Are You Using the Right Mechanic?
Here's a questionnaire to determine the competency of your auto technician.
For most Americans, a working vehicle is essential. Think about it: We use our cars to get to work, to transport groceries for the week and to pick up and drop off the kids at school, basketball practice, whatever. Consequently, finding the right mechanic, one who can be trusted to keep your ride on the road without taking you for a ride in the process, is as important as choosing a doctor for yourself or a day care provider for your children.
But how can you tell a good mechanic from a bad one without a lot of trial and error?
To find out, we turned to Tony Molla, a spokesman for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence and a certified automotive technician who has been "turning wrenches" for more than 40 years, and to Ray Cox, another certified technician who serves as a consultant for AutoMD, a consumer service website that helps people diagnose car problems and find qualified mechanics.
Based on what both experts had to say, we came up with seven questions to help you evaluate a mechanic. Simply ask potential candidates each of the following questions, and compare the responses to the right and wrong answers we provide. At the end of the questionnaire, tally the points for each answer to see whether your mechanic is a good bet or a nightmare waiting to happen.
Can you show me around your shop?
Don't expect a garage full of mechanics to drop everything in the middle of a busy morning and give you a grand tour. However, a shop that's proud of its work, employees and equipment should not hesitate to make an appointment for you to come in during a slow period and give you a quick look around. Don't be afraid to ask questions about anything you see. Trust your gut instincts. Does it look clean and well-maintained? "If a shop looks like a salvage yard, then I wouldn't do business with them," Molla says. He also advises that you pay attention to the people. Are they friendly and attentive? Do they sound competent? "If you get one-word answers and you basically feel like you're communicating with a dolphin because all you hear are grunts, clicks and whistles, then you generally want to move on," Molla says.
Right answer: "Sure, come by at 10 a.m. and I'd be happy to show you around."
Wrong answer: "Look pal, we don't have time to tour every client around. You pay us to work on your car, not to chitchat."
Can I see the certification credentials of the mechanic who will work on my vehicle?
"Would you have your taxes done by an 'uncertified' public accountant?" Molla asks. Of course not. You definitely want an ASE-certified technician working on your vehicle. While Molla might be biased, he's not wrong. You also want to make sure that those credentials are up-to-date and relevant to your vehicle's repair. "Every five years you need to get recertified," Cox says. And just because the technician is certified to work on brakes doesn't mean he's qualified to work on transmissions. "There are eight different disciplines that ASE certifies," Molla says. A technician certified in all eight is called a master technician.
Also look for documentation such as membership in the local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau, as well as any other training certificates from organizations such as AC Delco or NAPA. "The best shops will go out of their way to post as many of these things as they can, because they want their customers to know just how much they are devoted to doing a good job," Molla says.
Right answer: "Everybody in our shop is ASE-certified. We have specialists in multiple disciplines, and their credentials are posted on the wall."
Wrong answer: "Credentials don't mean anything anyway. You learn by doing, not by taking some fancy classes."
How many years have you been in business?
"There's no substitute for experience," Cox says. "Shops that have been in business for many years are proud to say it." The combination of certification and experience should guarantee that the mechanic who works on your vehicle has a deep history with the repair work you need and up-to-date knowledge. The question also shows that the shop has roots in the community. No one wants to upset the neighbors.
Right answer: "Our shop has been in business in this town for over a decade. We have plenty of seasoned pros here, and the new guys work under them until they know the ropes."
Wrong answer: "Look. Those old-timers are old, slow and don't know how to work on a modern car. We're a young shop that will get the job done."
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Uhh...yeah, sure! I hired a ASE certified NAPA shop to replace the clutch in my sons car. I was going to do it myself, but it was winter, and the ASE/NAPA shop was clean, warm and dry, as oppossed to my cold drafty barn. Two weeks, and $600 later my son was driving home from work on a Saturday night, the driveshaft fell off of the transmission, jammed into the road, and almost launched my son through the windshield and nearly flipped his car over. The police told us we had 24 hours to move the car or it would be impounded, so we spent Sunday trying to find a wrecking yard that had the right bolts to re-attach the driveline. On Monday morning I called the ASE/NAPA shop and demanded my money back. I was told that I should have brought the car back to them because "we stand behind our work" Really? Well, who was supossed to pay the towing bill? After threatening legal action, they finally refunded $200. I expressed my concern about other possible damage to the car and they just laughed. About a month later, the clutch slave cylinder that they had supposedly replaced began leaking so bad that the clutch would not disengage. They refused to cover it under warrenty, so I finaly wound up pulling the transmission and replacing the slave cylinder myself, which is about 95 % of the labor of a complete clutch job. I should have done it all myself in the first place! Now the good part....about 3 weeks later my son's differential locked up. When I dropped the pan I found several broken teeth on the ring gear, and a sheared spider gear shaft, obvious signs of a severe shock to the differential.....caused maybe by a driveline jamming into the pavement at 35 MPH? Of course the ASE/MAPA shop denied any responcibility.
Meanwhile, there is a guy about two miles down the road that works out of a garage behind his house. No fancy certificates on the wall, no waiting room, but he has a constant backlog of customers that won't take their cars anywhere else. ASE/NAPA doesn't mean diddly squat! $10 say's this comment doesn't last on this site, if it even gets posted at all
Well, I'm a retired mechanic with 45 years of experience, and it's good to see somebody who couldn't fix a sandwich telling others how to determine if the shop they patronize is good or bad. If you have a good shop, keep it. If you're looking for a competent repair shop, check out how long the place has been open and how long the employees have been there.. A shop that opened recently or a shop with a high rate of employee turnover is a red flag. Since the Bozo who wrote the story has never gotten his hands dirty in a serious business...making a profit shop, I half expected him to come up with the "clean shop" remark. True, a clean shop means the guys aren't tracking grease and crud into the customers' cars, but a shop that is pristine, with crisply dressed techs is a sure sign that they don't have anything else to do. Look, repairing cars is a dirty business, and a working shop is NOT going to be a showplace....reasonably clean, yes, but spotless? My advice...head for the door.
