Home » How Do You Choose A Repair Shop? Autopian Asks

How Do You Choose A Repair Shop? Autopian Asks

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Many car enthusiasts are fairly handy, with the mindset and toolset to DIY most repairs. However, every so often, you end up with a job that you can’t or don’t want to tackle at home. Maybe you don’t own tire mounting and balancing equipment, maybe you don’t have time to rebuild an automatic transmission, or maybe access to a particular part is such a pain in the butt that you’d rather pay a pro. There’s no shame in any of that, but there is difficulty in what comes next — choosing a repair shop.

This can be an absolute minefield. Some shops are better than others, and at the end of the day, we all just want to know our cars are being cared for by trustworthy professionals who won’t pull any shenanigans on the work or the bill.

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One way I’ve done it is through recommendations from friends. If they’ve had good experiences and you trust them, chances are I’d be more comfortable sticking with their recommendation. It’s also worth noting that model-specific forums can be an excellent resource. Sure, some might look at forum frequenters in 2024 like they’re cave-dwelling soldiers unaware that the war was over years ago, but these message board messiahs are actually smart. They believe in permanence, searchability, sharing knowledge, and maintaining a reasonable standard. They’re obsessively into cars, so if they recommend a shop, chances are it’ll be alright.

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Of course, other factors need to be weighed as well. Proximity to work or home, Google reviews, hourly labor rates, all that stuff. So, how do you choose a repair shop? Let us know in the comments below, because I’m ready to read your responses.

(Photo credits: Thomas Hundal)

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Yes I Drive A 240
Yes I Drive A 240
12 days ago

I did 99% of my own work down to full engine swaps and rebuilds, but for the times I didn’t I just went with highly rated local shops and as a mechanic myself, I knew what to look out for if they did a bad job.

Jim Jenkins
Jim Jenkins
13 days ago

I choose not to use any of them.

Myk El
Myk El
13 days ago

There’s been a little trial and error in my family, but once we find a place, we tend to stick with it. Hoshi motors in Boulder was a go to for Japanese vehicles in my family when we lived in the area. We had another in Golden, CO. Generally the search starts with looking for specialist in either brand or the kind of work needed, looking for testimonials, etc.

EXL500
EXL500
13 days ago

My father went to the repair shop I now go to. Once my warranty was up, I went there and the owner remembered my father and told me how much he enjoyed his company.

My father stopped driving 20+ years before I went there.

It’s not all personal: there have been multiple times that I and folks I’ve referred have been told “you don’t need that”. And the work they do is terrific.

One just has to book ahead since they are very busy, for obvious reasons (another good sign to look for).

ProfessorOfUselessFacts
ProfessorOfUselessFacts
13 days ago

For me, it was the guy who overheard us talking about our planned Disney vacation at church. He happened to be parked next to us, and as we were leaving, looked at our car and said “I can’t let you drive that far on those brakes. You’ll end up stranded somewhere in south Georgia.” A test drive later confirmed the sound we had not heard over music & a kid, which was the wonderful song of bad pads and rotors. He texted me links to the parts on Rock Auto, and said “Order these and swing by the house. $80 and I’ll get them done.”

Turned out he had been a mechanic for almost 40 years, and was working for Jaguar at the time. He has since done brakes, alternators, a complete engine rebuild for my father in law, and more. Great guy, and people around here will wait in line to have him work on their cars.

Ryan L
Ryan L
13 days ago

I usually look for an oldschool joint with say 2 bays and then I talk to the proprietor or mechanic. I went to my current favorite one with a clicking issue I couldn’t figure out.

The experience solidified my relationship.

He said “lets take it for a drive” grabbed the keys and we headed out into a residential area near by. Going roughly 30 mph he reefed the steering wheel a couple of times to see if he could replicate the sound – no dice. Then next he pulled opened the door and hung half his body out and tapped the brakes….there it was. He mumbled something like “thought so” perplexed, I wonder what he had deduced.

This is where it gets even better, while still traveling at roughly 25mph he reached over and fully yanked on the e-brake…a bit startled at first but notably the car did not stop. His sherlock holmes ruse was over…rusted out ebrake cable flopping around he stated.

His suggestion, just don’t park on hills and have them install a new ebrake kit the next time you get your brakes done. Sent me on my way, no charge.

Whenever I have a problem youtube and my patience can’t fix I’ll bring my car over and usually he’ll be like “either you spend 4hrs swearing and sweating or you pay me 400$ bucks to do the same..your choice”

Chachi549
Chachi549
13 days ago

I love cars, but I’m not very handy with them. We don’t have a second vehicle, and I don’t want to make my family pay for my learning curve. So I have a lot of experience finding mechanics. My favorite was a very Christian man, who gave me a bible and deep discounts because he liked me and my daughter.

