6 Tips for Finding a Good Mechanic Who Won’t Break the Bank

finding a good but cheap mechanicFinding a mechanic that you can rely on isn’t easy. While there are undoubtedly some great mechanics out there, knowing who to trust can be difficult, and making the wrong decision can be costly.

Here are 6 tips for not getting stung when you need a mechanic:

1. Stay Local
When deciding where to take your vehicle, you have three main choices: a big national auto chain, a dealership, or a local mechanic. At an auto chain or dealership, you’ll find mechanics who are particularly skilled at working with your make of car, but this comes with an inflated price tag in most cases. With a local mechanic, you’ll often get more personalized service as well as lower prices, and will be able to have much closer contact with the mechanic who is actually doing the work on your car.

Moreover, because local mechanics rely on a good reputation and positive word-of-mouth to bring in new customers, there’s a much bigger incentive for them to perform quality services and gain your trust. They won’t develop long-term relationships with customers if they sneakily add on extra jobs to bump up the final bill, so it’s in their interest to play fair. Dealerships and national auto chains are less reliant on this type of relationship, so they’re not as bothered if you don’t use them again. That’s not to say that all dealerships and big auto chains are necessarily out to sting you, but one of the disadvantages of going to a dealership for a service is the strong emphasis on getting maximum profits rather than looking to build relationships with customers. They are more about quantity than quality.

If you decide to go the local mechanic route, ask around and see if any particular names come up multiple times. If you notice the same mechanic being recommended by different people, that’s probably a great place to start.

2. Check their Reputation and Affiliations
Once you’ve got a name or two to go on, head over to the Better Business Bureau website to see what kind of reviews a particular garage has received. You might also want to take a look at the Mechanic Files tool on the Car Talk website. You can search for mechanics in your area (including those who specialize in particular makes) and see what ratings they’ve been given. Ratings on this site are based on factors such as how much they charge, how quickly you can expect them to complete work on your car, how trustworthy they are, and their level of skill and competency.

It’s also a good idea to check their affiliations. Is the repair shop affiliated with the likes of the American Automobile Association (AAA), the Automotive Service Association (ASA), or the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). It’s no guarantee of trustworthiness, but it may indicate that the mechanics have received a certain degree of training or that the repair shop has demonstrated acceptable levels of ethics.

3. Do Your Homework
If you’ve got some idea of what might be wrong with your vehicle, you’re less likely to be seen as a potential victim who can be walked all over by the mechanic. Doing some background research on the potential causes of your problem can give you a rough idea of what you should be spending, and it will allow you to speak intelligently with the mechanic.

4. Get the Quote in Writing
Once you have your quote, get written confirmation so that the price can’t be jacked up on you. This also reduces the likelihood of finding adds-ons tacked onto the bill for work that wasn’t part of the original quote.

5. Gut Check: Do they Seem Legit?
Are the prices prominently displayed? Is it easy to find information on the warranty terms? A good mechanic will have this kind of information on display so that customers will not be confused. You’re right to be wary if you don’t see evidence of this!

Are you given any alternative options to reduce your bill, or are you just given the one solution? Depending on the problem that brought you to the mechanic in the first place, there may be more than one way to fix it, and some options will undoubtedly cost more than others. It can’t hurt to ask!

Are you allowed to stay and watch while work is performed on your car? If they don’t have anything to hide, there shouldn’t be a problem with you waiting around to assess the situation.

6. Are Problems Resolved?
If you do run into problems, you can learn a lot from how the situation is handled. An honest mechanic will want to resolve the problem as quickly as possible and retain your business rather than run the risk that you’ll warn others against using them. How they handle any unexpected obstacles is a telltale sign of the shop’s dependability and quality.

Final Word
What are your tips for finding a good mechanic that can be relied on without having to pay a small fortune? On the flip side, how can you tell if a mechanic is going to be a nightmare to work with? As always, I’d love to get your thoughts on the subject!

