Find a shop
The time to start on this is well before a serious problem rears its ugly head.
Among the things a facility should have:
1. diagnostic and repair equipment for a broad range of repairs;
2. trained, experienced technicians;
3. lots of happy customers.
Checking with the Bureau of Automotive Repair or the local Better Business Bureau can be helpful. Even so, selection can be a chancy business.
AAA’s Approved Auto Repair program can help you locate an inspected, approved facility in your area. These facilities must meet AAA standards and guarantee work for members. Our Approved Auto Repair Locator will give you more information and help you find the shop nearest you.
But Approved Auto Repair facilities aren’t the only good ones around, and you may well find your neighborhood garage offers the convenience, competence, and reliability you want.
Give the shop a try
When you’ve found a likely repairer, try it out. Start with something easy, such as an oil change or brake inspection. Remember, you need to deal with people you can talk with, who give satisfactory answers to your questions, who do the work well and on schedule. It may take several visits to determine whether a given facility meets your standards.
Build a relationship
It sounds so California. But a good shop is valuable—worth cultivating. Be consistent in using it for all your car’s work, including minor maintenance. These people should become familiar with your car and face.
Keep a written record of all repairs and routine maintenance
It should include a brief description of the work performed, name of the repair facility, date, and the car’s mileage at the time the work was done.
Many repairers keep a computer record of the work they have done on your car. This case history may make diagnosis of future ills quicker and easier. Keeping your own written record can help you remember to have normal maintenance done at the proper intervals, too.
When your car lets you down
When you’ve built a history with a repairer and your car does let you down unexpectedly—even the best can do it—that well-cultivated mechanic is in a good position to diagnose the trouble and fix it in the most efficient way.
Newer cars are complicated to the point of parody and highly dependent on electronics—things either you can’t see or that look the same when sick or dead as when healthy and functioning. Usually, diagnosing what ails a car requires experience, education, and fancy equipment.
You’ll be paying for diagnosis anyway, so let the technician handle it: Describe symptoms—the baleful noise, the unsettling vibration, the ominous billow of smoke—rather than suggest cures. The more detailed your description, the better the chance of a swift, accurate diagnosis.
The technician probably will try to duplicate the situation you describe. Often, the best way to do this is for you and the technician or someone at the garage to go for a test drive so you can make the car shimmy, belch blue, or otherwise demonstrate its misbehavior. It can be easier for you, the owner, to get your car to act up than for someone else to do it. Mechanical devices are notorious for behaving flawlessly in the hands of repairers only to revert mockingly to dysfunction later on.
Finally, if you find a repair is not done to your satisfaction, have a friendly chat with the technician. If that doesn’t work, talk with the manager. Communication is the key to satisfactory auto repair. Good repair facilities want their good customers to remain happy, and usually will go to reasonable length—sometimes beyond—to ensure they do.
This article was first published in November 1998. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.