Guide to Choosing Vehicle Repair Professionals

Guide to Choosing Vehicle Repair Professionals

Maintenance and repairs are part of vehicle ownership. When your vehicle requires servicing it is often necessary to take it to a professional repair shop. If your vehicle needs repairs, you want it done properly, quickly, and at an affordable price.

Review the Owner’s Manual

The owner’s manual for your vehicle explains the functions of your car and tells you about the warning lights and indicators. The manual will also describe the recommended maintenance necessary to keep your car running optimally. If your vehicle is experiencing a mechanical problem, the first thing to do is try to determine the severity of the situation. The manual may help you establish, in a general way, what is wrong with the vehicle, especially if there is an indicator light appearing on your dash. If your car is severely disabled, find a safe place to pull over immediately and do not drive the car until it is safe to do so.

Check the Warranty

Before choosing a service shop, you must check the warranty on your vehicle, if there is one. New cars have a warranty period which is specified in your purchase contract or owner’s manual. Not all types of repairs are covered – for example “wear items” such as brakes, collision damage, damage due to neglect or abuse, etc. – so it is necessary to verify the coverage details. It is important to note that if your vehicle is covered under a warranty, having repairs done at a non-approved shop could void the coverage. This also applies to service contracts that may be sold through dealerships for new or used vehicles.

In some cases, a repair can be covered even if the warranty recently expired. You shouldn’t expect something to be covered if the vehicle is well outside the warranty period, but if a part fails and the mileage is slightly over the coverage period (or if it’s out by a few months) you could be in luck. If you always buy a specific brand of vehicle or if you have all of your maintenance done at the dealership, they may approach the local warranty administrator and ask to have the repair covered as a measure of “good will”.

Service Contracts

Vehicle service contracts are available for purchase through a number of companies and through the dealership. A service contract provides you with coverage for many types of repairs and services required for your vehicle. There are some things to think about before you sign a service contract. Read the contract thoroughly to ensure that you understand how and when the coverage applies. Many contracts require you to get routine maintenance completed at specific intervals and through approved providers. If you fail to do so, you could void your contract.

Check to see exactly what is and is not covered by the service contract. Some types of repairs are already covered through the warranty and some repairs may not be covered at all. Compare pricing on contracts to ensure that the coverage is worthwhile. Service contracts are billed directly to you, often on an annual basis. If you purchase a service contract as part of a new vehicle sale, it may be included in your monthly car payments as part of the total purchase.

You should also consider your buying habits. If you trade your vehicle in every three years and don’t drive excessive miles, there would be no sense in paying an additional fee for coverage that only applies after the manufacturer’s warranty expires. The same applies to paint protection coverage. Modern finishes and clear coats are designed to last several years.

Make Note of Problems

It is best to make notes of the exact details of the problem. This will help you explain the problem to a vehicle repair professional. For example, some things to take notice of include:

  • Noises
  • Smells
  • Warning lights
  • Unusual handling
  • Note when the problem occurs (when you first start the car, when you turn, stop, etc.)
  • Vibrations

Be as detailed as possible. To fix problems, it is necessary to first duplicate the issue so that it can be diagnosed. The repair order will come back with “no problem found” if the technician test drives the vehicle for 2 miles when the problem only surfaces after driving 40 miles.

The more specific information you can provide to the repair professional, the better able he will be to diagnosis and resolve the problem. This is especially helpful when the problem only occurs intermittently.

Repair Shop Specialties

There are several types of vehicle repair shops. General repair shops handle all types of repairs. Oil change specialists provide oil changes and minor types of service issues. Specialty shops provide repair and servicing for specific areas of repair or types of vehicles. Most car dealerships have a service shop that provides repairs for the brands of vehicles they sell. Some of the most common specialty shops are:

  • Muffler and exhaust
  • Brakes
  • Transmission
  • Tires
  • Body work / collision

If you know the problem with your vehicle lies within a specialty area of expertise, you can take it directly to a specialty vehicle service provider. They have the expertise, experience, tools, and parts to properly handle repairs.

Locating Repair Shops

Automotive repair shops are quite common and there are usually several or more located in every town or city. When there are many options, choosing a vehicle repair professional can be overwhelming. There are a few ways to find a reputable repair shop:

  • Referrals from family or friends can be a valuable resource, particularly if they have automotive knowledge.
  • American Automobile Association listings (AAA) at http://ww1.aaa.com/services/automotive/shopLocator/shopLocatorSearch.xhtml
  • Better Business Bureau at https://www.bbb.org/search/
  • It is important to note that some organizations are at least partially “membership based”. Just because a repair facility is not listed on a referral source, it does not necessarily mean the shop is bad, it’s just that they are not a member.
  • Online listings that show reviews from previous customers. Common sense dictates that online reviews need to be carefully scrutinized. It’s always a good idea to read ALL reviews – a lot of online review sources list the best reviews first – you can usually sort the reviews by newest to oldest, or from worst to best.

