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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Jatkat
Jatkat
1 month ago

Let some random stranger touch MY babies?? I don’t think so! But really, I have enough cars now to allow myself the time to attempt pretty much all repairs. Only car I’ll take to the shop is my Volt, because A: Its under warranty, and B: I donno my lectrics real good.

In the past, I worked for a parts store. Lemme tell ya, there is no better way to know what shops to avoid, and which ones are trustworthy than delivering parts.

CandleCamper
CandleCamper
1 month ago

I observed this garage near me taking care of Morgans and other incredible antiques, so i figured they’d know what to do with my 69 vw camper. Not only do they know how to care for it, the owner used to have one!

StevenR
StevenR
1 month ago

My parents have been going to the same shop for 25+ years now, they know the guy who runs the place. Not that that gets them any special deals or anything. If I can swing it I’ve taken my vehicles there, but I live a little ways away and it always involves a vehicle swap with my parents and my dad usually being the one who interacts with the place.

For a little while in one place I lived, there was a shop right down the street I used a few times. I could drop my vehicle off and walk home in 5 minutes. If I had continued to live there I probably would have started favoring them over the one my parents like, simply because of proximity.

But now where my wife and I live, I haven’t had a chance to find a shop close by, so we’ve gone back to my parent’s shop. Though to be honest I wasn’t that happy after the last time my truck was there. Went in for leaky fan clutch, so they put a new belt on as well, and the new one squeals when the old one didn’t.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
1 month ago
Reply to  StevenR

That’s cool that your parents found that kind of place – it’s so rare for something like that to last so long these days – and I hope your last time was just an aberration.

Clark B
Clark B
1 month ago

I usually look for a shop that specializes in the make of the car in question, or more broadly, the country of manufacture. Euro shops might cost more, but for me it’s worth it to know they specialize in the car I’m bringing them. Usually though, I do all my own work on our cars.

When there’s a job I can’t/don’t want to do muself, there’s only one shop around here I let touch my car. They built my dad and I’s S2000 and C8 track cars, along with countless others, and we know the owner. What I love about them is that they don’t just do track cars. It’s not unusual to see a Porsche, a Corvette, and an Explorer with 200k miles on it all in the shop at the same time. They had a Wagoneer in there last week. When my best friend bought her 2012 Beetle, several issues cropped up shortly after she bought it. My dad paid to have this shop work on it for her, and she said she had never been treated so well by an auto shop. They walked her though exactly what they did to the car, why they did it, and answered all of her questions. She said every other shop she’d been to talked down to her because she was a woman, but this shop didn’t. She’s gone on to recommend them to other people, for that alone.

Additionally, they have a high-end alignment rack, since they build track cars and all. I’ve had alignments done at other shops, and while they were fine, there is something to be said for that alignment rack. I’ve never had a car track straighter than it does when that shop does the alignment. They’ll be replacing the shocks and springs on my Sportwagen soon, the owner even helped me pick the best combo for a lower ride height while balancing that with comfort. The Sportwagen needs a timing belt this year, and after reading the DIY, I think they’ll be doing that job as well. Their rates are high, for sure, but not much more than the dealership and I trust them a helluva lot more.

Eslader
Eslader
1 month ago
Reply to  Clark B

Even that’s not a sure thing. Had a mechanic back in college who only worked on Hondas. Repair and speed shop. Did a bunch of Mugen installs, etc. Had an 88 CRX DX that kept stalling. Brought it in, it’s the distributor, gimme $500 and it’ll work fine. Nope. Brought it in again, it’s the fuel pump gimme $200 and it’ll work fine. Nope. Again, bad fuel filter, pay me more, it’ll be great. Nope. Three times was enough for me – $800 was a shit-ton of money to a broke college student in the 90s.

Borrowed from my college fund to replace the car, then got the local car club over to disassemble it and part it out. They kept what they wanted, I sold the rest. One guy takes the throttle body home, then lets me know the car he installed it on kept stalling. Took him 10 minutes to diagnose a bad injector (those cars had basically what was almost a glorified carb setup, with two injectors dumping into the throat of the throttle body – if one died the car would stall). I was pissed – all that money wasted and still a dead car, and a 20 year old kid figured it out right away.

