By Luigi Fraschini

Do you have your hair cut by the first barber you see? Do you let just any doctor give you your annual physical or deliver your family’s babies? Do you choose the first contractor who walks in the door when you’re going to do that big remodel?

If you answered no to these questions, we have to wonder why so many people aren’t nearly as discriminating when it comes to choosing a mechanic. After all, your car is both an important asset, and when service is done incorrectly, a potentially lethal weapon. You and your family rely on your car and on the safety of the equipment it offers. If your tires, suspension, brakes, lights, etc., are not in the proper operating condition, your life and the lives of your loved ones could be at risk.

With this in mind, you should search out a mechanic in the same way you’d search out a primary care physician. Don’t just pull a name out of the phonebook or off the Internet; do your due diligence so the mechanic you choose will give you the most for your money -- while at the same time helping ensure that your family is safe. If you’re doing it right, it’s a multistep process that doesn’t have to be painful but does have to be purposeful. And once you find a trusted mechanic for your family’s cars, you’ll have peace of mind that will be with you for years.

Here are some steps to help you find the right mechanic:

1. Ask around.

Your friends and family have probably had good experiences with technicians, and some will have had horror stories as well. Listen to both and act accordingly. Even in these Internet times, word of mouth from someone you believe is the best way to find a good auto mechanic. 

2. Read reviews online.

Word of mouth is often key, but one good experience with a mechanic doesn’t mean that every experience with her will be good. Some people might just not realize they’ve been had yet. And often, a mechanic might be perfectly adequate for one kind of job -- say an oil change or tire rotation -- and utterly unsuitable for a bigger, more complicated job. This is where the Internet can be so helpful. Jump on a search engine to seek out additional information about the mechanic or auto shop pointed out to you by a friend. Some national and local sites specialize in consumer reviews of services, so why not check those out? At the same time, be aware that the shop itself might be writing many of the reviews you come across.

3. Check for certifications.

Another element of your research should involve professional associations. The National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifies mechanics with an extensive battery of tests in various areas. The effort to get certified and stay certified is intense, so you can rest assured that mechanics who hold the industry certificates know their stuff. But that doesn’t mean that mechanics who aren’t certified might not be equally competent. Some are so busy fixing cars that they don’t take the time to get certified or to keep their certifications current.

The other side of the certification coin is to examine a mechanic’s record with the Better Business Bureau and with state and local consumer protection agencies. One or two complaints likely represent nothing more serious than a few sorehead customers who might never be satisfied. A pattern of complaints by consumers, on the other hand, is obviously a giant red flag.

4. Get a diagnosis.

Finally, talk with the mechanic. Get a gut feel for his competence by asking him to diagnose the problems you’re having with your car. If the mechanic seems to have all the answers, be wary. Most experienced technicians know that today’s vehicles are so complex that it’s not possible to find a quick, completely accurate diagnosis simply from hearing symptoms. Instead, a competent mechanic will likely respond with a short list of possible causes and fixes. In the final analysis, your impression on the honesty and ability of a prospective mechanic is critical to your peace of mind and your family’s safety.

Luigi Fraschini Driving Today Contributing Editor Luigi Fraschini writes frequently about car care and auto safety issues. He is based in Cleveland.



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