2008-06-12

How to find a good auto repair shop  

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As an Auto Tech I worked in three different repair shops. As an automotive equipment salesman, I have walked into and talked with literally hundreds of shops. It became easy to separate the successful, thriving shops from the poorly run, burned out shops, simply by their appearance, attitude, and equipment. I wanted to share my observations so that others can be successful in finding a high quality, honest repair shop.


One of the best ways I have found to locate a great auto repair shop is through word of mouth. Ask around. If someone is raving about a great shop, then do your online research, and go check them out.

First things first – Before walking into a shop, let’s do some checking online.
  • Do a Google search on the shop name, address and phone number. There are too many sites out there that report on auto repair scams, so I find a general search to be best. I recommend searching on the address and phone number separately just in case the shop changes names to avoid bad publicity. If you know the owner’s name, search on that too.
  • Go to BBB.org, and again search on name, address and phone number. Look for a history of complaints.
  • Go to autorepair.iatn.netand look for shops in your area that have technicians who are IATN members. IATN, or International Automotive Technician’s Network, is an online community exclusively for automotive professionals. IATN membership does not necessarily guarantee a great repair shop, but it’s a step in the right direction. At least you have a tech who is computer literate and is actively involved in his or her profession. A bonus is that you actually be able to identify the name of the IATN member. You can google the name, or even ask for him or her by name when you visit the shop.
  • Go to www.AAA.com and pull up a list of AAA approved auto repair facilities in your area. AAA has fairly stringent requirements for their approved facilities, so they are doing much of the work for you. I would consider AAA approval to be one of the bests indicators I know of to identify an honest, well equipped auto repair facility.
  • Some shops participate in the ASE Blue Seal program and can be located online here ASE Blue Seal link. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence is the leading certification program for automotive technicians, and is another good indicator of a high quality shop. Keep in mind that if a shop is not listed in the Blue Seal program, they may still have employees who are ASE certified.
OK, so hopefully by now you have at least a couple repair shops in mind based on your online efforts. Rather than call for an appointment, why not go and ask for an appointment in person? This way you can inspect the shop on your first visit, before handing over the keys to your car. Don’t expect to have your car serviced right away, even though some shops may be able to do so. Most high quality shops tend to also be very busy shops, and will usually require an appointment.
  • Outside appearance – The outside should be clean and well lit. If you see used auto parts laying around, then just ask for directions and run away. Is the landscaping maintained? So many times the answer is no. If the management can’t keep up with the outside appearance, what else are they missing?
  • Look for signs of pride – You’ll not only see this on the outside, but everywhere. The office, shop, outside, bathrooms, should all be clean and welcoming. You should be greeted warmly. In larger shops, someone should always be at the counter. In smaller shops though, with only one or two people, you may have to wait a minute or two for the owner or Tech to stop what they are doing to greet you. I find this acceptable as long as they are pleasant and happy to see you.
  • Look for ASE signs or certifications hanging on the wall. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence is the leading certification program for automotive technicians. Their site is www.asecert.org. ASE certification is no guarantee, but it shows that someone in the shop has seen the long term benefit in taking the time to read, study and pass the exams. What you really want to check for is a technician who is a Master Automobile Technician, meaning they have passed all 8 areas of auto repair certification.

Great! So you found a very promising shop and now are ready to let them service your car. I would suggest that you start off by letting them perform some routine maintenance, like an oil change. This allows you to test them out without having much at stake. If they treat you well, then you can always come back for more. I always recommend finding a great shop before you need major repairs. Having your car coming into the shop on the back of a tow truck doesn’t exactly give you a lot of leverage.

Also, I recommend that you treat your local auto repair shop as nicely as they treat you. What I mean is, let them do all of your repairs, not just the tough ones. Let them service your car on the easy (and profitable) stuff like tires, oil changes, and routine maintenance. Your will gain their loyalty, so that when your car is broken down, or you are in a pinch, they will go out of their way to accommodate you. Its kind of like getting a table at your favorite restaurant when they are all booked up. They always make room for their loyal customers.

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