Auto mechanics have reputations that are just as bad or even worse than lawyers. While we could argue about why this is all day the simple fact remains that a lot of auto mechanics and auto repair shops will rip people off and take advantage of unsuspecting consumers. The reason? Most people don't know jack about cars.
How can you prevent an auto repair shop and a mechanic from taking advantage of you? There are a few things to watch-out for when you searching for or already have a mechanic. Here are some questions you should ask.
1. What Cars and Vehicles do you Own?
If your mechanic owns a Luxury car which is nicer than your car, a expensive motorcycle, boat, ATVs, etc. than red flags better be going off in your head. A lot of auto mechanics make decent livings and they do enjoy toys with wheels and motors. However, keep in mind that a lot of their income goes into buying their own tools. Mechanics love buying the latest and greatest tools and a lot of them are in debt because of it. In addition it's not like they don't have the same housing and food expense as you.
While mechanics can find good deals on cars it's always good to ask them what vehicle they drive and how they acquired it. Something they should be happy to talk about. If it seems like they are raking it in and have a ton of vehicles which add up to a whole lot more money than you think a mechanic should be spending, they might be making up auto repairs your car needs. My suggestion is find another mechanic.
2. What Auto Repairs should I get done for Safety? What can wait?
Mechanics understand the difference between repairs that need to be done for safety reasons and repairs that can wait. You should work with auto mechanics that are concerned with your safety and those around you. Not what makes them the most money.
They'd love it if you got all the auto repairs they recommend get done all the time but we all know that is not going to happen. Ask them to itemize and prioritize if you are strapped for cash for auto repair work. If you are not strapped for cash this is still a good question to ask your mechanic.
3. Do you recommend another Shop or Anyone for ____?
A lot of times a normal auto repair shop (they do basic repair work like changing brakes, replacing alternators, etc.) is going to recommend specialty shops for certain repair jobs. If you need transmission work it might be something your mechanic can handle but they might prefer to refer you to a transmission shop that only does that. This sounds counter intuitive to their business but it's not if they want to make sure you get your car or vehicle fixed properly. Would you go back to them if they botched the transmission job?
At a Baltimore auto repair shop I used to work for the owner would refer people to another place if they needed to get new tires. He had a tire machine and wheel balancer but wanted to be honest with people that his pricing was going to be high since that he wasn't a specialty tire shop. Since it was a corner gas station that had a lot of traffic we did a lot of tire plugs and tire replacements when people had blowouts and just needed a tire fix. Other than that he usually didn't feel like ordering tires for customers since the profit are thin. This made people trust him more and he got more repeat customers and auto repair work because of it, sometimes even for replacing 4 tires since his nobody wanted to go anywhere else! 🙂
4. Do you have any certifications? How Many?
If they say, “No.” I honestly don't think it's a big deal. However, they should be honest with you about being ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certified or not and in what areas. In my opinion people are sometimes too focused on being “Approved” or having certain certifications for auto repair. There are lots of great mechanics that are not certified and they are lots of terrible ones that are.
Understand to get ASE certification you have spend time after work to go take a test. You also need to study for the test a significant amount but it's all a written test. No hands on diagnostic skills are tested at all. I'm not saying written knowledge is not valuable but this is something to be aware of. Also be aware there are several ASE tests you need to pass and people don't take them all at once but you can still claim “ASE certification” in a specific area of automotive repair. This is something to keep in mind mind when searching for an auto repair shop in your area and being certified is important to you.
A lot of auto mechanics might say, “I'm not certified, but I am process of getting my certifications.” This is very common since to go take a test you need to have at least 2 years of hands-on experience in the field. (2 years of auto tech school counts as 1 year by the way.) The company that administers the ASE tests only offers them at set times during the year and most auto mechanics only do 2 or 3 at a time. To get completely certified it takes quite awhile.
Also keep in mind that the certifications lapse after a period of time and you need to retake them to stay certified. It's common for a mechanics to let a certain auto repair certifications lapse by the time he takes another test. Some argue that ASE tests are really just a good money maker, kind of like the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), for the company since they charge for tests and licensing their brand. I don't totally disagree with detractors but there is some value to having a good book knowledge of how a car works and how to repair it.
5. What would do if this was your Car? (What part would you use?)
Probably one of the best questions you could ask an auto mechanic if you keep needing to bring your car in for different repairs. If they look surprised or puzzled by this question, than they clearly are not used to answering it. Any mechanic that isn't honest about the type of tires or parts they would use on their own cars is not a mechanic I would use. They should buy the best quality parts for your car they can and offer them to at a reasonable markup.
6. How do I do check ___?
When I worked in http://baltimoreautorepair.net/ I would always show people how to check their tires and oil when I was asked Basic stuff but some people never had someone show and I didn't mind as this saved me time and I was teaching someone how to do something. Understand if someone knows their tires are low because they checked them that means you know what to ask for. A better educated auto repair customer is a better one in my book.
Your mechanic should be willing to show you basic if asked and not mind doing it. If they do, I wouldn't use them.