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Mechanics for Dummies:  The Basics of Picking the Right Mechanic

Mechanics for Dummies:  The Basics of Picking the Right Mechanic

If you've never had to take your car to a mechanic before then choosing the right mechanic can be somewhat of an intimidating and overwhelming task. It's hard to decide where you want to go, and you may be afraid that you're going to get ripped off. Luckily there are many resources available to us to help narrow the field when it comes to choosing the best mechanic for getting the job done. Your ability to find hundreds if not thousands of customer reviews is much better now than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Still, you should rely on more than just a simple Google search when it comes to picking your mechanic. Here are some of the basics that you should keep in mind when it comes to finding a mechanic you can trust and how you can deal with them.

Auto Repairs Are EXPENSIVE


Do Mechanics Give Free Estimates? 


You should be able to get a free estimate from most if not all mechanics. That's mostly how the business works, they take a look at your vehicle and can let you know what's going on and what it might cost to get it fixed. Just know that this is different from a diagnostic. They're not going to run intensive diagnostic scans of your vehicle before they give you an estimate.


 Should You Pay a Mechanic Before or After the Work? 


When it comes to how to pay your mechanic, this depends on the kind of work that you're getting done. Most of us expect that we pay for work when a job is complete and paying in advance sounds like a risky proposition. You don't want to hand money over for something that hasn't been done yet. But you also need to look at this from the point of view of a mechanic. Suppose your mechanic is a completely honourable and trustworthy person. You have maybe a couple thousand dollars worth of body work that needs to be done on your car. Would it be reasonable for them to do the thousands of dollars worth of work without any way to trust that you're not going to rip them off?


Trust is a two-way street when it comes to auto repair. For smaller jobs you should expect that a mechanic will get the work done and you will pay them when you are satisfied that the work has been completed properly. But for a large job that may cost thousands of dollars, you should expect that you may have to pay a certain amount in advance, perhaps 50% in advance and then the rest on completion. Different mechanics will handle this in different ways.


The only thing that you should really be wary of is a mechanic who wants 100% of the fee in advance of any work. That's not really standard for the industry and should set up some red flags for you.


How Long Should a Mechanic Take to Fix Your Car?


Unfortunately, there is no hard-and-fast answer for this question. Some jobs only take about a half hour to get done in your vehicle. There are other potential repair jobs that could take the better part of a day to get done. With that in mind, once you know the kind of repair that your car requires, there are two things you can do to help educate yourself. The first thing you want to do is ask the mechanic who is going to do the work how long they are going to take. You can also call a few other local mechanics and get their time estimates for the same job. Finally, you want to Google the work and see what some popular auto repair websites detail as a reasonable timeframe as well. Once you've got a handful of potential quotes you should have a ballpark idea of how long the work will take under reasonable circumstances.


What Kind of Questions Should I Ask a Mechanic?


Knowing how to talk to a mechanic seems like it should be easy. Some people have a way of talking to just about anyone. But for some of us, talking to a mechanic can be difficult and intimidating. Mechanics use specific jargon and sometimes it can be embarrassing to admit we don't know what they're saying. And if you're new to car ownership or any kind of repair work, you may have no idea what needs to be done with your vehicle or even want some of the parts they're referring to are.


A good and trustworthy mechanic will be able to work with you not just in repairing your car but helping you understand what needs to be repaired. If a mechanic gets frustrated with you asking questions, consider looking for a different mechanic. 


When you bring your car in, there are a few things that you can ask to get a better understanding of what needs to be done and what they can do for you.


  • Have you worked on this make and model of car before?
  • Do you belong to any automotive associations like AAA?  What certifications do you have?
  • Can I get a free estimate in writing?
  • Can you let me know exactly what needs to be done and how you plan to go about it? What options do I have available?
  • Will you let me know if anything unexpected pops up before doing any work?
  • Is there a warranty on the parts and service you provide?
  • Can I choose which parts you use? 
  • Can I have the old parts you remove from my car?
  • Do you have a maintenance plan I can follow?


Never be afraid to ask questions. This is your car and it's an expensive piece of machinery. You're also the one who's paying to have it repaired. If anything, the mechanic should be going out of their way to give you all the answers and reassurance that you need. If the mechanic makes you feel like you're a burden or a nuisance for asking questions, then they're probably not worth your time. You're the customer here, they should be trying to make you happy.


 What Happens If a Mechanic Doesn't Fix the Problem?


