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How to Outsmart Your Mechanic or Find a Better One

Middle aged mechanic explaining to young man the maintenance procedures performed on his car

If you’re lucky enough to have a trusted mechanic with whom you’ve done business for years, you know he’s worth his weight in gold. Unfortunately, most of us don’t know an “Honest Abe” we can turn to every time we have car trouble. Consequently, that often puts us at the mercy of a stranger who pops open our hood – only to give us instant bad news – true or not.

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Dealerships can be expensive

Anyone who’s ever taken their car into the local dealership for major repairs that weren’t covered by the manufacturer’s warranty may have been brought to tears when the service writer announced what the parts and labor would cost. That’s why so many people seek out an independent mechanic to do the work in hopes of getting a better shake when it’s time to pay up.

However, you should be cautious when shopping for a new mechanic to take care of your four-wheeled pride and joy. While there are plenty of professional, trustworthy mechanics in your area who will treat you and your car right, the trick is finding one who won’t gouge you with a smile after creating more problems than you started out with because the repairs were above his pay grade.


Today’s cars are highly-complicated machines

Because today’s cars have become highly-complicated machines that require specialized equipment to complete necessary repairs – and most of us have no clue whether we need this or that fixed – we’re forced to take the word of a so-called expert with grease on his elbows.

Below are just a few of the ways to make sure you’re not taken for a financial ride or risk having your vehicle ruined:


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  1. Start by getting recommendations

Ask people whose opinion you value where they take their car for service. This is generally the best way to find a good and inexpensive mechanic.

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  1. Look for certifications and licenses on display

A reputable mechanic will proudly display ASE (National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence) or AAA (American Automobile Association) certifications on his wall. This lets his customers know he has the expertise and training to work on their vehicle. A state license, which is required in many states, should also be visible.

Portrait of a mechanic at work in his garage

  1. The garage clean and organized

If the place is dirty and messy with rags and other debris all over the floor, you may be disappointed with the repairs or how your vehicle is treated.



  1. Know what you’re getting in writing

Before you agree to have any work done on your vehicle, you should receive a written estimate of the repairs. It should be included on an itemized invoice. If you hear: “we don’t know what’s wrong – how can we give you an estimate?” you should reconsider your choice.


  1. Don’t fall for the transmission, power steering, or fuel injector flush

Many of the quickie lube joints use this tactic to make well-over what they charge an unwitting customer for an oil and lube job. If your new mechanic starts off with this recommendation, grab your car keys and leave immediately. Newer cars don’t need this service unless you drive a ridiculous amount of miles annually.



  1. Beware of cheap brake jobs

A cheap brake job usually means the use of cheap parts and pads. Request the mechanic use OEM (original equipment) parts or equivalent.  They may cost a few bucks more, but they’ll also last longer and keep you safer.



  1. Be sure the shop has the latest engine diagnostic equipment

In order to properly diagnose an engine problem or isolate the cause of your engine light coming on, your mechanic requires the latest equipment. If he tries to convince you he doesn’t need any special “gizmos” to do his job, it’s doubtful he’ll be able to diagnose the problem correctly except through guesswork.


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  1. Get a second opinion before replacing your catalytic converter

Some vehicles have two catalytic converters and replacing only one is expensive enough – much less two. Before you agree to have the catalytic converter on your vehicle swapped out by a shop you’re not familiar with, get a second opinion. You may find out there’s nothing wrong with it and save yourself some money.

In the end, trust your gut feeling in choosing a mechanic. If something doesn’t feel right, stick with your local dealership until you find the right shop for you.

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