Commission has been the preferred pay plan for mechanics for decades. Unfortunately, times are changing, and a commissioned employee is now pressured to "upsell" everything, weather it's needed or not. But, guys that get paid by the hour (no commission) are going to cost the customer even more, because the employer has to pay them if they are working or not, and the added cost falls right back on the customer.
Truth be known, because of greedy owners, brainless "bean counters", and idiot managers, most shops will hire the least experienced people they can get away with...Experience costs money, and the more experience they have in the shop, the lower the profit margin. I'm sure many of the real mechanics will agree with me...The industry now rewards idiots and looks down upon experienced people and properly trained techs in favor of trade school morons and illegal immigrants that they can pay less than minimum wage and get away with it.
I like how the article starts with implying that all mechanics are thieves and low skill. In my 40+ years as a mechanic I found that most people are more emotionally attached to their car than a member of the family. We accept problems with all other machines we use as a matter of life. Not so with our cars. ASE is expensive for the mechanic and employers do not pay for this. ASE is simply paper testing, not skill driven testing. If you buy a well made car in the first place you will limit the problems encounterd with car ownership. To me, it's like buying a tool. I can buy a good tool once and be satisfied with it or buy a crappy tool over and over and never be happy with it.
Fact is, todays cars are made better and last longer. Make a good choice in the first place. Car purchase is such and emotional process, logic and sense play little in most car purchases.
Mechanics are like doctors, teachers and any other person. There are good and bad ones. Every article written about the trade trashes out the mechanic. So glad I am retired from what was once a well paying and satisfying trade. I just loved dealing with the public who has so little idea of how anything works or is repaired. Got an ap for that?
@ RT in Nashville. Like many "shade tree mechanics" you still believe that having an auto parts store employee scan your car's computer will reveal the problem. It don't work that way, RT. Scanning a computer will merely produce a "related" code as to what or where the problem actually is.. An oxygen sensor code is one of the most common, and stores like "VatoZone" have sold billions of dollars worth of un-needed oxygen sensors on this code alone. Don't forget, the counterman at the parts store has an IQ that is slightly higher than bread mold, and usually has barely enough training to hook up a scanner, and read the numbers, much less diagnose the the cause of the code being set.
Flat rate fees are a huge misnomer. "Flat rate" is the time dealer mechanics are paid by the manufacturer. Even for highly experienced mechanics these times are nearly impossible to match or even beat.."Real world" labor guides work more in favor of getting the job done right, not getting it out the door, so you can get the next one shoved in.In a nutshell, if you want your car fixed right, expect to pay a little more for the quality...
I have been a technician for 25 years. I have worked for dealerships, independent shops, and fleets. I have factory certifications, as well as ASE master certifications in light duty and medium/heavy equipment. While some certifications are there to simply give comfort to the customer who in most cases is having to give you there life savings to repair thier vehicle, most certifications are proof that you are a professional in your field. Does a doctors diploma that is displayed on his wall mean nothing? I and many of my colleagues have spent thousands of hours in the classroom as well as in the field. I am sure I have spent enough
hours to earn a phd in my profession! What disgusts me most is when so many of you self proclaimed experts cannot even express yourself intelligently! Learn how to speak, spell and
conduct yourselves as professionals. It is no wonder that our profession receives no respect! Reading some of your comments makes me ashamed to be in the same category as some of you. Make sure you know what your talking about before you speak! It is federally mandated that all vehicles since 1996 have the capability of communicating with generic scan tools. It is true that some of the tools are not capable enough, but that is the tools problem not the vehicle. Being a master technician does not mean that you can fix everything that comes into your bay. It means that you have the understanding and the ability to access the resources available for research and that you have the skill with your tools to be able to ultimately effect the necessary repairs.
Well I read every comment and the article and I only have a small bit to add. First, there are two types of repairs (1) operational problems and (2) worn parts replacement.
The first type of repair requires knowledge and understanding of the operation of the car and how the different systems work together. This knowledge is used to diagnos the possible problem and recommend a solution. Just like a doctor has to diagnose your symptoms to tell you what medicine you need the same with a good mechanic. Also just like a doctor may get the diagnosis right 90% of the time they still make mistakes and get it wrong. The same with a mechanic, a problem may appear to be caused by this and in reality be caused by something else. Both doctors and mechanics need continued training and experience. The medical certificates for a doctor and the training certificates for a mechanic all mean they have had some training in doing this job. However, just like a medical certificate from the University of Tiawan will not hold the same educational value as a certificate from Harvard Medical School the same applies to a general ASE certificate and a GM or Ford Dealer certification. When you select a mechanic to keep an older car running you need to evaluate their knowledge and experience and previous referrals to find the best. A good doctor takes care of your body and you need a good mechanic to take care of your car.
Now as regards the second type of repair, the parts replacement, you can go to any "qualified" service center but be prepared to pay more, risk them damaging something else using the wrong tools and taking more time because they don't have the training or experience. Just because I can replace my brakes in 1 hour doesn't mean I can replace the brakes on a Corvette or a Camero because they are designed quite differently. Replacing things like belts, tires, wipers, filters, and fluids is easy and something you can learn but to be really safe on the other things it is essential to have a good mechanic that is familiar with your vehicle and has the right tools to make the repairs or replace the parts.
I have been a part-time inspector mechanic for 15 years and I know what I don't know and I will tell my customers they need to go somewhere else. I get a lot of repeat business because of this honesty and attitude.