Over the years, I’ve formed some strong opinions on what makes an auto repair facility exceptional. I’d like to share my thoughts with you. Maybe we can help some folks find a place that they’ll be happy with.
A great repair shop, like any great business, listens to its clients. Our clients are the ultimate decision-makers when it comes to their car and their money. Our job is to understand both the car and the owner and give advice consistent with the owner’s goals. If we can educate our clients so that they can make the decisions that are right for them at the time, we’ve done our job. We have a professional responsibility to do a thorough check-out of every car that comes into the shop so the owner gets a clear picture of its condition. There’s a big difference between letting him know what we see that might warrant some attention and inventing and selling unneeded “repairs”. Run like the wind from a pushy, salesy service adviser.
Look for a great warranty. Every human makes mistakes, and even the highest quality parts will sometimes have defects. A great shop will back their work with a tremendous warranty to cover just such eventualities. Something that ties into this is the history or longevity of the business. A four-hundred year warranty won’t do you much good if the shop goes under next week. Look for an established business that shows signs of being in it for the long haul.
How good is the customer service? If the shop goes out of its way to accommodate clients with loaner cars, shuttle rides, personalized service, after-hours drop off, and the like, it’s a good sign that they have their clients’ best interests at heart. These little touches suggest that the business and its employees understand the inconvenience of dealing with car maintenance and repair and is serious about partnering with motorists to minimize it. Related to this is your level of comfort with the person or people you speak with at the shop. Many technicians are technicians for a reason – they’re not “people people”. Their brains tend to be wired in a way that makes them great at understanding mechanical devices. Your contact person at the shop should have one primary goal – communicating accurately with you and with the technicians so that you get what you want. Consciously or otherwise, you’ll be evaluating him on his success or failure at this task as well as whether that’s really his true intention. Go with your instincts on this. You need to be comfortable with your choice.
ASE certifications can be a sign that a business and its employees are serious about professionalism and continuing education. Any other indicators that the technicians and other staff keep up with changing technology, such as up-to-date diagnostic equipment (you can ask about this), continuing-education certificates, subscriptions to web-based information systems, etcetera, are other positive signs. Some states certify shops as qualified to perform certain types of repairs or inspections. For example, here in Virginia the Commonwealth certifies shops as being qualified to do State Safety Inspections, Emissions Inspections, and Emissions Repair. I’m proud to say that DOC Auto ® is certified for all three. Even the cleanliness of the shop reflects the professional pride that is a common denominator in the best repair facilities.
A better shop, like a better restaurant, tends to be busier than an average shop. This can be an annoyance when you’re trying to get something taken care of in a hurry, but it might be worth the wait! Also, if they’re focusing on customer service, they’ll have a solution – whether it’s a loaner car, a ride to work, or a set appointment.
Of course, you’ll want to use a business that’s insured. If something happens to your car while it’s in the shop you need to be sure it’ll be taken care of.
I know that some people only shop auto repairs by price. If that’s you, that’s certainly your right – but I’d try to talk you out of it. First of all, you probably didn’t buy the cheapest car you could find. If people bought the cheapest cars they could find, we’d all be driving Yugos. Well, those cars didn’t last long, or stay on the scene for long either! I believe the best value is what most people are really looking for, but sometimes they simply aren’t knowledgeable enough to ask anything other than price. There are many other factors to consider, such as the quality of the parts, the skill of the technician, and the warranty, but even beyond that, we often find that price-shoppers are comparing apples to Quonset huts. A great example of this is with timing belt replacements. We usually suggest replacing the water pump, the other belts, and often some or all of the timing belt pulleys and tensioner assembly, as well as the valve cove gasket at the same time. This is for two main reasons – first, “overlapping labor” – in other words, you’re already paying the labor for removing and installing many of these items, and, second, we routinely see some of these other parts fail shortly after the new timing belt is installed, sometimes ruining the engine, and always necessitating doing the whole job over again. These other parts are just as old as the timing belt. Just not a good gamble – but we respect our clients’ right to make their own decisions. If an informed client chooses not to replace these other parts, that’s fine. The problem comes when a shop quotes a low price, gets the job, and then either doesn’t do a complete job, which then fails, or they “upsell” the rest of the job after the car is apart. In short, just be aware that there are many things in addition to price when choosing a shop.