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18 Characteristics of High-Quality Auto Repair Shops

auto shop illustration

For many vehicle owners, having the ability to recognize the characteristics of a high quality auto repair shop escapes them.  How do you know if you're dealing with a high-quality, reputable auto repair shop or you've just walked into the scene of the movie Vacation when Clark Griswold has to get the Wagon Queen Family Truckster repaired after he went off-roading in the desert?  


TL:DR 

 18 Characteristics of High-Quality Auto Repair Shops

  1. Staff is professional, approachable & friendly
  2. Technicians have professional certifications
  3. Owners are involved in the community
  4. They advise you instead of sell you
  5. Utilize more than the phone to communicate with you
  6. Provide periodic notifications on progress of work
  7. Visible and active on social media
  8. Waiting area and shop are both clean
  9. Restroom is clean and well-stocked
  10. Organization is apparent throughout the business
  11. Shop embraces technology
  12. Continuing education is required of staff
  13. Labor rates are posted
  14. Estimates/quotes are detailed
  15. Work comes with warranties
  16. Membership in automotive & business organizations
  17. Great "Word of Mouth" reputation
  18. Visible in online searches and directories

 Most consumers seem to distrust the auto repair industry across the board, but why? Besides the obvious reasons of getting ripped off and taken advantage of, there's actually several reasons this occurs, but thats a subject for another post. 

In actuality, very few vehicle owners have a relationship with a trusted, reputable auto repair center to perform maintenance and repairs on their car. What if there was a way that you could recognize the top quality repair shop vs the bad one? Well, read on and we'll break it down for you.

 Recognize top-notch personnel vs the rip-off artists

  The way you're treated, and how staff and employees interact with you makes or breaks your experience with any company you do business with. These interactions apply to your experience with an auto repair shop or trustworthy mechanic as well. So, let's discuss a few characteristics that should help you recognize that you're interacting with a high-quality shop owner, service manager, technician or auto mechanic.

 1. Staff is professional, approachable and friendly

A well run auto repair shop or auto body shop will always be professional with you. The person that answers the phone or greets you at the counter should be friendly and approachable. This is normally your first interaction with the business so it should be a comfortable and easy conversation. If you find that the person you're talking to is bothered that you interrupted them or short, curt or off-putting then it could be a sign of a deeper problem. Understand that everyone has bad days, but a well run auto shop understands to put their best people-person out front.

 2. Technicians have professional certifications, designations or accreditations?

  Industry leading repair facilities know that they must hire certified technicians and mechanics to perform quality repairs. The most widely recognized designation is ASE Certified. ASE is short for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.

ASE is an independent , non-profit organization that works to improve the quality of vehicle repair and service by testing and certifying automotive professionals. ASE Certification is granted to an automotive technician that has completed the required training and passed extensive testing requirements to earn the ASE Certification. You'll typically find the ASE signage displayed in shops that employ a certified technician and the technicians will normally have the ASE patch on their sleeve.

 3. Owners are involved in the community

 We've found a direct correlation between business owners that are involved in the community and high-quality auto repair shops. This is because much of the time the shop owner also lives in the community and has a vested interest in the success of where he or she lives. Involvement can take many different forms. We've seen everything from school boards and chamber of commerce involvement to volunteer work, youth coaching or church work. This isn't to say that all community involved business owners make a high-quality shop, but there is a greater likelihood.

 4. They advise you instead of sell you

  There is a world of difference between advising clients and selling to customers. So, how do you recognize the difference between selling and advice. Advice has 2 elements, choice and knowledge. A quality auto repair facility will take the time to present you with an estimate or quote, discuss your choices with you, tell you why it's needed and answer questions you have (knowledge). The knowledge portion is best described as education coupled with experience. 

Selling on the other hand, is presenting you with a list of recommended items that need addressed, a verbal description of the items might take place, but usually no discussion is had, followed by the mechanic asking you "if you want to take care of this brake repair".

 Auto Shops earn your trust through great communication and customer service

 Great communication and customer service are cornerstones of most successfully run businesses. It's no different with auto repair shops. Just as we addressed above, explaining the work performed or estimated, greeting you and talking to you on the phone are all markers of good communication. Maybe its a discussion as simple as a conversation about your check engine light. Let's examine some additional elements and why they're important.

 5. Utilize more than the phone to communicate with you

Talking to customers via the telephone is common, but do they also use email and/or text? Many high-quality facilities are now using text messages to remind customers of things like appointments, regular maintenance, work status updates, and even approvals. When it comes to email communications, quality shops send welcomes, thank you's, specials, and even newsletters. But the best shops learn how YOU like to communicate and interact with you that way.  

 6. Provide periodic notification on progress of work

We've all been there..."Is my car ready yet?" Letting you know the status of your repair work goes a long way in building the trust and relationship between you and the shop. Top performing shops know this and notify you when your vehicle is ready, but they also notify you periodically through a larger job or at the end of the day of multi-day jobs. Changes, parts delays or any unforeseen issues are all communicated to the customers of these high-performing facilities. Lower performing shops tend to only let you know when your vehicle is ready.  

