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8 Signs You've Found the Right Auto Shop

How can you be assured your money has been well spent? Follow these guidelines

two cars in an auto shop
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mechanic writing an auto estimate for repair work
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The first rule of finding a good auto-service shop: Ask about finding a good auto-service shop.

“If you’ve got people saying, ‘I’ve used this guy for 20, 30 years and he’s always been good,’ you don’t want to ignore that,” says Heath Knox, a veteran of an AAMCO transmission shop and a Chevrolet dealership who now helps maintain a fleet of trucks for a company that deices airplanes at Pittsburgh’s airport. Here are some more things to look for when hiring someone to maintain or repair your vehicle.

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1. The shop has the right certifications.

Look for blue-and-white ASE emblems; this indicates that the technicians have passed tests and been certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. “With technology changing at such a rapid pace, experience can't offset a lack of training,” says Dave Cappert, veteran auto technician and now campus administrator for ASE.

2. The shop has a good reputation.

Cappert says it's a good idea to establish a relationship with a dealership or repair shop for routine matters, like oil changes and inspections, so that when you have an emergency or urgent job, you're already comfortable with the shop.

3. The shop has a clean rap sheet.

The Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) can show you how long the shop or dealership has been in business, how many complaints have been resolved lately and its BBB rating. Be wary, though, of online user ratings. Says Cappert: “You've got to watch the outliers. You might have 100 people reviewing a brick, and 99 say that it's sturdy, red and useful. But one guy says, ‘Worst brick I ever had.’ “

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4. The shop shows pride in its appearance.

You can overlook some messiness; it's not a restaurant. But beware of constant untidiness. “Overall sloppiness throughout the shop and the place of business might reflect a lack of attention to detail,” Cappert says.

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5. The shop's technicians communicate well.

Be sure that they can tell you what's wrong, how it will be fixed and what it will probably cost — in language that you understand. “A good mechanic can lay out for you what work is immediate and necessary, and what can be held off until you have more money,” says John Ibbotson, Consumer Reports’ chief mechanic. “If you stay loyal, they're bound to treat you right, which can be advantageous when it comes to those really expensive jobs."

6. The shop has a clear warranty policy.

Rather than relying on personalities and relationships, focus on the written warranty that the shop offers on repairs, as well as its track record on making good on its legal commitment, Cappert says. “A shop with a strong, clear warranty policy adds confidence that they will do it right the first time. And should things go wrong, which can happen, the customer knows that it will be made right,” says Jeff Bartlett, deputy auto editor for Consumer Reports magazine.

7. The shop looks out for you.

Be sure it gets automakers’ technical service bulletins. A TSB provides an automaker's approved way of fixing a growing or common problem — such as rough shifting or a leaking transmission — that doesn't qualify for a recall. Work that's related to a TSB while your car's still under warranty should be free, so be sure to ask.

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8. The shop fits into your life.

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Don't overlook convenience. Is the shop nearby? Will it give you a ride home after you drop off your car? Pick you up when it's ready? Is there a comfortable and — in this pandemic period — sanitized place (preferably with a Wi-Fi internet connection), should you want to wait while the work's being done? Is there a secure place to leave your keys if you want to drop off the car the night before instead of early in the morning? These are all legitimate criteria and appropriate to ask about.

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