DETROIT — Is your car making funny noises, again? You're not alone. Tough times are forcing more people to keep their cars long after the warranty expires. So picking the right mechanic is key to protecting one of the biggest investments you'll make. Here are five tips to remember when shopping for a good mechanic. Kimberly S. Johnson, Associated Press
1Compare dealerships with independent repair shops. Parts and labor cost more at dealerships, say many consumer advocates and publications. The National Automobile Dealers Association says that dealership service departments are better equipped to handle repairs on new, computer-laden cars and trucks.
Dealership garages use original manufacturer parts — new parts approved by Ford, GM, Toyota or other big carmakers. But there are also generic new parts that typically cost less. Consumers who go with independents can request original manufacturer parts, as long as they're willing to pay the extra cost.
If your car is under a manufacturer's warranty, make sure you don't void the warranty by going to an independent repair shop.
Ideally, it's best to find a mechanic before you need one. Trying to find a reputable repair shop when your car breaks down is stressful, and may force you to choose a shop that doesn't suit your needs.
2Look for certification. Good mechanics sharpen their skills and back them up with proof. Technicians certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence have passed a voluntary competency test. Auto body and paint experts upgrade their skills through the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair. These certifications are generally displayed near the customer service desk.
Repair shops that are part of the Automotive Service Association have agreed to uphold a professional code of ethics, which includes furnishing an itemized bill of all parts and services. The invoice should list whether parts are new, used or refurbished. The mechanic should also allow you to inspect parts. Check www.asashop.org to find members.
It's also helpful to check with the Better Business Bureau to find out if the repair shop has received and resolved complaints.
3Seek references and ask questions. An honest mechanic won't balk if you request references. Feel free to ask how long the shop has been in business. Mechanics should be comfortable answering all questions about your car and any repairs. A good mechanic will give you a mini-education.
Also, be sure the technician has the right equipment to diagnose your car's problem. Today's vehicles contain several computer systems. Mechanics need to know how to find and address such issues.
4Inspect the cleanliness and organization of the shop. Repairing cars is dirty work, but waiting rooms should be neat and clean. Cars flowing in and out of the garage should be organized. Chaos at the garage may be a sign that the business is poorly managed.
5Find a specialist. Have constant problems with your exhaust system? Have a custom-built, high-performance vehicle? Find out if a local mechanic has expertise dealing with specific problems or a particular make of car. Some carmakers offer special classes that delve deeper into issues involving their vehicles.