(photo credit: Alan Vernon)

26 thoughts on “6 Tips for Finding a Good Mechanic Who Won’t Break the Bank

  1. Misty

    There are adanatage to using a dealership if you have a rare or late model vehicle. These manufacturer endorsed mechanics are trained by the auto makers and know about your car’s recalls and bulletins. Also they have diagnostic equipment that other shops do not have access to.

    1. Ken Trough

      Any reputable shop will be subscribed to services that provide access to all TSB or Technical Service Bulletins including recalls and upgrades that have come out since your vehicle was purchased. While it is true that dealers have access to certain types of computerized equipment, this is usually not so much diagnostic equipment as gear for reprogramming your vehicle’s computer systems (which is a rare occurrence). In the year that I have been working in a small independent shop, we’ve had to send vehicles to the dealer for programming on perhaps three or four occasions.

      Also, dealers are not usually keen on providing free diagnostics, where smaller independent shops often provide more in this regard. Our shop, for instance, provides free computer scans which is usually about a $75-$100 charge at the dealer.

      There are advantages to working with dealer shops, but the disadvantage of a much higher cost for any type of repair or diagnostic usually outweighs them.

  2. Car Negotiation Coach

    I always like going with word of mouth. Nothing beats a referral. When I move to a new area, I ask everyone I meet who their favorite mechanic, doctor, and plumber is (not necessarily in that order)!

  3. martin

    also. Does the shop look busy? Does the shop look efficient? Are they working on cars like yours.(no use going to good Honda shop with a Ford).

  4. Jimmy1920

    I want to echo Martin’s suggestion.
    There are a slew of garages near where I work. I drove up and down the road and stopped at the most crowded one.
    I have done well, so far. And I have always gotten same day service.
    The fact that it is within walking distance of my office is a huge plus.

  5. twentysomethingmoney

    I found that larger chains of mechanics, always had a good reputation. Sure, you pay more for the service, but you have a national brand behind you, ensuring the work is done right, and any issues are resolved quickly.

  6. Oh Crap, I'm Broke

    I’d like to echo what Misty and Car Negotiation Coach said. First, I really believe I can always trust the dealer to actually diagnose and FIX my car. I’ve had problems with just about every mechanic I just walked into and that includes some national brands.

    On the otherhand, whenever I’ve gotten a word of mouth referral from someone, the mechanic has always been stellar(or usually anyway).

  7. lovely leverage

    I have a tip that can be applied to all contractors, find someone who doesn’t outsource his/her work. I’ve dealt with some contractors who like to outsource their jobs to a third party, but you have no control over the sub-contractor.

  8. Ryan

    I think mechanics will rely heavily on social media and referrals in the future considering every mechanic myself and my family has gone to have been through referrals. This business in particular really seems to be built on trust.

  9. Money for Regular People

    I agree that going with the honest local mechanic is good advice most of the time. However, cars are vastly more complicated now than they used to be, and sometimes there is no substitute for a specialized mechanic that can be found at a place like a dealer. In short, for brakes, oil changes, radiators, and so forth think local. For emissions, air conditioning and similar issues think dealer (or a specialist for your model of car).

  10. Debt Donkey

    Very helpful thoughts. I happen to have a neighbor who is a mechanic, and he’s a guy I trust, so it’s an unusually good situation. I’d rely on word of mouth from trusted friends if I had to start looking for another mechanic, but this article lays out some good, common sense advice. Thanks!

  11. Candles Online

    Here’s a tip – don’t try to act like you know it all. Believe it or not, my brother just had his car serviced by a local car dealer. He wasn’t worried because they’re big and can’t afford to cheat people, right?

    He didn’t even get a quote – just told them to do the work.

    He picks up the car and he now owes $2,900!!!

    It’s a good thing he thinks the car is running GREAT. I think he’s justifying the cost. Personally, I always ask for a quote before they start anything.

