Needing an auto mechanic is never a good thing; even the smallest problems can quickly turn into repairs that cost hundreds (or thousands) of dollars. With car repair bills being so expensive, finding ways to pay less for car repairs is very important. Savvy money-savers have widely known for a while that car owners who go to independent car repair shops often pay less and are more satisfied than those who go to dealer service departments. However, there are a lot of unscrupulous independent auto repair shops out there who will charge you for services that were not rendered or low-ball you with an estimate before shocking you with the final bill. To avoid these untrustworthy auto shops, you should ask the right questions to find an auto repair shop that you trust.
One of the first things you should do when searching for an auto repair shop is ask friends and family for their recommendations. This is a great way to narrow down your options to just a few that have good reviews from people you trust. If someone recommends a shop, ask them why they recommend them, what the pricing was like, and what type of work they had done there. Some shops may do a great job at routine oil changes, but aren't so great when it comes to more extensive work.
Can I purchase my own parts for my car or do I have to buy them through you?
Some shops will let you bring in parts for them to use for repairs, while others insist they get the parts from their own suppliers. There are pros and cons to each, but, generally speaking, you're going to pay more for parts bought through the shop than you would if you bought them yourself. Ask the mechanic whether or not you can supply your own parts before bringing your vehicle in for service.
Does your shop give written estimates?
When you're just getting acquainted with a new auto shop, getting a written estimate for repairs is very important to avoid financial surprises. The final bill should be in the same ballpark as the written estimate. Also, the shop owner should agree to call you if additional work is needed that would cause the final bill to greatly exceed the initial estimate. In some states, such as California, it is required by law for an auto shop to provide a written estimate. Know what is required by law in your state. If an auto shop is cutting corners by failing to provide you with a written estimate, then that may be a red flag that they're cutting corners on some other things, such as your car repairs.
What happens if I'm not satisfied with the work done on my vehicle?
There's not much worse than getting your car back from the mechanic, only to discover the work was poorly done. Before taking your car in for service, make sure you fully understand what your options are if you aren't satisfied with the service. Some shops will offer you a full refund, while others will claim no liability for client satisfaction.
Does your shop provide towing?
Some shops will provide towing if your vehicle is broken down and they do the work. Check with the mechanic before getting the vehicle towed, however, to find out whether they provide towing or not, and how much you can expect to pay. If they provide free towing on the condition that you get the work done at their shop, make sure you really want them to do the work before getting your car towed there. Otherwise, you may be on the hook for towing costs and possibly even repair costs.
Do you provide a warranty or guarantee on work done at your shop?
Most reputable shops will provide some type of warranty on their work. Check with the mechanic to find out the specific warranty details and limitations, and also whether the warranty covers labor, parts or both.
Is your shop approved by the AAA?
The American Automobile Association (AAA) maintains a list of about 7,800 auto shops across the country that pass their stringent tests and standards. AAA checks to see if the shop's staff mechanics are certified in various automotive systems. When you go with an auto shop that is approved by AAA, you can be rest assured that you're getting a reputable auto shop. Also, if you're a AAA member you'll probably get a discount on the services.
Which services does your shop provide?
Make sure you understand which services the shop provides before dropping your car off, especially if extensive repairs are needed. Some shops may contract out work they don't perform in-house, which can add significantly to the final bill.
Do you offer any discounts or promotions?
Some shops run specials or deals for new clients, but don't always advertise them. Ask whether there are any current promotions or deals you can apply toward service costs. You may also want to ask about any ongoing promotions that could save you money later on.