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Recognizing Good Shops vs. Bad Shops

Customer Happy with Good Auto Repair Shop

Your vehicle is a huge part of your life. It gets you to your job in the morning, helps you run errands, and makes those vacations possible on the weekends. Americans depend heavily on their cars, and because we use them so often, it puts and enormous amount of strain on their machines. Even though we want to believe our car can handle all the pressure we put on its technology, it's inevitable we're going to run into problems. It's so important to bring your vehicle to a reliable shop that delivers good results when your car needs a check-up or repair. Here are some ways to tell the difference between a good auto-repair shop and a bad auto-repair shop.

There are plenty of good, honest, and experienced mechanics out there that want to deliver the best results for you and your car. They will be more than happy to give you an accurate estimate of your repair costs, and explain the issues happening under the hood. But, before you make a distinction between a good and a bad auto repair shop, it's important to educate yourself on your vehicle and do some research before-hand. Ask family and friends about their recommendations for great local shops.

AutoPair has a great search tool that ranks auto repair shops near you, with verified ratings. This will make you feel more secure when making a decision about how to tackle these auto repairs. AutoPair takes many components into consideration when ranking these auto repair shops. We check to see if the shop is ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) recognized, Blue Shield certified, licensed, bonded, and insured among other factors as well.

Communication 

Building customer trust is the most important factor associated with growth and continued success of a shop. Communication is the key to a two-way trusting relationship between customers and technicians. It isn't just the words exchanged, it's how the technician communicates throughout the entire process.

​From the minute you make contact with the shop, they should be forging that trusting relationship with you. When the service advisors reach out to you with estimates for services and repairs, those discussions need to be explained at a level that you can understand. All your questions and concerns should be answered thoroughly by the end of the visit. If the staff is able to communicate effectively, then it shows the staff is well-trained with customer relations. 

Automotive Service Excellence 

ASE is short for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. Since 1972, the ASE has been an independent non-profit organization that has worked to improve the quality of vehicle repairs and services by testing and certifying automotive professionals.

In addition to passing an ASE Certification test, automotive technicians must have two years on the job training, or one year of on the job training and a two-year degree in automotive repair to qualify for certification. The tests are hard, and only two out of every three test-takers pass on their first attempt. To remain ASE certified, professionals must retest every five years to keep up with ever-advancing automotive technology.

The ASE tests exist so customers and shop owners can gauge a technician's level of expertise before contracting the technician's services. This offers tangible proof of their technical knowledge. To learn more about ASE and what they do, visit their website.

Blue Seal Certified 

Once an auto repair shop has many workers who are ASE certified, then it can be considered for the Blue Seal Program. The ASE Blue Seal of Excellence Recognition Program gives attention to shops and staff members who meet the specific criteria:

  • At least 75% of technicians performing diagnosis and repairs are ASE certified
  • Each area of service offered in the shop is covered by at least one ASE Certified Technician

Earning a Blue Seal Certification makes a repair business stand out because it assures the shop is ASE certified and has a quality reputation that's been earned by their customers.

Licensed

Having auto repair technicians that are licensed is necessary. This usually includes training from a trade school or a polytechnic university that consists of both classroom-learning and on-the-job training in the form of an apprenticeship. The rules vary from state-to-state, but typically technicians have to spend thousands of hours under the hood of the car before they can call themselves licensed professionals. Additionally, many states require mechanics to obtain a state business license specifically to run a repair shop.

At any repair shop, there will usually be a healthy mix between master tradesmen and apprentices. Most repair shops will be happy to disclose whether they are licensed professionals or apprentices.

Having a licensed mechanic is going to be pricier, but there's a much higher guarantee that it's going to be a quality repair. If you're just having a minor repair done, like an oil change or tire rotation, you may choose to go for the cheaper option because it's harder to cause serious damage from those types of repairs. But, work from an unlicensed technician can void the warranty on parts (tires or after-market shock absorbers) and may even void the warranty on your vehicle. If major damage to your engine can be traced back to an unlicensed technician, your dealership may even refuse your warranty. You may have to go through an extensive process to regain that warranty.

Another issue with poor workmanship is safety. Mechanics that aren't properly trained and cut corners on repairs can put you at risk when driving. A licensed professional is worth the risk when weighing the potential consequences. If you're hiring a mechanic to do work on your car, make sure he has current certification and experience. You typically get what you pay for and in the case of a high-quality, licensed shop or technician, this holds true. The cheapest price is normally not your best option.