  12. Car Sales Guy

    Before I got into the car sales business I was a mechanic for 15 years. Finding an honest mechanic is a chore to say the least, but it’s gotten easier with the internet and the ability for previous customers to be able to leave reviews.

    Beyond that one of the things that I find that I do is go look at their shop. Is it clean? Are the mechanics wearing company uniforms? Do they have the certifications that a modern mechanic needs? Modern cars are much more complex than they were back in the day when I was working on them. If a guy proudly displays his certifications and keeps a clean business those are both indicators that he will be a true pro.

    And at the end of it all there’s no substitute for word of mouth. Online reviews can be faked to a degree. But a friend that has used a certain mechanic for years and trusts them can be a good line to finding “your new personal mechanic” and building a relationship with them.

  13. Ridley Fitzgerald

    Thanks for the tips for finding a good mechanic. I like how you talked about doing your own homework on your car. If you know what you are looking for, the mechanic won’t be able to pull a fast one on you. That’s something I need to work on.

  14. Ridley Fitzgerald

    I appreciate the tips for finding a good mechanic. We just moved here, and I want to try and find somewhere to take our cars before something actually happens. I didn’t know about the AAA, ASA, or the ASE, so that is good to know that I should check for those affiliations!

  15. Silas Knight

    Finding a good mechanic is so important. I don’t know how to fix anything on my own car, so it’s doubly important for me! When I move next month, I will definitely start looking locally, so I can get more personalized service.

  16. Alice Jones

    I like your tip about checking their reputation before you take your car to them for repairs. By knowing their reputation and their affiliations it’s a good indicator on whether or not they will be a trustworthy auto repair service shop. I also believe that car owners should do this research before they have car problems so that they’re not in an auto repair emergency without a chosen mechanic.

  17. John

    I really liked the suggestion to go local when choosing a mechanic. It states that since local mechanics rely on reputation and customer referrals, they’re more likely to perform quality services. I don’t know much about cars, so I pretty much have to trust a mechanic’s diagnosis of any problem my car may be facing, so it makes it that much more important to me to find a reliable mechanic I can trust 100%. Going local seems like it would be my best option to do so.

  18. Silas Knight

    We need to find a new mechanic, now that we’ve moved. It’s hard to stay local, since we don’t know anything about our local area yet, but I agree it’s the best option. We’ll just have to ask around, like you said.

  19. Ernest London

    I like your idea to get a written confirmation on a quote when you get an estimate. That way, you will have the price in writing and you will be prepared to pay it. I am trying to find a mechanic to help me get my car roadworthy again, because it is in rough shape. I will definitely keep these tips in mind as I look around for the right auto shop, thanks for sharing!

  20. Max

    My wife’s car really needs to get some automotive repairs, and I want to make sure that I find the right shop to take it to. I’m glad that you talked about being able to get the quote in writing, and I would like that security of having the price that won’t go up as we shop around. Hopefully we can check out a few different options for mechanics, and get some quality and much needed auto repairs for her car! Thank you!

  21. Ridley Fitzgerald

    Thanks for the great tips for finding a mechanic. I agree that looking at local shops is the best bet, since they’re normally more willing to keep your business. We just moved towns, so we’ll need a new mechanic soon!

  22. Amanda Drew

    Thanks for pointing out that local mechanics tend to rely on positive word-of-mouth and have a bigger incentive to do a good job. My car keeps on pulling to the right, and I think that my alignment may be off. Your tips will help me find a good local repair shop that I could take it to.

  23. Hector Uba

    Thanks for the tips on how you can find a good mechanic that is also a reasonable price. I agree that you should be getting your quotes written down so you have something to look back on. I would say that finding a quality mechanic is one of the best services you can do for yourself.

  24. Bernard Button

    Thanks for the advice on choosing a mechanic. I like how you said that we’ve got to do our own homework, like background checks and things, before we decide. We’re hoping to find a mechanic in our new neighborhood, so I’ll remember what you’ve said.

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