Taking your car into a repair shop for routine maintenance or to have a concern diagnosed can be nerve wracking and anxiety inducing. At least that’s the way I was before I became an automotive technician.
You don’t have to go through the years of schooling or spend thousands of dollars on tools like I did to avoid that stress though. You can simply read this article and rest easy knowing your pride and joy is in good hands.
How to choose the correct repair shop for you and your vehicle
Not all repair shops are created equal. I know that might be the most obvious thing you read today, so let me dive a little deeper into that statement. You’ll want to find a shop that specializes in either the type of repair or diagnosis you require, or one that specializes in the make of your vehicle.
A lot of shops will focus on North American vehicles and be completely perplexed when a German vehicle rolls into the shop or vice versa. This is by no means a poor reflection on the shop in question. They simply specialize in different vehicles and should be used accordingly.
The same can be said about classic cars in a shop that specializes in that brand. For instance, bringing your 1971 Super Beetle into your local Volkswagen dealership may not be the best idea. They might not have a technician with any classic Volkswagen experience.
The dealership could be a great place to go however if there’s a large community of classic Volkswagen owners in your area and the dealership kept the special tools around all these years along with a few good technicians that have the experience and know-how.
You can also ask your friends, family, and co-workers where they bring their vehicles for service. Get them to tell you why they like the shop they chose and perhaps anything they don’t like. Once you have a few recommendations it won’t hurt to check the online reviews for each of them. Then make a decision based on all your newfound data and book an appointment!
When choosing a repair shop to use it can be helpful to look for one before your vehicle has a breakdown and you’re forced to make a quick decision. Since vehicles require regular maintenance, you can use that as a way to take a shop for a test drive before trusting them with a larger repair.
Nobody says you have to stay loyal to the first one you visit either, so be aware of how they treat you and your car. Think about how effectively your service advisor communicated with you and how accurate their estimated time to complete a basic service was.
How well the small things are done and the amount of attention to detail shown can be a good indicator of how a shop will handle the larger repairs.
Getting your vehicle ready to visit the repair shop
You may think you can simply drop your vehicle off at its appointment and wait for the phone call telling you your car is done and ready to be picked up. There are a few things you need to take care of before we get to that step, though.
The first thing you need to do is make sure you have enough fuel in your vehicle for the technician to road test it – I’d recommend at least half a tank. This prevents them from needing to send someone to the fuel station with your car and having to bill you for fuel as well as the time it took to refuel your vehicle.
I can tell you from personal experience that your technician will not be thrilled if your vehicle shows up covered in mud. The most disastrous interiors are always the ones that the customer wants a cabin filter installed in (cabin filters are usually located in the passenger side footwell). Bringing your vehicle in clean and tidy goes a long way in making a technician’s day a little better.
One more thing – if your vehicle has locking lug nuts, make sure to leave the key readily available in the glovebox, console, or better yet, in an easy-to-find cupholder!
Have a good idea of the different areas a technician may need to access, especially regarding the interior, and make sure there is minimal to no clutter in those areas. For instance, if your diesel exhaust fluid needs to be refilled and the fill cap is under the trunk floor. Be sure to empty your trunk before bringing it in for service.
If you are the type that is meticulous about your vehicle’s paintwork, I highly recommend making a sign to hang from the rearview mirror politely asking that your vehicle not be washed. Be sure that you also communicate your wishes to the service advisor.
It’s common for repair shops to offer courtesy washes after a service as a way to provide additional value, however they usually do more harm than good.
Do some research on the problem and know how to explain it to the technician
When you start to notice something acting up in your car, pay close attention to the conditions in which it acts up. Become hypersensitive to the temperature and weather as well as the speed you are traveling or anything else that is happening at the same time, no matter how trivial it may seem.
Once you feel you have a good handle on the conditions the concern chooses to show itself. Do some internet research about the issue and learn some of the vocabulary surrounding the issue. You are now better equipped to explain the situation to your service advisor or technician.