You can search online for “auto repair (your city and state or zip code)”. The search results typically provide a list of repair shops in your area, along with their customer satisfaction ratings and online reviews from customers. From there, you can also look at their website. However, not all repair facilities have an online presence. You may find some local repair companies simply by driving by them in your area. Notice how busy they are and research more about them to see what previous customers have to say about them. A busy shop may indicate that the company is highly regarded and sought after for repairs.

What to Look For In a Vehicle Repair Professional

It is ideal to review and evaluate vehicle repair professionals before you decide where to take your car for repairs. Check the shop for:

  • Reputation for quality work at a decent price and honesty
  • Trained and certified technicians
  • Modern test and repair equipment
  • Good communication
  • Location
  • Cost
  • Hours and days of operation
  • Length of time in business
  • Customer ratings and testimonials
  • Warranty on their work

The most important factors to consider are the quality of the work being performed and the trustworthiness of the provider. Since you may not be knowledgeable about car repairs, it is essential that the professional gives you an honest diagnosis and repair at a fair price. Reading reviews by previous customers will help you determine whether the repair shop meets your criteria. You should get a second opinion whenever possible.

Certification is an important consideration when choosing a vehicle repair professional. The most highly recognized association in the United States is the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, ASE. Look for repair professionals who bear the ASE insignia. Technicians must pass a stringent test to qualify for ASE certification. Technicians may be trained in automotive schools and through dealership and specialty training courses.

If your vehicle is not running, it will need to be towed to a repair shop. Contact the facility to find out if they offer tow services. They may have an agreement with a local towing company to offer towing at reduced prices. This can also be a benefit because the towing charges can simply be added on to your total bill. The tow bill may also be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty or extended service contract if the repair involves a covered item.

Bringing Your Vehicle In For Service

When you take your car into the repair shop, the technician will first diagnose the problem before taking any action. There is typically a charge for the “diagnostics” portion of the service. Once they have determined what is wrong, they will create a detailed work order, or estimate. This should include the cost to repair the vehicle broken down by parts and labor. You will need to authorize the work that is to be done by signing the detailed estimate, unless you do so over the phone, before the work can begin.

The shop should have a set schedule of labor rates and they may also provide estimates for common repair work. Some general estimates may be available over the phone. However, it is important to note that since these estimates are done without looking at the vehicle, the actual price could be different than the one that was quoted. Some repairs, especially more complex ones, may take more than a day. Also, the shop may need to order parts for your repair if they do not have them on hand. For these reasons, you may need to schedule your repair for another day.

Vehicle Repair Costs

The costs for vehicle repairs vary in different geographic locations. However, the labor rates of different shops in your area are usually similar to each other. Some shops charge minimum rates and may tack on separate charges for diagnostics and testing. It is best to obtain a couple estimates if you are able to do so. Carefully compare the estimates to determine which one is the best choice. Keep in mind that the lowest price isn’t always the best option. There are multiple levels of replacement part quality. For example, batteries can range from $75 to as much as $200, or for brakes there may be three different quality levels of brake pads available. Payment for repairs is usually required before you can pick up your vehicle. Before you show up to get your car, find out the acceptable methods of payment.

Picking up your vehicle

When you pick up your vehicle, be sure to check it out before you pay. If you took your car in for a “check engine soon” light, make sure it’s off before you drive away. If the reason for your service visit was for a drivability issue, go for a test drive with the advisor before handing over your credit card. If you’re dealing with a collision repair, check the color match and gaps between panels. Also, if the shop offers a guarantee (most do), get a copy of it in writing before you leave.

Protecting Against Scams

Certain car repair companies can be notorious for taking advantage of customers. While this is likely only true of a few individuals, you need to protect yourself from getting swindled. Most shops will bring the customer into the shop to explain and show the exact repairs needed. To ensure that the work was completed properly, ask to see the old part that was repaired or removed – you can even have the service advisor or estimator add “save parts” to the repair authorization so that you can inspect them before they are disposed of. If you have any reservations about the service or feel uncomfortable, take your vehicle to a different shop or find an independent consultant that is unbiased. If you think you have experienced fraud or deception you should report the incident to the local authorities and the Better Business Bureau.

DISCLAIMER: This guide is provided only for informational purposes and is not intended to be a substitute for legal or other professional advice. This guide does not contain nor is it intended to provide legal or other professional advice for any specific situation and readers should not take action or refrain from taking action, based only on the information provided in this guide. Goldberg & Osborne has attempted to provide accurate and current information in this guide, but cannot and does not guarantee that the information is accurate, complete, or up to date. This guide may contain links and/or search terms that will lead to external websites as a convenience to the reader, but Goldberg & Osborne is not responsible for the content or operation of any website other than its own website. The presence of a link or a search term does not imply and is not an endorsement by Goldberg & Osborne of the website provider or the information contained on any linked website or on any website contained in search results from a search term provided in the guide.