That’s the incident that convinced me to learn how to work on cars. I farm most of the work out these days because I’m just too busy to be under a car all the time, but at least I learned enough to know when a mechanic is WAGing his way through a repair.

Postscript: Same mechanic installed a supercharger on my friend’s CRX. Worked great, mostly, but had weird issues with running rich even though he had a Zdyne chip and what should have been a proper tune. He finally dove under the hood and found a vacuum line with a golf tee jammed in it. Dumbshit mechanic couldn’t figure out where it went so he just blocked it off. My friend installed it correctly, weird rich problem went away immediately.

Last edited 1 month ago by Eslader
Torque
Torque
1 month ago
Reply to  Clark B

Re: “she said she had never been treated so well by an auto shop. They walked her though exactly what they did to the car, why they did it, and answered all of her questions. She said every other shop she’d been to talked down to her because she was a woman, but this shop didn’t. She’s gone on to recommend them to other people, for that alone.”

For the love of all things holy, if there are any shop owners / techs or other staff reading this… This Is The Way!

Treat everyone with respect, explain what you found as wrong and why you are recommending the following be fixed. It is not hard, it does require a baseline of integrity, intelligence, mechanical ability and people skills; of course these should be bare minimum for any company / people with which you do business.

LastStandard
LastStandard
1 month ago

Easy, I just choose my garage.

Unless it’s warranty, tires or alignment. Warranty goes back to the dealer. Tires, I’ve always had good luck with Discount Tire. Alignment, there’s this one pretty odd local guy that has a stall and specializes in alignments. Weird dude, and loves to complain about how much he hates working while he’s working on your vehicle, but he does a good job.

Joke #119!
Joke #119!
1 month ago

Friend endorsements.A place owned by one person who also works there, i.e., not a corporate conglomerate run by someone whose Mission Statement for their minions is “Squeeze every last dollar, and I’ll give you 25 cents for each one.”For something more special that I don’t/can’t do and that my repair guy is not comfortable doing, (say, replacing a hybrid’s battery), I’ll check Yelp reviews.For body repairs, all the above apply.
I stopped going to dealers after they put “customer service reps” between me and the repairmen. They usually know nothing and do not care to service me, the customer.

Last edited 1 month ago by Joke #119!
Joke #119!
Joke #119!
1 month ago
Reply to  Joke #119!

Not sure what happened to my post, squeezing everything together.

  1. Friend endorsements.
  2. A place owned by one person who also works there, i.e., not a corporate conglomerate run by someone whose Mission Statement for their minions is “Squeeze every last dollar, and I’ll give you 25 cents for each one.”
  3. For something more special that I don’t/can’t do and that my repair guy is not comfortable doing, (say, replacing a hybrid’s battery), I’ll check Yelp reviews.
  4. For body repairs, all the above apply.

I stopped going to dealers after they put “customer service reps” between me and the repairmen. They usually know nothing and do not care to service me, the customer.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
1 month ago

Things to look for:

  1. Good: If they waive diag fee for something simple, or they wave it for something the car needs which is so intensive that the cost of repair is more than the car
  2. Bad: If they insist on flushing all fluids on lower mileage vehicles. Fluid flushes really came around when the BG salesfolks toured the country in the late 90s/early 2000s. Some fluid flushes are ok, others do absolutely nothing, some can actually ruin your car.
  3. Good: If they take the time to explain exactly what happened to your car, bonus points for pointing it out on the actual vehicle.
Jack Trade
Jack Trade
1 month ago

Great call on the fluid flush. I really hated the upsell on that, but I’ve noticed how a lot of places have backed off it at this point.

“Does the factory recommend this?” “Well, no, but we do…”

Box Rocket
Box Rocket
1 month ago

For me it’s easy. I work there.

Unless it has to go to the factory dealership. Then I flip a coin as the two nearest to me are essentially equidistant from me and equally inconvenient to get to.

