When selecting car repair providers, research and comparison-shopping is true power. It’s well worth taking the time to do your homework about which shops have a track record for satisfied customers and affordable prices—and the extra effort usually uncovers consumer complaints so that you can further narrow your choice of shops.
Remember: one of the most powerful negotiating tools is to get two or more itemized estimates from different shops. Even if your car was towed in, you don’t have to repair there—competing shops will often move your car for free to their facility and may perform the repairs for less money.
FINDING THE BEST, MOST AFFORDABLE SHOPS:
Your first, best stop: AutoMD.com’s Right Auto Shop Repair Finder
This is the Internet’s largest database of auto repair businesses in the U.S., with more than 400,000 listings. A simple search will ONLY return shops relevant to your zip code, make/model, and specific car problem, if you know it. AutoMD.com’s detailed listings include: contact info, average hourly labor costs, shuttle and payment info, forms of payment, maps/directions, and real-world consumer reviews and ratings to help you establish a smart “short list” to get a diagnosis and/or repair estimate. These local listings are easily sorted by: distance, lowest hourly rates or customer ratings.
START CALLING & WHAT TO SAY:
Once you’ve narrowed down your search, call each shop on your list and ask to speak directly with a Shop Manager who can assist you in determining the problem you’re having with your car.
Your Calling Information Goals
When you call your list of shops you want to:
If you nail down this info from the shops on your short list, you’ll be more than armed to make a better decision on where to take it.
* Verify upfront that they do work on the year, make, and model of your vehicle—and, most importantly, if they specifically perform that repair. For example, some shops only do work on the underbody (exhaust, brakes, suspension), while others have expertise with major engine components. Verifying that the shop specializes in what you may need helps ensure that repairs will be done correctly and safely.
* Ask if they have a few minutes to go over your symptoms to verify you’re addressing the right problem at the right shop. Keep in mind they are busy, and can’t answer endless questions—but you’re looking for someone you can trust, and they should be willing to take a few minutes to make sure that they can help you. Make it clear you’re doing your research and are looking for the right shop to correctly diagnose and fix what’s wrong and, importantly, to repair only what needs to be fixed.
* Explain your AutoMD.com Diagnosis to validate if the shop manager believes the symptoms you’ve described require the same repairs. This gives you tangible insight into if he/she is more interested in finding out what’s really wrong before you come in, or—red flag—they just want to you to “bring it on down” without any explanation.
* Other questions to ask: about their prices, how much experience the shop mechanics have and how they handle customer complaints.
* Establish what warranties/guarantees on parts and labor the shop promises up front. While most repair businesses offer some kind of guarantee (i.e., a 30-day guarantee on all work performed, or 90-day guarantee on all parts), they are NOT required by law to do so.
* Ask if there are fees (and what they are) to simply diagnose—and not fix—your vehicle. That way if you decide to repair elsewhere, you know what you could expect to pay for another mechanic to take a look.
* More and more car owners are deciding to bring their own parts to the shop to save money by comparison-shopping and purchasing online. If you plan to do this, ask the Shop Manager upfront if you can bring in your own parts.
Tips When Choosing Repair Shops
* Beware of similar “Repair Shop Finders” at websites that simply function as generic “Yellow Pages” listings (for example, body shops come up when you want a brake job!) or recommendations from sites that take advertising money and return sponsored listings first.
* Do as much extra research as you can: everything from word-of-mouth, car research and review sites, and resources like the Better Business Bureau, Small Business Administration or even your local Chamber of Commerce.
* With the explosion of online review sites and directories (including Yelp, Google Local, Yahoo, Citysearch, Insider Pages, Merchant’s Circle, etc.), there are many forums where you can get a strong sense of what real-world people have experienced at local repair businesses, good and bad—and you can even get names of their favorite mechanics.
* The Better Business Bureau is online and offline: you can check a business's standing and whether there are any unresolved complaints against the shop.
* Ask friends, co-workers, etc. for their recommendations, and/or whether they know people who have used the shops you’re considering; this is a great way to shorten—or lengthen—your working list of shops.
* If possible, try to put three to four shops on your calling “short list.”