maintenance, too, keeping you informed and up to date on your car’s needs. Don’t dismiss these as cash grabs! A well-maintained car costs far, far less than three or four junkers and will last about as long as all of those combined.
Choosing the best place to take your car is sometimes hit or miss. Sometimes you just have to try a place to be sure. These preliminary steps will hopefully prevent you from making the same mistakes I did! After all you will be entrusting your car and likely your life to a car repair shop so choose carefully.