Mike F.
Mike F.
1 month ago

This is an important topic for me as I decided some years ago that I really don’t like working on cars. I get wildly frustrated with stuff that many of you seem to just work through. Since I’ve driven used Bimmers for the last 25 years or so, my criteria for a shop have boiled down to these two:

1) NOT a dealer
2) An indy shop that specializes in German cars, if not BMWs.

After trying a couple of different places that qualified, I’ve settled on a shop that’s close enough for me to walk to, that works on any BMW, and is owned by a guy who’s very knowledgeable and dead-honest (if not terribly inexpensive). Took my E36 in there years ago with a really loud ticking coming from the top of the engine. Being pretty naive, I was thinking there might be a valve issue that was going to cost me a fortune and was fully ready for the bad news. Paul took me out of the office, told me to start the car, said, “Loose spark plug, probably #6, take it home and torque it properly”. I’ve never gone anywhere else since.

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
1 month ago

I take my cars to the same shop my parents have been using since I was a baby. They’ve always been great. About a month before my kid was born I decided that my car’s brakes were worn out. I could just feel it while driving. They called me about an hour after I dropped it off and told me the brakes were fine. It was just a little new dad panic. They didn’t even charge me to look at the car.

Word of mouth would be how I choose another shop. I don’t know a better way to do it unless there is something about the shop that raises obvious red flags.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
1 month ago

After taking my Mercedes to the dealers for years, they ignored an issue which cost me $2000 because the factory decided that the differential never needed fluid replacement and the dealers never deviated from that.

So now I take it to a well-recommended local German car independent specialist.

The Schrat
The Schrat
1 month ago

There’s a local family-owned shop that I use for mounting and balancing tyres, as well as inspection for my vehicles. It’s not much, but they do a good job, and the inspector has let me know things like “hey you’ve got a little exhaust leak that I figure you can handle, so deal with that before I see you next year” and without fail I have taken care of it.

For the 996, there’s an independent Porsche specialist near me. I used them for the PPI, and have had enough conversations with the proprietor that I trust him. He’s also done an excellent job of maintaining my trust by saying things like “don’t worry about that; it’s money you don’t need to spend”.

I bought my BMW motorcycle — in part — because I have a well-regarded independent BMW mechanic ~10 minutes away from my house. I’ve gone to him for advice and work when I feel over my head (like a full engine rebuild).

I have not taken my Vespa to a mechanic, yet, and I honestly kind of doubt I will. I’ve maintained it, myself, and it’s really easy to work on. If something goes HORRIBLY wrong I may take it to my BMW mechanic, to be honest.

So: independent shops with an expertise in the vehicles I own, and a history of dissuading me from spending too much money.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
1 month ago

In addition to all the great thoughts offered thus far, I’m a big fan of trying a new place with some reasonably small repair/issue, and seeing how they do, overall.

That’s how I found my motorcycle shop – they sorted what turned out to be ethanol-clogged carbs (yeah, I got religious about ethanol-counteracting additives thereafter) with speed, communication, and solid work at a good price.

And I knew they were a keeper when they asked if I could pick her up before the weekend, as they were campaigning a bike at the Daytona 200 so needed to close the shop for awhile. “There’s just going to be some kid here answering the phones, so…”

Last edited 1 month ago by Jack Trade
The Schrat
The Schrat
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

I like the use of a ‘minor test job’ a lot.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
1 month ago

I open the medicine cabinet so that the mirrors reflect each other, and then I choose between the two people before me.

Drew
Drew
1 month ago

I’m going to stop in and talk to the shop staff. Usually, I’m trying to get a specific thing done that I don’t have the tools, knowledge, or time to do myself. I probably know how it’s done and what’s involved, so a quick discussion of what I need will tell me most of what I want to know. If they know a better way to do something, great, but if they’re going to tell me that I need X+Y done when I only need X, I’m done. (If they suggest something, I’ll listen. If they notice something else I need, I’m glad they’re looking. But don’t charge me for unnecessary work and try to convince me I need it.)

Unless it’s warranty work. I don’t care if they decide my car is the Ship of Theseus, as long as they don’t charge me for anything, do shoddy work, or give me back my car with the work incomplete. I’ll take all the new parts they want to give me.