7. Visible and active on social media 

  High-quality shops recognize that the vast majority of their customers are on social media. Regularly utilizing channels like Facebook and YouTube are excellent signs that an auto repair shop understands its customers needs and wants to communicate with them. While some high-quality shops still struggle with using social media effectively, the greater percentage of them use it and embrace it. On the alternative side, lower performing shops tend to make all kinds of excuses as to why they don't use technology to communicate with their community.

If a shop isn't using social media, it doesn't mean they are bad. Maybe the owner is older and doesn't understand all this new technology. 

Clean physical surroundings and quality go hand-in-hand 

  Does your Covid mask double as a barrier to the dust and dirt? If so, there's a deeper problem than just cleaning. The shops physical surroundings usually are a reflection of management. Even if it's the most junior person in the shop doing the cleaning, the owner or service manager is responsible for how the physical surroundings are kept. Cleanliness, organization, and attention to the surroundings tell you a lot about the managements approach to running the rest of the business. Let's peel back a few layers and see what we uncover.

8. Waiting area and shop are both clean

  If the waiting area isn't clean, then the shop is probably worse! You can't always judge a book by it's cover but in the case of auto repair shops, if they don't keep things clean and tidy in the waiting room, most likely the shop is in even worse condition. Keep in mind, this isn't your financial advisor's office waiting area, it's an auto repair shop waiting room, but that being said, it should be clean, neat, organized, and comfortable to be in. Besides clean and comfortable, waiting at a shop that provides coffee and water are a nice touch but it also demonstrates that management is interested in your comfort. If there isn't simple amenities like this that doesn't mean its a bad shop, but the great ones will always have this and usually more!

 9. Restroom is clean and well-stocked

  Is there a restroom I can use?...uhh thanks anyway...I'll wait till I get home. The restroom. Why is this single area so important? Frankly, it has nothing to do with auto repair, right? Well...technically thats correct but this post is all about recognizing the high-quality shops from the not-so-good. The restroom speaks volumes about management. Just like the waiting area does. If it's clean, trash is emptied, soap and towels provided, toilet paper stocked you can bet the owner understands more than you think. Not just about your vehicle, but about you as a consumer. Attention to detail, proactive, thoughtful, understanding are all characteristics that management exhibits when this one area is addressed. But if it's not, then this can be a deal-breaker for many customers, especially female customers. There's some sound reasoning behind this. In fact we devoted an entire post to the restroom for our merchants, it's that important.

10. Organization is apparent throughout the business

  When you look around, can you see where the shops parts stock is kept? Is it organized or in disarray? Are the bay areas where the technicians service your car kept organized? An organized shop runs smoothly and efficiently. That translates to work being performed correctly the first time and less delays. Highly functioning auto repair businesses know this because it translates to happier more satisfied customers. Organization isn't the only factor that affects customer satisfaction. But, if you encounter a shop that seems like it's chaotic and disorganized then you can bet they have their fair share of dissatisfied customers.

11. Shop embraces technology 

How many computer screens are in the shop work area? Todays newer vehicles are rolling computers. Manufactures introduce new technology each year that addresses everything from simple switches to ultra high end image recognition cameras and autonomous driving technology. And, it takes a lot of onboard computer processing to accomplish this.  

  To provide factory auto maintenance and service for these high-tech machines, the best performing shops also have an array of computer equipment to assist them in diagnosing and troubleshooting issues. Scanners to read and download your vehicle's computer memory, laptops to help adjust different component settings, dedicated hardware and computer equipment to even align your cars wheels. It takes a small fortune to invest in the hardware and tools thats required of todays high-quality auto repair shops. Just look around the work area and you'll start to see the managements investment in technology. What if you don't see these? Well...look harder, they're probably there. But if not, I probably wouldn't take my car there to be serviced.

How much is that going to cost? 

Have you ever head the saying..."You get what you pay for"? That cliche holds true for most high-quality auto repair as well.

Too many consumers worry about price when they have car trouble. What they should be asking are a myriad of other questions. Wanna know why? It's not because they're afraid of being ripped off. It's because most car owners today don't know much about an automobile. Therefore, they focus on price because it's the only common ground they have to talk about with the auto repair shop. 

The consumer psychology behind this is fascinating.  When we don't know enough about a product or service we're considering, then we tend to discuss the only area we know something about. And that tends to be money. We've all been spending money all our lives. So, we know how to ask how much something is, but we don't know much else past that. Let's take a look at how a high-quality shop will price their services vs a lower quality shop because the cheapest very rarely isn't the best. 

12. Continuing education is required of staff

Just as we addressed the technology hardware and computers above, the investment in the shops technology doesn't stop with hardware purchases. The high-quality shops must invest in the continuing education of it's mechanic and technicians as well. As a consumer, you have to understand that this effects both quality and price. The quality of the work goes up but so does the price for that work. Conversely, if a shop doesn't invest in staying up to date with continuing education then they can bid out jobs a little cheaper. But that cheaper price comes with a risk. Are you willing to take the risk of a lesser qualified mechanic working on your car just to get the cheapest price?  