When I go to look for a mechanic, I look for signs of professionality. They have to meet some minimum requirements. They don’t have to be clean cut, but if their shop is clean, I trust them. If they have any kind of paper work or procedures around picking up or dropping off the car, I know they’ll be accountable. I also tend to trust people more if they’re upfront about what they don’t do. These and other considerations are all moderated by the urgency of the matter.

Generally I look for someone who puts effort into the little things like that because I know they’ve developed to the point where they can address those.

Hangover Grenade
Hangover Grenade
13 days ago

There is a very good independent BMW mechanic near me. They do great work, but as soon as you walk in the lobby you know you are going to take a financial beating. It’s very nice, too nice, almost opulent. I felt very embarrassed handing them the keys to my beater e34 with the various leaks and slammed suspension.

World24
World24
13 days ago

Lemme just look up from my computer for a moment….
Oh look, a shop!
Well, that was easy.

IanGTCS
IanGTCS
13 days ago

Exhaust stuff I go to a local exhaust place that is very reasonably priced.

Otherwise a dealer recommended a place that is very local to us. My wife dropped her old car off for an oil change and the pan was too rusted out and the advisor recommended the local shop as it would be way cheaper. They are a 15 minute walk away so it is easy to drop something off after the kids are asleep and we can pick it up the next night. They are honest and aren’t big on upselling.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
13 days ago

It depends on the issue. For a lot of things like exhaust repair, I’ll find a specialist.

Sometimes I’ll just go to a place that’s convenient… like a Canadian Tire that is walking distance from my work that I know is ‘good enough’.

And when I had an uncommon car (Saab 9-3), I took it to a Saab specialist.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
13 days ago

My favorite mechanic is an example of a type I’ve utilized several times. I’m out in the rural Southwest and most towns big enough to have a Family Dollar also have the local mechanic. He’s usually a Latino guy who comes from a heritage of maximizing the lifespan of equipment with minimal resources. Since the customer pool in these places is small, these guys can’t afford to do bad work, overcharge, or be assholes. The economies in these small towns are often tenuous, everyone is pinching their pennies, commercial space rent is low or zoning is flexible enough to combine home and shop, so these guys tend to charge less and give breaks on things. My favorite of these mechanics is Ernie in Ajo AZ. He was recommended by a couple of locals. I went to him for a problem with my van’s Hydro-Boost system. He diagnosed it for free then said, “You can save a lot on parts by ordering from RockAuto. (His shop fridge was covered in their magnets.) I’ll just charge for actual labor, not what the book says.” The parts came and I watched him and another guy make the repair in about a half hour. When they were done he said, “We’re knockin’ off for the day. You want a beer?”

Theotherotter
Theotherotter
13 days ago

It’s tough, since I don’t use them a lot and I don’t really have any local friends who can recommend them to me. When I’ve found a good one, it’s been a combination of reading reviews, getting the vibe from the owner or the people there, and experience.

Years ago, with (as always) more projects than time, in order to reduce my cognitive overhead I decided to farm out a suspension and steering overhaul (especially the rack rebuild) on my SE-R to a shop. I found a shop down the street from me that seemed good, got a good vibe from the owner, he was willing to do what was needed and use the parts I had (I’ve had boxes of OE parts for that car for ages) and rebuild the existing steering rack. All in all, very good experience, and would use him again. Only complaint was that he dealt with my sagging drivers door by jacking it up until it stopped sagging, and didn’t use a block, bending the bottom edge of the door. Didn’t really mind the sagging as I had been living with it for 15+ years and my door-shutting muscle memory had accommodated it.

Recently, my JSW TDI has been trying to bleed me dry. The heater core got done at the dealer because it was there for an oil change and they said they could get it done that day. Then the clutch hydraulics started failing. The *second* time the cat was stolen, I picked a local shop to repair it that was in-network with my insurance and I thought I might have them do the clutch work. I bought this car specifically to have a car that was new enough that it would not break or need wrenching, and it has cost me more money in the last year than every other car put together over at least the last three years. So it goes. I did not get a good vibe from them – they didn’t communicate well, and didn’t seem to have their act together, and wanted to fire the parts cannon at it. The dealer also wanted to load the parts cannon. I decided to try another shop that was within a short bike ride from me and seemed well-regarded from reviews. This turned out terrifically. The work still cost a pile of money, but they were rigorous in their diagnostics, extremely clear in communication, and they totally sold me when I learned the owner, an engineer, had designed his own tool to isolate the two sides of the clutch hydraulic circuit in order to identify whether it was the master or slave that was leaking. 10/10 would use again. They have two air-cooled Porsche guys, so if I ever decide or need to take my 911 to a shop, they’ll be the one. (They’re VFC Engineering in Chicago, for those who are curious.)

