Cars on the road are older than they’ve ever been, an average of 11 years. And you can be sure that many aren’t getting the care they need. Whether it’s replacing a headlight, a battery, or something more serious, asking the right questions before choosing a repair shop is essential. Some tips:
Get recommendations. Use your social network to get referrals from co-workers, friends, and family. Once you have a list of shops, check the Better Business Bureau database for any history of complaints, www.bbb.org. At www.repairpal.com users can search by ZIP code and car model for a repair shop.
Check qualifications. It’s important to ask about whether a shop’s mechanics carry any certifications. The possibilities include:
AAA Approved Auto Repair: About 8,000 approved shops are inspected and must pass standards set by the auto club. They must provide customers with written estimates, return replaced parts, and offer a 12-month warranty.
ASA: Automotive Service Association: Its members promise fair prices, skilled technicians, and price estimates. It holds annual conventions focused on technical and management training.
ASE: A nonprofit group, National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence tests and certifies mechanics. They must pass an exam and have at least 2 years of experience. Retesting is required every five years.
Compare costs. Mechanics typically charge for labor by the hour, from $50 to more than $100 an hour.
An estimate is usually based on a flat rate. The mechanic looks up how long the repair should take and then uses a flat hourly rate and cost of parts to calculate a total. But labor costs can vary widely.
Before you have your car worked on, ask what happens if the repair doesn’t take as long as the estimate and see if you’re satisfied with the response.
Make sure the shop uses parts made by the car manufacturers. Parts like starters, alternators, and radiators can vary greatly in quality.
Simply shopping for the cheapest garage gets a lot of consumers in trouble. Make sure you ask whether the garage charges separately to diagnose what’s wrong. Today’s cars usually are plugged into a computer to pinpoint the problem, and a $100 charge is common. If an estimate seems steep, try an online calculator to help gauge if it’s out of line, such as automd.com/repaircost.
Assess customer service. Choose a shop that willingly offers a detailed written estimate and assures that the cost won’t significantly exceed that amount unless they check with you. Also see what type of warranty the shop offers for repairs. Parts and labor should be guaranteed for a period of time or number of miles. AAA certified shops offer 12 months or 12,000 miles, for example.David Pitt writes for the Associated Press.