13. Labor rates are posted 

  This is a great question for a consumer to ask. What's better though is that the high-quality shop publishes its labor rate for all to see. It helps to build transparency and trust with you as a customer. Lesser shops won't publish this. And along the lines of labor rates, you should understand that there probably is a couple of different rates. For instance, electrical diagnostic rates are higher than a general labor rate for obvious reasons.

14. Estimate/quotes are detailed 

  High-quality auto repair shops are always willing to give you a quote or written estimate for work. The estimate should detail out replacement parts and labor separately. When it comes to estimating and charging you for work, there are industry labor guides that tell the repair shop how long a particular job takes to perform. This is how they compile the estimate or quote. Amount of time multiplied by their labor rate equals the quoted price and what you're charged. Lesser shops will tend to give you an overall price and not detail it out for you to examine.

15. Work comes with warranties 

Most reputable shops will warranty their labor and the part will have some type of warranty from the component manufacturer. Warranties vary in length because there are several different factors to consider. An original equipment (OE) part or one from a high quality aftermarket manufacturer may have anywhere between a 1 year to as much as a 3 year warranty on the part. Labor to install the component or part is the responsibility of the repair shop. Therefore, most high-quality auto repair shops will warranty that type of work for a year or a certain number of miles. Warranties are a deep and multi-factored subject. Thats why we written specifically about warranties here.  

 How do I find a high-quality auto repair shop?

There's a handful of ways to find this information out. Some of it's easy to do and others no so easy. A long-standing business in the community will have built a solid reputation for itself. Let's examine a few ways to find those diamonds, because they are out there.  

16. Membership in automotive and business organizations

AAA stands for the American Automobile Association and is a not-for-profit organization that advocates for safe mobility. Besides offering members a plethora of benefits they also claim to inspect shops to be a AAA approved auto repair facility. Top auto repair service shops many times may be a AAA facility, but not always.  

The BBB or Better Business Bureau is a non-profit membership organization that according to its website is "focused on advancing marketplace trust". The BBB performs two primary functions. One is to rate businesses, in our case, auto repair services, according to their reliability and performance. And the second is to serve as an intermediary for complaints and disputes. A key point to understand here is that shops can pay to be "accredited" members with the BBB or those businesses that don't pay for membership are considered "non-accredited". From your point of view as a consumer, the BBB is good information to have but certainly not a way to make a decision of good or bad car repair because there are too many other factors to consider that just are not covered by the BBB.

17. Great "Word of Mouth" reputation 

 Good ole word of mouth. This has been the time-tested way to find the high-quality auto repair shops for decades. But as mobile as our society is today, using this method hasn't been without hurdles. For instance, if you just moved into a new city, you might ask your co-worker or neighbor for a recommendation. If they knew, they would tell you but in many cases they didn't know either. And the same goes for the shops with a poor reputation. You could find that out as well, but many times you were going in blind. Don't misunderstand...word of mouth is still a benchmark of a great auto repair shop, but its just harder to find out in todays fast moving world.

 18. Visible in online searches and directories

Online research for most of us begins with a Google search. More information is available at your fingertips than ever before. And in our opinion, this is a great place to start. Forums and review sites are popular today but not as accurate as one would hope. Take for example, XYZ Auto Repair (a purely made-up shop). You find them listed in a reviews list or hear about them in a forum. It could be good or bad. The reason this isn't as accurate as you'd like is that anyone can write a review and anyone can comment in a forum. This has led to friends and family members of XYZ falsely singing the praises of a mediocre shop. Conversely, the same XYZ shop could have a huge complaint and terrible review online. It just so happened to come from XYZ's competitor down the road. See the problem? The problem is that you don't have any way to sort through the noise and find the real reviews.  

AutoPair to the rescue 

  Since you're already reading this on our site we thought we'd share why AutoPair can help you find the high-quality auto repair shops that are local to you better than any other way. First, we've assembled a directory of auto repair facilities from across the country. AutoPair doesn't charge the shop anything to be listed in the directory. Second, we created a proprietary ranking system based on much of what we've discussed above in this article. That way you can look at the ratings of the facilities in AutoPair and know we have your back. Third, we only allow confirmed customer reviews. When you read the shops reviews you know its coming from a bonafide customer of that shop. And finally, the high-quality shops want to earn your business so they are willing to provide you a discount to motivate you to come in and try them out. Get a discount now.

 Wrap Up

You at least, have a better understanding of what it takes for an auto repair shop to be considered high-quality. Hopefully, you can begin to recognize these 10 characteristics of a high-quality auto repair business when you encounter them And, in turn recognize the lesser quality shops. There are actually many high-quality shops and shop owners out there looking for a long-term loyal customer like you.

So when you decide to take the family on vacation to Wally World in the Wagon Queen Family Truckster and you do some off-roading, don't be like Clark and get taken by the rip-off artists, remember what you're learned here and apply it. 

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