The Fiat was easy. It’s an easy car to work on, but I’ve had a few things done by a shop, either for an overall evaluation or to reduce cognitive overhead. I happen to live about a mile and a half from one of the best Italian-car shops in the Midwest (Autosprint), so I didn’t even have to think about that one.

Last edited 13 days ago by Theotherotter
James Carson
James Carson
13 days ago

My regular goto shop hired a front end manager last year. Their usual excellent work started to go downhill shortly after. After being effectively back walled on a job I asked them to look into, I’ve stopped taking my cars to them for anything except work I cannot do. I also take the Honda into a dealer I trust in the nearest large city. I’ve since discovered that they were charging for filter changes not done, plus other scheduled jobs like cvt fluid changes, brake flush and bleeding were not being done as well.

Alan Bradley
Alan Bradley
13 days ago

In the UK it was originally a chance recommendation. Since then it’s grown from “one guy with a lift” into a bigger concern with multiple techs, and developing a/c and cooling/ventilation systems for JLR and McLaren.

In the US, a recommendation from a non-car friend. Walkable from my apartment and run by a couple of older guys they’re reliable, reasonably priced and pleasant to deal with. They do oil changes on my Lexus after a comedy quotation for a replacement reversing light. I still go to Lexus for my state inspection because they’ll be as picky as hell, are only allowed to charge the standard fee, and have a nice working zone, free coffee and WiFi.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
13 days ago

It’s all about the people. Got an emissions check at a local shop a week ago. Had never been there before, will never go there again. However, the shop just up the street was very nice, reasonably priced, and they did a great job. Now they’re my shop for stuff I won’t/can’t do myself.

Saul Goodman
Saul Goodman
13 days ago

Unless it is something major or technical/requires fancy tools, i choose my shop.

If I need fancy or major work done (like a rear main seal, which requires the transmission to be dropped) I go to this great local shop of mine. They really liked my car and gave compliments to me about it which gives me peace of mind. No dealerships (unless it’s warranty or recall work) or chain chop-shops for me.

Side note: that local shop has a dog in the reception area they have named “low tire pressure” 🙂

Last edited 13 days ago by Saul Goodman
Racingtown
Racingtown
13 days ago

About 12 years ago my work started rented a warehouse in a building with a repair shop. Proximity to work is a huge plus, but over the years I’ve gotten to know the owner and most of mechanics and they’re all great guys. The owner, plus a few others are former Honda master mechanics. They treat everyone fairly. They are busy enough that it can often be two weeks to get in for a basic oil change. Even when they’re busy I watched them take care of a customer on the spot who showed up with a stuck brake caliper.

Good people there.

Paul B
Paul B
13 days ago

Visit your local parts counters that have delivery cars. Go in. If the phone is always ringing and they ask you to wait a sec, all the better.

Ask the parts guy what garage he recommends.

Rinse and repeat a few times and go for garage that was mentioned the most.

Mind you, free tacos are hard to resist.

Jdoubledub
Jdoubledub
14 days ago

I have trust issues. Nothing pisses me off than paying someone to do a job and they do it worse than I could have. If I absolutely must take it somewhere I go to the dealership because I figure they have the most familiarity and less likely to bungle the job.

Mike F.
Mike F.
13 days ago
Reply to  Larry

Best quote from the article: “Groups that would be here meeting were pretty good to me. I did pretty well with the Pork Producers.”

Hangover Grenade
Hangover Grenade
13 days ago
Reply to  Larry

Sneed’s Feed and Seed

Formerly Chuck’s

Andrea Petersen
Andrea Petersen
14 days ago

Since I sit on the other side of the desk, I’ll say that the most common ways people seem to find us are word of mouth and Google, but realistically, it’s more word of mouth.

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
14 days ago

I got lucky and found a highly recommended shop that is reasonable, checks the car over since it in the air anyways, and has a LS1 tech that can diagnose the motor with a stethoscope.

Nero Wolfe
Nero Wolfe
14 days ago

Well.. We start with how they treat me. Then how they treat people I send to them. If they try to fleece the women in my life, I move on.

I use shops to do things I don’t have time to do, or don’t wanna spend the time doing.

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