8 Questions You Need to Ask When Choosing a Mechanic

The internet has made choosing everything from restaurants to metal back-scratchers easier than ever before, through the power of user reviews, photos, and testimonials. It has also added significant transparency to the process of finding a good mechanic. However, despite the wealth of information available online, there are still some things that are best determined through a direct discussion with a car repair professional when you’re deciding whether to entrust them with the upkeep of your vehicle.

To that end, we’ve come up with a list of 8 questions you need to ask before committing your car and your dollars to a repair shop.

1. Have you worked on my make and model before?

When you go in for a job interview, one of the first questions they ask you is, “What relevant experience do you have?” The same logic applies here. You want a mechanic that knows the ins and outs of your specific car so that they handle repairs with precision. Moreover, it’s not atypical for shops to specialize in a certain type or category of car, like Japanese makes for instance. In that case, you’d probably be better off finding another shop if you had a German car.

2. What associations do you belong to?

One of the primary functions of auto service organizations is to make certain standards, regulations, and ethical codes uniform across the automotive repair landscape. The largest such organization in the US is the Automotive Service Association, a 64-year-old non-profit organization aimed at advancing “professionalism and excellence in the automotive repair industry through education, representation and member services.” Checking to ensure your repair shop belongs to a reputable association is a sign that your car will be left in good hands when you take it in for maintenance or repairs.

3. Are your employees ASE-certified?

You probably wouldn’t let a non-trained, non-certified person in a white coat perform surgery on you, so why should you treat your car any differently? Mechanics worth their salt seek to obtain certification from the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), which has been working to improve the quality of vehicle repair and service by testing and certifying automotive professionals since 1972. To date, close to 300,000 automotive technicians and service professionals nationwide have received ASE certifications. Making sure your mechanic is ASE-certified is another nod in the direction of automotive professionalism, experience, and expertise.

4. Do you provide free estimates? Can I get a written estimate?

Some repair shops offer free diagnostic exams to figure out what the issues are with your car. Other shops, however, may charge for an estimate. In the latter case, pry by asking the mechanic to break down exactly how the estimate charge is determined. (By hour? Flat rate? Additional costs?) Moreover, make sure the repair shop can provide signed, detailed, and written copies of the estimate before working on your vehicle. Not only will this help you understand the breakdown of costs, but in the event legal action against the repair shop is required, having the estimate in writing with the shop's signature would make the process much easier for you.

5. Do you offer a warranty on your parts and services?

Many repair shops will offer written guarantees on parts and labor up to a certain time or mileage limit. While there’s no consensus average across the board, you may see repair shop warranties guaranteeing up to 1 year/12,000 miles or 2 years/24,000 miles. Some repair shops may even offer discounted repair or replacement costs for the same part after the warranty has expired. Get clarity by asking your mechanic to break down their warranty and guarantee policies.

6. When will you notify me of any unanticipated expenses discovered during repair?

Imagine this scenario: your mechanic provides you a written quote for a $300 fix to your engine. A week later, when you go to the shop to pick up your car, the mechanic tells you they discovered an additional problem with the transmission during repair, went ahead and fixed it—and are now billing you an additional $700 for the extra parts and labor. How do you feel now? Avoid this scenario by ensuring your repair shop notifies you with all unexpected/unanticipated expenses before (not after) they perform the work.

7. Will I get a detailed written invoice after repairs are complete?

In addition to the written quote, you’ll want a written invoice of work performed once repairs are finished. This will provide you with additional proof-of-service and warranty/guarantees in the event that a part becomes defective. Moreover, if you sell your car at a later date, the written invoice can be handy when explaining the chronology of work performed to prospective buyers.

8. Is the waiting room nice and clean? What’s the condition of the overall shop?

While this may seem like a more minor point, a clean, well-presented waiting room shows the repair shop takes pride in their business and their level of service to their customers. If, on the other hand, the floor is dirty, the chairs are old and ripped, there’s no AC and terrible lighting, can you really rely on your mechanic to deliver first-rate service to your car?