The first thing you need to remember is that mechanics are only human. They make mistakes too. It's possible that in trying to fix your vehicle they overlooked something, and the problem is not resolved. But there's also the possibility that they just didn’t try to get the job done properly. Neither one of these really helps you if your car is not working. Worse, the mechanic is going to expect payment for the work done even if you didn't get the result you wanted.


 In the situation you're going to want to ask a mechanic for a detailed receipt of all the work done, and also for the return of any parts that were removed from your vehicle.  If you find that the work they did isn't satisfactory the first thing you want to do is try to resolve it amicably. Explain to the mechanic that your problem wasn't fixed and ask for them to do it again. An honorable and trustworthy mechanic should be happy to guarantee their work. If you paid for a job to get done and it wasn't accomplished, they should endeavor to fix the problem at no additional cost since you paid for it once already.


If you feel like something nefarious has gone on and you're being ripped off, make sure you keep the parts that were removed and your receipt and get a second opinion from another mechanic. Have them look at the work that was supposedly done to see if they agree that the other mechanic actually did any work or not.


If you have evidence to suggest you were ripped off, it's possible that you can put a stop payment on your payments to the original mechanic either through your credit card company or your bank. If the payment has already been processed you may also want to file a complaint with your State Attorney General, the Better Business Bureau or whatever consumer protection office is in your area.


If the situation is dire enough, you may have to take the mechanic to small claims court. Hopefully it never gets that far. One of the best things you can do to resolve disputes is to be open and honest in your communication. This could just be a simple misunderstanding or a mistake and resolving it may not be as hard as you think. Don't be afraid to speak up and ask for the mechanic to check the work and fix anything that didn't get fixed properly the first time. 


How Do You Know If a Mechanic is Lying?


Unfortunately, the entire auto repair industry does have a bit of a bad reputation. There've been many stories over the years of unscrupulous mechanics who overcharge customers or cut corners, not to mention engage in work that doesn't need to be done so they can boost their fee.


Fortunately, since the rise of the internet, shifty mechanics have actually become much rarer. Because of how easy it is for people to share their experiences and reviews, not to mention record conversations and things on their cell phones, it is much more difficult for a mechanic to get by scamming customers.


Know Your Car: Your best bet for knowing whether or not you have found a trustworthy mechanic is to first educate yourself. Obviously, you're not going to become a car expert overnight, but it never hurts to familiarize yourself with the basics of how your car works. You should have a passing familiarity with your owner's manual which will give you some basic understanding of how your specific car is supposed to operate. For instance, do you know if your car has a timing belt or a timing chain? Your owner's manual can tell you that. What about your oil filter, do you know how often it needs to be changed? Your manual will tell you that as well.


The more familiar you are with your car, the harder it will be for a mechanic to pull a fast one on you. If you know the basic lifespan of your fuel filter, how long between coolant changes, when you had your oil changed last, when your tires were rotated last and how long your spark plugs are meant to last, you are less likely to be taken advantage of.


Understand Timing: This is one of the easiest ways that customers get taken in by unscrupulous mechanics. They will pad the bill with extra labor charges that aren't necessary. If you need to get your tires rotated, for instance, ask around to a few mechanics beforehand how long a job like this should take. If someone bills you for 2 hours worth of labor for rotating your tires, then they've scammed you out of more than an hour worth of their time because rotating your tires should probably only take 30 minutes to 45 minutes tops. Get some solid answers from a few local mechanics to help back up your position so that when you do go in to get the work you can know how long you expect the job to take. If a mechanic tells you it's going to take them two or three hours worth of work, then you know they are being dishonest with you. 


Use the Internet:  Another thing that can be very helpful for you is to use the internet once you know the nature of the problem you have. If the mechanic tells you that your transmission is failing, you can Google your make and model of car to find out about the cost of repairing the transmission in it. You can also Google videos made by some skilled mechanics that will show you the process of fixing the transmission in your vehicle, which should give you an idea of parts that will be needed, the time it will take to get the job done, and how much it might cost. There's a lot of wiggle room with these things but it will give you the basic idea that you're looking for.


The Bottom Line


Picking a mechanic doesn't have to be hard.   You have your own gut feeling to go with, plus the reputation of the mechanics themselves to rely on. And on top of that the internet provides an invaluable resource in showing you what kind of experience other customers have had with his particular mechanic. Do your homework, ask as many questions as you feel you need, and never be afraid to say no to a mechanic if you don't agree with what they're telling you