Mechanic Underneath Car on Lift (© Andersen Ross / Getty Images)

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.

Bing: Find a Local Mechanic

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.

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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."
Score: +2
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."
Score: -1

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."
Score: +2
Wrong answer: "Credentials don't mean anything anyway. You learn by doing, not by taking some fancy classes."
Score: -5

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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."
Score: +4
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."
Score: -1

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