How to choose the right repair shop

First of all, thank you for visiting our website. I’m grateful for the opportunity to provide you with information about auto repair and help you choose the right company. Over the years, we have learned that choosing the right repair shop can be confusing. In fact, people have so many misconceptions about auto repair shops that we have decided to offer this consumer information so when you need to select an auto repair company, you can make an informed, intelligent decision.

Start Looking Early

You should start shopping for a repair facility before you actually need one. Why? Because making a sound decision is more difficult when you are faced with a broken down vehicle that transports your family and gets you to work. Intelligent decisions are easier made after evaluating the facts. Emergencies create an emotional environment that thwarts clear and decisive action.

Some garages promote free inspections, but this is usually not to your benefit. The shop must recover the cost of the time it spends on the inspection in some way, and that usually results in trying to sell you repairs–whether you need them or not. All reputable auto care centers charge a nominal fee for basic inspections.

Visit the shop(s) you are interested in. Is it clean and orderly? Alternatively, does it look like it ought to be condemned by the health department? Ask their customers, “Why do you do business with this shop?” Answers such as: “They are the cheapest.” “They offer a lot of specials.” “Because the owner is a friend of my father’s.” … do not have much credibility. Look for such responses as: “They fix my car right the first time.” “I can trust them to do the job at a fair price.” “They welcome my questions and concerns and take the time to answer them.” “There are never any surprises when I come to pick up the car.” “They explain in plain English what the problem is and what my options are … patiently.” Good “word of mouth” like this is a great qualifier.

In addition, look for membership in such associations as the BBB (Better Business Bureau), SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers), and ASE (The Institute for Automotive Service Excellence). Involvement in these organizations tells you that the owner of the repair facility cares about the quality of the workmanship, and most likely operates by a code of ethics as required by the organization. In addition, membership in these associations usually requires that the shop subject itself to an arbitration process that is binding, should the need for arbitration between customer and shop arise.

Another factor to consider when choosing a repair facility is the equipment. Does the shop have state-of-the-art equipment such as hand held computer scanners and diagnosis software, digital volt-ohm meters, logic probes, lab scopes, and on-line computer systems like CAS, Alldata, or Mitchell-On-Demand? Don’t be afraid to ask the shop if they have this equipment. These systems and tools are necessary to diagnose and repair your hi-tech car accurately. Without them, fixing your automobile is a hit-and-miss proposition.

Automotive Specialist are Cost Effective

Sometimes it is best to take your car to a shop that specializes in repairing only your brand vehicle. Specialists cost more money initially. Because they are specialists, they often know how to pinpoint and repair certain types of problems more efficiently and effectively. Why? Because they deal with these problems every day; thus they have the knowledge, equipment, and information systems necessary to go directly to the problem. While “Joe down the street” is busy throwing parts at your car and floundering, the specialist usually diagnoses with laser-like accuracy, locates the problem and replaces only what is necessary. Consequently, less guesswork and fewer parts are being replaced, saving you money. Don’t be “penny wise and pound foolish.” The cost of diagnosis is often far less than the cost of the trial and error method when repairing today’s hi-tech vehicles. In the long run, you will spend far less and have less frustration using a shop that specializes in servicing/repairing your vehicle. There is an old saying; “Quality is not expensive, it’s priceless.” This is true when looking for a shop. Do not shop for price alone. It is important to remember that you’re not just paying for the cost of the part and the time it takes to install it, but you’re also paying for the professionalism and technical expertise of the technician.

A note about shop size: Some people think that because a shop is either smaller or larger, the price will vary greatly. That is not true these days. With the high cost of equipment, training, and information systems, prices between dealers, large independent shops and small independent shops are balancing out. As a matter of fact, in a lot of cases I’ve seen the larger repair facilities actually offer more competitive pricing compared to the ‘little guys.’ If the criteria we have discussed are in place, and the quality of the parts and warranties are equal, probably the pricing will be close. At that point, it is just a matter of whom you feel most comfortable with.

