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How to Choose an Auto Mechanic You Can Trust

Ask the right questions and avoid red flags to make sure your vehicle is in good hands


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Most people spend lots of time considering which vehicle to purchase, but few put as much effort into finding a trustworthy mechanic to maintain and repair that car once it’s no longer covered under under warranty. If you want to keep your vehicle in top condition for the next five to 10 years, it’s important to work with a reputable auto shop — which usually offers repairs at a better price point than the dealership. ​

How to Find a Repair Shop

The American Automobile Association offers an AAA-approved Auto Repair Facility Locator so you can find an ASE-certified mechanic near you.​

 ​Here are some things to keep in mind — and some red flags to watch out for. Start with these questions. ​

Who do people recommend? 

Get referrals from friends, family members and colleagues, suggests Amy Mattinat, owner of Auto Craftsmen, an independent auto repair service center in Montpelier, Vermont.

“Ask where they go, how long they’ve been going and what they drive,” Mattinat says. “You want the best facility that’s going to give you what you need to make informed decisions about your vehicle.”​

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Is the mechanic certified?​

While automotive technicians aren’t required to be licensed in the U.S., the nonprofit National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence offers nine levels of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification that ensures mechanics are properly trained for vehicle repair and maintenance, Mattinat says.

“You want a repair facility that has an ASE-certified master technician on staff — someone who is certified in at least eight of those levels,” she says.

Other credentials a shop might have include ASE’s Blue Seal Program, the American Automobile Association’s AAA-approved Better Business Bureau accreditation, and AskPatty.com’s Certified Female Friendly designation.

“A shop that really cares is going to have as many credentials as they can, and [will] proudly display them,” Mattinat says. “Any shop that takes those extra steps to get accredited will also take extra steps for you.”

Can the shop repair your specific model?

While most garages can handle routine maintenance and standard repairs, many specialize in certain types of cars. When searching for a repair shop, ask whether they service your car’s make and model, advises mechanic Andrea Dello Russo, owner of Andrea’s Auto, a repair shop in Edgartown, Massachusetts.

“Vehicles are constantly changing, so the best thing you can do is ask, ‘Are you comfortable working on this?’ ” she says.

Make sure the garage has access to the manufacturer’s latest technical service bulletins, which detail how to fix common problems on specific cars. You want confirmation that the shop has the training, knowledge and equipment for your make and model, Mattinat says.

“Many drivability problems are connected to the computer of the car; it’s not just turning wrenches anymore,” she explains. “Unfortunately, there is not one scan tool that works on all makes and models, so if you drive a Volvo, you want a shop that has a Volvo technician and up-to-date diagnostic equipment so they can connect to your car and take care of technical problems.”

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It’s a good sign if a mechanic tells you what they don’t do; often, they’ll refer you to a shop that specializes in transmissions, mufflers or air-conditioning systems.

Is there pricing transparency?

Prices for maintenance and repairs can vary wildly, and while some shops post a price list, many offer estimates on the spot, says Dello Russo.

“I have a list of standard prices for hourly rates and certain mileage inspections, but a water pump repair depends on the age of your vehicle and the amount of rust that the mechanic sees, so that’s subject to change,” she explains.

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Does the garage have a good reputation?

You can learn a lot about a garage by reading online reviews, but don’t limit yourself to looking at what drivers post on social media or on a shop’s website, notes Mattinat.

“Periodically, a shop will get a bad review, but how the shop responds to that review says a lot about how it communicates with its customers,” she says.

Can you try a place out?

Test out a garage and its customer service by taking your car in for a simple service like required maintenance or an oil change, suggests Dello Russo.

“A good repair shop will then say, ‘We’ve done this service; here are some things you should be looking out for next,’ ” she says. “Maybe your tires aren’t looking that great, or you should change your air filters at your next oil change. The more information you’re getting out of a simple service, the more you can trust the repair shop for something bigger.”

Many garages will do a courtesy inspection of your car as the first step in building a long-term relationship.

“A shop that wants to do a courtesy inspection is looking to get a baseline for your vehicle; even if you come in for just an oil change or a tire rotation, you really want them to be looking at all the safety issues,” Mattinat says.

Safety first, then reliability, and then we’ll keep an eye on what’s coming down the road so that you can start saving for the future.”

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 ​4 Red Flags to Be Aware of When Choosing a Mechanic

If you’ve asked all the right questions of the garage or mechanic you’re leaning toward, also keep in mind that there are some things that should make you think twice.

1. Rock-bottom prices

Watch out for low-ball fees quoted over the phone, especially if the service adviser doesn’t ask any questions, says garage owner Amy Mattinat. If they give you a flat fee for an oil change without checking what kind of car you drive, that’s a bad sign.

“A shop that advertises a $19.95 oil change tells me they don’t have a master technician on staff, because they earn $25 to $35 an hour. If you’re going in there for something that cheap, the technician getting paid the least is the one that’s going to be working on your car,” she warns.

2. The jack-of-all-trades

Beware of shops that say they handle anything, because often, you’ll end up paying more, Mattinat says.

“When someone isn’t trained, they don’t know what they’re looking for. You don’t want a shop that’s just going to type in the code they find in the computer and start replacing parts. That can be very expensive, and parts can be put onto cars that weren’t needed,” she says.

3. Mechanics who do extra work without asking

If you go in for routine maintenance or an oil change and the shop comes back with a $300 bill or three pages of work they say you need, be suspicious, says repair shop owner Andrea Dello Russo.

“Generally, if you’ve driven your car there and you didn’t think there were any problems, then be cautious,” she says. “Any lengthy or large dollar estimate deserves a second opinion.”

4. Bad communicators

It’s important to keep asking questions until you understand what’s going on with your car.

“I always ask, ‘Did that make sense to you?’ ” says Mattinat. “My job is not to sell repairs and maintenance; it’s to give information about why it’s important, how much it’s going to cost, how fast we can get it done, and then say, ‘What do you want to do?’ ”

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close up of a gold car parked near the water during sunset

AARP Auto Buying Program Powered by TrueCar

Shop for a car with safety features you want. Buyers can get a free AARP Smart Driver course.

close up of a gold car parked near the water during sunset

Please Select Make

Please Enter ZIP Code

Please Select Make

Please Enter ZIP Code