Be careful however not to diagnose the car for the technician based on what you read on a forum and ask the technician to replace the part you think is the culprit. This could lead to an improper repair and require professional diagnosis after the fact, costing you more money.
Think of it this way. You wouldn’t go to your doctor and ask them to perform surgery based on something you read on WebMD, would you? Then why try to diagnose your computer on wheels when your technician has spent years training themself to properly understand and diagnose your vehicle’s different systems?
Discussing a timeframe for repairs to be completed
Before you leave the repair shop it’s important to discuss a timeframe in which the work should be completed. Most shops will make sure the customer that is waiting in the building gets their vehicle completed first so be aware that your car may not be looked at right away if you are heading back to work or out to run errands.
Give your service advisor your cell phone number and be sure to pick up right away if they call, this helps to ensure your vehicle’s service is completed as soon as possible. Your service advisor will typically give you a call once the diagnosis is completed asking for approval to continue with the repair procedure assuming there is enough time left in the day.
If the repair would run into the next day and you need your vehicle by closing that day they may suggest you borrow one of their loaner vehicles for the night or reschedule when there would be ample time to complete the repair.
How to avoid getting ripped off by a mechanic
The most important step in avoiding being ripped off has already been discussed, thoroughly research a repair shop prior to leaving your vehicle at one. The next best thing you can do is educate yourself on the basic operation of your vehicle. If the service advisor says something to you that doesn’t sound right, do a quick google search before agreeing to the work.
If you can’t determine if you’re being lied to with a quick search, let them know you’ll call them when you are ready to have the work performed. On your way home stop by another shop on your list and ask them if what you’ve been told sounds accurate.
If you’re still not sure, have the second shop perform the diagnosis as well. Paying for a diagnosis twice is easier than paying to have work performed that doesn’t fix the problem and fighting with a shop to get your money back.
It’s not uncommon for a customer to request they examine a part before or after it is replaced and have their technician explain how the part failed and what a new part should look like. If your service advisor or technician becomes defensive when asking this simple favor, immediately request your vehicle be returned to you and go elsewhere.
If they have nothing to hide they should gladly take this extra step to put your mind at ease.
Taking care of your technician
Matt Moreman of Obsessed Garage uses an expression from time to time when bringing one of his vehicles to have a repair performed that happens to be outside of his wheelhouse. “Palm ‘em a hundo.” He begins by requesting the best, most detail-oriented technician at a given shop, then asks to speak with them for a few minutes prior to leaving his vehicle with them.
In his short interview, he asks the tech not to allow his car to be washed, then he asks for the technician to be extra careful and maintain cleanliness while working on his car. After the technician has an understanding of what is expected he hands the technician a hundred bucks.
Now I’m not saying you have to give a tech $100 every time they work on your car but doing something little like bringing in baked goods can show how appreciative you are. Talking to the technician prior to the repair gives you a sense of comfort knowing the tech is going to be extra careful.
Handing the technician a couple of dollars also gives the tech a little bit of buffer room since a lot of technicians aren’t paid by the hour but by the job. Handing them a few dollars allows them to breathe easy and not worry about targets quite as much.
Do technicians mind if you bring in your own parts?
Generally speaking repair shops either frown on customer supplied parts or have a policy against allowing customers to supply parts. The reasoning behind it is two-fold. Shops get parts at a slightly discounted rate, then sell them to the customer at retail cost. Asking to bring in your own parts is essentially the same as asking them to discount their labor rate.
Most parts suppliers that shops use will deliver parts to the shop as well as pick up unneeded parts and remove them from the invoice. If the customer is allowed to bring in their own part and there happens to be an issue with the part or the part has a core charge, the process becomes more complicated.
There may be exceptions to the rule – suppose you ordered a supercharger kit or coilovers from a company online. Most shops won’t have an issue installing these types of aftermarket parts if you have supplied them. There may be a discussion beforehand about what to do if the parts turn out to be incorrect for the application during the installation process.