In this report
Overview

How to find a great mechanic

Last reviewed: September 2009
Pontiac, GMC dealership
Changing landscape
Some brands, such as Pontiac, soon will no longer exist, and many other automakers are reducing the number of dealers. If yours closes, an independent mechanic might be your best alternative for service.
Photograph by Ron Wilson

If the car dealership you've been using for service has closed, it's time to find a new mechanic. And unless you plan on driving a good way to the next nearest dealership, you might want to opt for an independent shop.

Your car will probably still be in good hands. According to a survey we conducted last year of owners of almost 350,000 vehicles, people who used independent mechanics were generally more satisfied than those who had their car serviced at a dealership.

If your car is under warranty, you will still need to go to a dealership for warranty repairs, but you won't need to go to the dealership for routine maintenance. Under federal law you have the right to have repairs performed anywhere you like without voiding the warranty.

But identifying a mechanic you can trust for your car takes a lot more than letting your fingers do the walking. You have to do a little old-fashioned sleuthing. There's no single clue to what makes a good repair shop, but here are some things you should look for:

Find a shop for your brand of car

Many garages specialize in certain makes. Those that focus on your type are more likely to have the latest training and equipment to fix your vehicle.

Ask your family and friends

Especially seek recommendations from those who have a vehicle similar to yours.

Search the Internet

Look for information about local mechanics on Angie's List (www.angieslist.com), RepairPal (www.repairpal.com), and the Mechanics Files at Cartalk.com. RepairPal and Cartalk.com provide those services free; Angie's List requires a subscription.

Check for certification

Your mechanic and shop should be certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, or ASE.

Check the Better Business Bureau

Auto repair shops rank 12th on the bureau's list of common complaints. Go to www.bbb.org; the information you find might help you figure out which shops you should avoid.

Give the shop a tryout

Before your car needs a big repair, you might want to try out some local shops with smaller repairs or maintenance items, such as oil and filter changes.

Ask about warranties

What kind of guarantees does the shop give on repair work? Warranties can vary greatly among shops, so ask about them ahead of time. Use a common repair, such as brake work, as your guide.

Make sure the shop is convenient

Even the best shop might not be worth the effort if its hours conflict with your schedule or you have few transportation options after you drop off the car.