Bonded

First off, what does it mean that an auto repair shop is bonded? To answer that: there are federal, state, and local government agencies that govern the practices of all businesses, including auto repair shops. This bond is means that the government will oversee this specific industry to make sure the company is adhering to the laws and statues present. The bond is also proof that the business will be fair and honest in their business dealings with their customers. You want a shop that follows rules and regulations, right? Then this is important to look for when deciding where to take your car for repairs and tune-ups. At AutoPair, we specifically check to see if the shops in our directory are bonded and we let you know.

Insured

Many things in life don't go according to plan. That's why people get insurance! You would think all auto repair shops are insured, however there are some shops that lack a basic necessity for a functional business. If the shop were to damage your car during a repair and didn't have insurance, you could be facing a major issue on your end. An insured shop is an obvious, but essential choice when choosing a repair shop.

Community Involvement 

Why would being involved in the community matter to getting your vehicle repaired?  It's simple when you step back for a moment and think about it. A small business owner that gives back or invests their time and/or money back into their community recognizes the value that the customers and community provide for their business. It's a symbiotic relationship, the community needs the shop but the shop also need the community. 

With the distrust present between customers and auto repair shops, drivers are visiting auto repair shops less and less. As a result, these shops are losing business. An auto repair shop that is looking to stay competitive in this market has to find ways to maintain relationships with their clientele. It's always a good sign if an auto repair shop is involved and active within their community. They could be:

  • Chamber of Commerce involvement
  • Sponsoring a sports team
  • Partnering with local schools or churches
  • Promoting other local businesses
  • Donating to charities and other organizations
  • Giving back to organizations that are directly related to issues within the automotive industry (Bikers Against Drunk Drivers, Keep Kids Alive Drive 25, Mothers Against Drunk Driving etc.)

A shop that gives back to the less fortunate really shows that the management and employees want to add depth and meaning to their work. Auto repair shops that are willing to re-invest in their communities are typically indicative of a high-quality shop.

Ask Yourself These Questions

When you visit the repair shop, look how they present themselves as a business and ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the parking lot clean and neat?
  • Is the shop clean, or is it cluttered with rags, scattered tools, and debris?
  • Do the mechanics have well-kept uniforms, or are they wearing grubby clothes from home?
  • Is the environment inviting? Are the offices inside neat and professional?
  • Are the bathrooms clean and sanitary?

Use your best judgement with these questions. Fixing cars is a messy business and shops don't reflect signs of refined interior design. Even though it's not a traditional office, it should run and look like a professional business. If a company values their customers, they'll work to prove their business is the best. A dirty shop shows a lack of discipline which is a red flag when deciding if a shop is good or not.

Other Small Things to Consider 

Another important factor that dictates if a shop is reliable or not is the experience level of the technicians. If the technicians are trained, the shop will make sure to display their certificates and training courses their technicians have completed. This is an indicator that the shop takes pride in their techs. This doesn't guarantee their technicians are the best, but it shows the shop is willing to send their employees to train to improve their skills.

In addition to certificates, the size of a toolbox can sometimes be an indicator of skill level. Experienced technicians have a larger selection of tools from the different projects they've worked on. With more specialized jobs comes more specialized tools and more experience. A good reference point for determining how experienced a technician is based on their toolbox size is this: if their toolbox is the same size or smaller than your dishwasher at home, it's a pretty good chance the mechanic is not very experienced. This isn't a bad thing for simple repairs, but for high end repairs, you're going to want a mechanic with more experience. If the toolbox is the size of a refrigerator laid on its side, that is sign of an expanded and dense toolbox with a large array of tools. It shows this mechanic has invested their own money to have the right tool for the right job and probably has been working on cars for a long amount of time.

When evaluating auto repair shops, be confident in your intuition. If you feel uncomfortable about a price, it's okay to say no! A lot of times, people feel intimidated because they aren't experts on car repairs. To feel more secure, it's never a bad idea to do your research and educate yourself on understanding your vehicle. There are a lot of good, honest repair technicians who will do a good job, but when you get a bad feeling it's okay to go with your gut.


This article was written with the help and resources from the non-profit Car Care Council. The "Be Car Care Aware" campaign is a consumer education program about the benefits of regular vehicle care, maintenance and repair, designed to provide knowledge from all segments of the automotive aftermarket industry.

The non-profit Car Care Council is the source of information for the "Be Car Care Aware" consumer education campaign promoting the benefits of regular vehicle care, maintenance and repair to consumers. To view the Car Care Council's consumer education website, visit www.carcare.org

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