Shopping around for an auto mechanic may be overwhelming if you’re not sure how to get started—or what to look for once you do. Thankfully, with a little bit of research, you can be well on your way to finding a great mechanic with whom you can work for years to come. From referrals to prices, consider these questions and details during your search.
Consult Friends and Family
A great place to start your search for a new auto mechanic is with friends and family. Talk to people you know who drive and are satisfied with the work their mechanic has done on their vehicles in the past.
Neighbors may be an excellent resource, though you don’t feel pressured to take their recommendation and run with it—unless you want to minimize your search.
Don’t be afraid to ask the recommender for specifics. Do they appreciate the auto shop’s quality of work, customer service, or advice on the best car parts to buy? The more information you ask for, the more empowered you’ll be to opt for their referral.
And Check the Internet
Once you get a recommendation or two, it may be wise to look at reviews on Yelp and the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) website. Both Yelp and the BBB will show you comments from previous customers who had great experiences or terrible encounters with the mechanic. You can also do a quick Google search to make sure the mechanic hasn’t been involved in any eyebrow-raising scandals recently.
Ensure Your Mechanic Is Certified
You wouldn’t take your pet to a veterinarian who didn’t have the proper training. You wouldn’t hire an electrician who didn’t have the appropriate credentials. So you certainly shouldn’t trust your vehicle with a mechanic who isn’t certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). The ASE is an independent nonprofit organization that sets a standard of excellence in auto repair shops, technicians, services, and parts distribution.
If your state requires it, make sure the mechanic’s repair shop is licensed, too. Most states, with the exception of Texas and a few other outliers, also require that mechanics be state-certified in various service categories to perform the work. In Michigan, for example, people who diagnose or repair a motor vehicle, perform bench repairs on a motor vehicle component part, or estimate or repair vehicle body damage must be licensed by that state.
Interview Your Mechanic
Before you trust a stranger with your vehicle, it’s a good idea to ask some thorough questions. Get to know your mechanic by asking about and paying attention to:
- Their experience working with vehicles of a similar make and model to your own
- Their certifications, training, and experience in the industry
- Whether they provide a written estimate before performing repairs
- Whether they guarantee their work and estimates
- What types of parts they use (OEM vs. after-market)
- How their pricing for specific services works
It will help if you compare what a mechanic tells you to ballpark estimates. You can find these online, from websites that aggregate repair service prices across the country. For example, RepairPal and CostHelper offer price ranges for car repairs, among other estimates.
And as important as it is to ask a potential mechanic questions, it’s equally vital to pay attention to how many they ask of you. If you come into the shop with a specific problem or even just for regularly scheduled maintenance, they should ask you detailed questions about how your car is performing and really consider your answers before working on the vehicle.
Check The Fine Print—Especially If You Lease
If you own your vehicle, federal law guarantees that you can have it repaired wherever you like without affecting your warranty. However, if you lease your car, you might be required to have it serviced at the dealership.
Read the rules on servicing your vehicle before you sign the lease so that you know what to do when you need to get something repaired.
Test the Mechanic With Something Small
Ideally, you want to see how you like a potential new mechanic before disaster strikes. You should schedule routine maintenance—like an oil change or a car alignment—before you need a significant repair. This allows you to test out the mechanic’s customer service, pricing, and knowledge. If they’re worth their price, they can help you anticipate repairs you might need in the near future as well.
How Much Do Prices Vary by Mechanic?
Prices can vary a lot from one mechanic to another. According to the American Automotive Association (AAA), average hourly rates for mechanics ranged from $47 to $215 in 2017. These rates were based on the shop’s cost of doing business.
Understanding the general cost of that business for different auto repair services can help you comparison-shop among potential mechanics. Online resources like RepairPal or CostHelper can give you a preliminary idea of service price estimates and common questions about routine car care before booking an appointment with a shop. Prices for a few common auto services, according to RepairPal and CostHelper, include:
- Cabin air filter replacement: $70 to $102
- Transmission fluid flush: $75 to $150
- Engine coolant temperature sensor replacement: $148 to $193
- Spark plug replacement: $190 to $255
- Front or rear windshield replacement: $200 to $401
Prices may be affected by things like the skill level of the mechanic or the age and type of vehicle you bring in. But the most prominent variation is typically caused by the location of the shop and the business expenses that come with that. Independent shops are also usually less expensive than ones associated with a dealership.
The Bottom Line
Finding a good mechanic may take a little time and effort, but it could help you find one that you not only trust, but one that also fits your budget. Whether the price is “worth it” depends on you: If you value customer service, for example, it may be worth paying a bit more for the same work that a grimy, no-frills shop could do at a lower price with less reliability. Take your time, ask around, do your research, and you’ll find the right mechanic for your vehicle.