Ten point checklist for visiting the repair shop
1. “My car died” isn’t the most helpful explanation you can provide.
While auto technicians are always happy to diagnose your car’s problems, giving them as many details as possible is the key to an efficient repair. “The more details a car owner can provide about a particular problem, the less they’ll pay in diagnostic time,” says Tony Molla, a technician who is certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). He encourages car owners to have answers to the following questions when they drop off their car: When does the problem occur? Are any dashboard lights illuminated? Can you describe what the car is doing or not doing when the problem occurs? Is the problem intermittent? Are there any unusual noises, odors or vibrations when the problem occurs?
2. Leave the diagnosing to us.
Doing your research and coming to the repair shop with all the details about your car is great. But don’t be so informed that you distrust your mechanic. “Sometimes a little knowledge is dangerous,” says Gus De Ipola, owner of APA Automotive Center in Woodland Hills, California. “It’s especially frustrating when a customer comes in having incorrectly diagnosed a problem and orders a specific repair. He may be wrong, but he doesn’t want us to argue with him.”
3. If you don’t have an appointment, be prepared to wait.
Minor repairs or safety checks can be performed while you wait, but according to Molla, it’s best to have a scheduled appointment. “It allows the shop to prepare in advance and allows enough time to do the job properly. If you drop by unannounced, you’re probably going to have to either leave the vehicle or wait while they work your repair into the day’s schedule.” Can’t wait to make an appointment? Molla recommends avoiding repair shops’ two busiest times: first thing in the morning, when everyone drops their car off, and around 5 p.m., when they pick it back up.
4. Pay attention to your warning lights.
“They’re called warning lights for a reason,” says Michael Anderson, proprietor of Wagonwork Collision Center & Consultants in Alexandria, Virginia, and member of the Automotive Service Association (ASA), an organization for auto business owners. Letting your car deteriorate because you don’t want to take the time to handle the problem when it first appears will only make things more difficult down the road. If you get your car serviced regularly (consult your owner’s manual for a recommended service timeline) and bring it in right away if you see a light come on, you can prevent larger repairs later on.
5. You may actually be the one to blame for certain car problems.
Worn-out brakes? Troubled transmission? You may actually be the one at fault when it comes to some automotive issues. Thanks to the way we drive, we often unknowingly inflict damage upon our vehicles. De Ipola notes that hill driving can wear down brakes, stop-and-go traffic can cause overheating and flooring it as soon as the light turns green can wreck a transmission. To prevent future problems, pay attention to road conditions, slow down for speed bumps and keep clear of the curb when parking—knocking into it can really mess up your car’s alignment, says Molla.
6. We wish you knew more about your warranty.
“It would be helpful if the customer would read their warranty to understand the limits of what is covered and who must do the service,” says Howard Fleischman, owner of Community Tire and Auto Services in Arizona and member of the Neighborhood Auto Repair Professionals Network (NARPRO), an organization for family-owned auto repair shops. He adds that many people leave the dealership believing they can only go there for services covered by the warranty, but often “that’s simply not true.” According to Fleischman, a qualified repair facility can perform all manufacturer maintenance to support warranty requirements. One thing to note: Most warranties cover breakage, not wear, so if your brakes are worn out from overuse, you might not be covered.
7. We like coming in under our estimate!
Think all auto technicians are out to swindle you? An honest repair shop aims to give you the best deal possible. “We shop the competition to be sure we’re in the right ballpark for maintenance costs,” says Fleischman. “For repair estimates we make an educated guess, but if we miss the mark and cut ourselves short, we just live with it. If it’s the other way around, we love the expression on our clients’ faces when we come in under estimate!” And don’t expect a very accurate estimate online or over the phone. “Oftentimes the vehicle owner just doesn’t have enough information, so an accurate estimate can’t usually be given on the Internet or over the phone,” says David Kusa, owner of Autotrend Diagnostic in Campbell, California, and an ASA member. The bottom line: Feel free to use the Web or call your shop to get a ballpark estimate for your repairs, but don’t expect to nail down an exact figure until you bring in your car.
8. Do your homework—it will pay off.
To be sure you’re seeing a trusted auto technician, look for credentials, such as Better Business Bureau ratings, ASE certification and AskPatty.com or NARPRO approval, says Fleischman. He also recommends checking out the shop you’re considering on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Look for positive comments, but also note how the shop responds to negative ones. “If they don’t reply to social media, they may not respond to customer concerns at their counter,” he says.
9. It’s best to have an exclusive relationship with your mechanic.
Once you’ve found a mechanic you trust, stick with him. “Auto repair is very much a relationship business,” says Molla. “Having a vehicle history with one repair shop will allow them to keep track of what work is done, and as mileage builds, they can recommend various periodic maintenance services that will keep your car running efficiently.” Plus, the more familiar your mechanic is with your car, the more likely he or she will notice when something seems off—which could prevent a major headache down the line.
10. Not every shop can accommodate your problem.
Don’t get frustrated if you bring your vehicle to get serviced only to be told the facility can’t help you. “Some repair shops only offer a limited menu of services. Some specialize in certain types of service, while others only service certain makes and models,” says Molla. “Full-service shops do exist, but it’s not unusual for them to refer a specific problem to a specialist, just like doctors do.” When considering a new repair shop, be sure to ask the service desk what types of repairs they typically handle so you don’t show up only to be turned away.