Finding an Honest Mechanic in Chicago

guaranteed1. Research before you need it

Find a mechanic before you need one. If you wait until your car breaks down, you’ll be rushed into making a decision – and it might be the wrong one. Start by verifying any warranties or service records you have on your vehicle to get an idea of what you’ll need in the future and what’s covered by warranties. Then use the tips below to gather a list of Chicago mechanics in your neighborhood and narrow it down to the perfect place.

2. Skip the dealership

If your car is still under warranty and the service you need is free or deeply discounted, then head to the dealership. If not, head to an independent shop – they’re cheaper. On average, AutoMD says drivers save up to $300 a year by using an independent auto shop over a dealership.

4. Ignore the tow truck driver

Or anyone else with a monetary interest in where you take your car. More often than not, they’re in it for the money, not for you. When my car died in a parking lot, I called for a tow. As soon as the tow truck driver arrived, he suggested (repeatedly) that I take my car to a “great mechanic I know.” When I refused, he gave me the mechanic’s card and insisted I call later. When I got home, I looked up the “great mechanic.” Not only did he get horrible reviews, but he was partnered with the tow truck company – a fact the driver failed to mention.

5. Read reviews

Read a few reviews on every mechanic you consider. There’s plenty out there. For example:

6. Look for certifications and memberships

  • ASE certification – Mechanics must pass knowledge tests to obtain an ASE (or Automotive Service Excellence) certification.
  • ASA membersAutomotive Service Association members must pledge to uphold certain ethics – like having excellent customer service and performing high-quality service.
  • AAA – To join the American Automotive Association’s list of repair shops, mechanics must offer a 12-month-or-12,000-mile warranty. (You don’t need a membership to view the list.)

7. Find an auto shop with the right equipment

Modern cars have advanced computer systems that need special tools to diagnose problems. Make sure the shop you use has the right equipment for your vehicle. Otherwise, the mechanic may not fix the problem correctly and you might find yourself back in the shop. Ask the mechanic what equipment he plans to use on your car and if that equipment is specific to the make and model. Then ask if you can see the equipment in person. Some less-than-honest mechanics will tell you they have something when they don’t.

8. Don’t shop price alone

I had a hard time following this advice when I was shopping for a mechanic, but resist the urge to go with the cheapest estimate. You don’t need to pay top dollar to get great service, but you can’t base your decision all on price, either. The mechanic may be cheap for a reason. If the work isn’t done right, you’ll end up with bigger problems later on. Take all of the other tips into account first. Once you find three or more mechanics that meet other requirements, then compare price. This way, you’ll find a great mechanic and save money.

9. Ask about parts

Ask what brand or type of parts the mechanic uses and why. Some mechanics only use factory parts, but they’re more expensive than aftermarket parts – and they aren’t always needed. A good mechanic uses factory parts when he has to and aftermarket parts the rest of the time to save his customers money.

10. Ask about shop supplies

In “Confessions of a Car Dealership Service Manager”, Popular Mechanics asked an anonymous service manager for an example of a popular tactic used to pad the bill. The answer: charging for “shop supplies.” When a shop charges for shop supplies, they’re charging you to use the stuff they already have to buy to keep their business running. The service manager admitted he’s seen shops add $30 to a bill for the use of three towels. So ask if the mechanic charges for supplies – and don’t trust one that does.

11. Find a mechanic that specializes in your car

All cars are different. If you own an SUV, don’t take it to a mechanic that specializes in sports cars. You’ll get better service if you find a mechanic that works on your type of car. When talking to the mechanic, ask if he specializes in a certain make or type of car. Many do. If not, ask what cars he has worked on recently or what type he works on the most.

12. Check the shop’s hours

If the shop doesn’t have convenient hours, you won’t be satisfied, and it might end up costing you. When I was searching, I found a great mechanic, but he closed at 3 p.m. and wasn’t open on Tuesdays. I don’t have the time to take off in the middle of the day to check on my car, so I went with someone else.

13. Stake out the shop

Want to see how the mechanic really works? Pause outside the shop. If you see customers leaving angry, he’s lacking customer service skills. If the shop bay is dirty and littered with parts, he’s not being professional. Move on.

14. Do an honesty check

My auto enthusiast friend suggests doing a little recon before you pick a mechanic. Take your car to the mechanic when you know nothing is wrong – but tell him you think there’s a problem. An honest mechanic will tell you there isn’t one. A dishonest mechanic will come back with a laundry list of needed repairs.

15. Start with a small job

Test drive a new mechanic with a small job like an oil change or air filter replacement. If the mechanic can’t do small jobs well, do you really trust him to rebuild your engine or replace your brakes?

16. Ask questions

Ask every question you can think of. The mechanic should answer all of them in layman’s terms and without attitude. If the mechanic blows you off, acts put out by talking to you, or doesn’t break down complicated concepts, don’t give him your business. It’s your money, you need to know where it’s going and why.

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