“Does he use a digital or a manual caliper?”
Okay, that’s not actually one of the questions. When it comes to choosing a top-notch mechanic, you may want to start with these basics first:
1. What do the pros think?
While not an absolute guarantee of quality, these starting places give you a good idea of a mechanic’s professional standing and rep:
Certifications: The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifies mechanics who meet requirements for on-the-job training and pass challenging tests of technical expertise. In addition, your car's manufacturer may offer certifications to mechanics who prove they know it inside and out (literally).
Affiliations: The American Automobile Association (AAA) offers an Approved Auto Repair Facility network you can search by location – even if you’re not a member. Affiliated shops must pass a strict annual inspection, use only certified mechanics, and offer specific customer-friendly services.
VIP customers: Big name companies and government offices in your area use preferred mechanic shops to make sure their fleets of vehicles keep on delivering products and people to important places. It may pay to ask who your trusted company trusts.
2. Who do my friends and peers like?
Since most mechanics can’t afford to take out Super Bowl ads, word of mouth may be the best way to identify the rock stars in your area:
Friends: This one’s easy. Your friends who know cars probably know the best ways to maintain and repair them.
Online reviews: Sites like Angie’s list (membership is now free), Yelp or Car Talk’s Mechanics Files are known for their candid commentary. Look for mechanics who have a track record of positive reviews.
Specialty vehicle community: If you have an antique, collector or luxury car, it's a good idea to reach out to your enthusiast community. You probably want a mechanic who specializes in your type of vehicle – and knows how to find the right replacement parts.
3. Enough about them! How do I feel about it?
It's your ride. You get to decide. So after you’ve determined what pros, friends and peers think, try visiting a potential shop for an oil change or other basic maintenance need and judge for yourself:
Facilities: Is the shop reasonably clean, well-maintained and humming with customers?
Priorities: Does the shop prioritize the same things you do? For instance, if it's all about saving you money, it may have an inconvenient location or less-than-exciting waiting area. It may also keep fewer parts on hand – or make replacements with “aftermarket” parts that aren’t sourced from a car’s manufacturer and could be lower quality.
Communication: Is the mechanic happy to answer questions? Does he or she do a good job of explaining what’s going on with your car or do you have to pry it out?
Asking these questions should guide you to a mechanic who knows your vehicle, has the right skills to keep it on the road ... and respects what matters to you.
(And in case you’re wondering: when it comes to the raging “digital vs. manual caliper” debate, we have to go with digital.)
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