You Get What You Pay For

The next issue that arises when selecting a repair shop is the price. Let’s say that you do know that your car needs the shock absorbers and struts replaced. You call around to four places and (assuming you car is not an exotic) you get a price for the job over the phone. For the sake of argument, let’s say that you get prices of $200, $215, $195, and $129.95. Wow! Why such a difference between the first three and the last? Whenever you run across a drastic price difference, find out:

  • How do the warranties compare?
  • How does the workmanship and quality of the parts compare?
  • Does the shop have the equipment and training to do the job?
  • Does the shop employ qualified technicians?

Remember … you get what you pay for. That is a fundamental law of business, as rock solid as the law of gravity. Make sure you know why the differences exist; only then are you ready to make an informed decision on repairs.

Honesty and Communication are Key to Good Service

The backbone of any shop is the competence of the technicians. (True, this is a key ingredient, but the culture extended from the ownership to do the job right and do it honestly is the real backbone). Keep good records; keep all paperwork. (If the shop is up to speed and honest, they will have everything you do on file and can remember a warranty part much better than you, especially if you are loyal to them).

Reward good service with repeat business. It is mutually beneficial to you and the shop owner to establish a relationship. Trust is key to a good relationship. Most shops are honest and while most don’t realize it, auto repair shops provide more value and service than any other industry, this is why auto repair tends to thrive in bad economies.

If the service was not all you expected, don’t rush to another shop. Discuss the problem with the service manager or owner. Give the business a chance to resolve the problem. Reputable shops value customer feedback and will make a sincere effort to keep your business. (Communication is a key. If they are in the wrong they will take care of it, If you are in the wrong they will do the best to find a compromise. Remember, in hard retail goods the customer is ALWAYS right. In the service industry the customer is USUALLY right. Because you are buying a service that the providers know more about than you do. Customers in this industry are more likely to feel “ripped off” mostly because they don’t get to see and experience everything they are paying for. Remember, a technician can work many hours rebuilding your transmission and do it flawlessly. But, one grease spot on your floor mat and he just blew his reputation as a technician and is now considered a sloppy mechanic that couldn’t even keep the grease off of you floor mat. Why? Because you can SEE the grease on your floor mat. It is best to find a shop that has nothing to hide and is not afraid to show you everything you want to. (Beware, technicians are more likely to mess things up if your watching.) Statistically, an independent shops profit relies on earning your trust and most will do whatever it takes to get it even if it means taking a loss of revenue in hope you will be a repeat customer, that is what to look for and build a relationship with.)

Relationships Build Trust

Finally, I’d like to comment on the importance of building relationships. When customers and repair shops take the time to build relationships over a cup of coffee, watching families grow up, exchanging gifts during the holidays, or perhaps sharing the loss of a mutual acquaintance … trust and mutual respect grow. Now when the customer calls with a problem, the shop responds to the needs, even though they may have a full workload for that day or week. Or, perhaps the customer has a car that needs major work. The shop then becomes an adviser to the customer, suggesting the best repair options based on the customer’s need, budget, and the condition of the car. When it comes time to buy a car, the shop will check the vehicle out for the customer and evaluate its integrity. Don’t float around trying to find the ‘best deal!’ The ‘best deal’ is found in competent auto repair! Deal shopping is shortsighted and ultimately the most costly way to do car repair business. I strongly urge you to find a high quality repair shop, where you are able to reap the rewards of a good working relationship. It will be like coming in out of a driving rain where you are safe and secure, knowing that your best interest is at heart. I like doing business that way. I’m sure you do too.

Like any industry there are those that want to take advantage of you, and then there are those that want to do their job to the best of their ability and get compensated for it. Many confuse honesty with low price. It is expensive and time consuming to really know your stuff and operate a repair facility. You can have two of three things, but not all three: 1) Honesty, 2) Cheap, 3) Quality. Think about that.