Electrified05ViggenFeverDream
Electrified05ViggenFeverDream
1 month ago

Proximity and reviews to get a general sense, then I go there in person for something small if possible, like an oil change.

If they:
– communicate about issues well
– run an organized shop and appear to be running smoothly
– are upfront about any issues they spot
– are willing to explain them without judgement (a fun test as someone who usually knows about the issues prior)

Then I’ll consider them as a primary resource. Price isn’t a huge factor, as quality work isn’t cheap, and that’s okay.

For some things, dealership/repair centers are the only option–hopefully right to repair laws help with that. Polestar isn’t great on the service end, for example.

Finally, and possibly most importantly, do they treat me seriously as a trans-femme person? Do they treat my partner with respect and consideration when she drops stuff off, has an issue, or picks the car up? Honestly, I could probably tell you about how good the work will be, and how honest they’ll be about it, based mostly on this factor. It’s frankly incredible how well dismissive sexist attitudes correlate with not properly repairing a vehicle (probably cause listening to the daily driver is an important part of it).

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
1 month ago

The shop I use for things I either don’t want to deal with, or don’t have the skillset to deal with, was recommended by two different people who don’t know each other, years apart.

Sid Bridge
Sid Bridge
1 month ago

I’m still having a tough time with this one. My “home shop,” Hauser Automotive, ended with Mr. Hauser’s retirement (and eventual passing, sadly), and now I take it to a close friend of his who has an excellent shop, but it’s a pretty long drive from my house. It’s worth it since there aren’t many shops I would trust with my ’68 Olds.

For my newer cars, I’ve been using a shop closer to my home – mainly so I can walk there and drop off/pick up my car if necessary. They’ve been pretty reliable and ethical, but my ’93 Miata did recently stump them and I ended up having to take it to the other place.

Since I tend to daily drive older cars, I definitely rely on recommendations. I also ask up front if they are ok working on something old or different. You’d be surprised how honest some shops are about not wanting to attempt something they don’t know enough about. Finally, I do look for a little excitement when I bring the car. Showing a little love for my weird taste in cars means the tech is likely to let that respect show in how carefully they treat my car in the shop.

And I always look for the red flags. You’d be surprised how many mechanics still smoke cigarettes over your engine bay.

A. Barth
A. Barth
1 month ago

You covered the personal and forum recommendations, so we’re good there.

If I’m not familiar with a shop, I’ll stop by and have a look around. I don’t expect operating-room levels of lighting and organization, but if a place is a complete charlie foxtrot it makes a not-great impression. Ditto if they’re taking a sloppy attitude toward safety, which makes me think they might take shortcuts elsewhere, too.

Sometimes finding a shop happens by accident. One of our vehicles was hit a few years ago, and the insurance company approved a nearby body shop that is part of an unrelated brand’s dealership. They were fantastic and I’ve used them for other work since then.

Last edited 1 month ago by A. Barth
Turbotictac
Turbotictac
1 month ago

There are very few things I don’t do myself. Of those things it is mainly specialized stuff like mounting and balancing tires or machine shop work. I do it based on friend referrals, perusing local car group pages, and online reviews.

Username Loading...
Username Loading...
1 month ago

Had some body work done recently at a shop that was recommended to me by 2 coworkers seperatley and was pleased with the work, they even went back and fought with insurance to fix things missed in the original quote the insurance did. Only downside was a long wait time to get my car into the shop.
I had some tuning and transmission work done by a place I picked because it was close to my home. They took forever, messed up/couldn’t figure out some basic things, and I’m still fighting with them to try to get back money for parts I was double charged for. (amount paid is over what the final invoice was)
So I guess personal recommendations are what I would stick with/recommend.

JShaawbaru
JShaawbaru
1 month ago

I used to use shops that were recommended to me by my dad, which worked out well once, and poorly the other time. The good one was also close to my house, so when I needed to take my Probe GT to get the timing belt done before I jumped another tooth, I was able to push it there with the help of a couple friends, instead of paying for a tow.
Now I just go based on proximity and reviews. I still do most of the work myself, but for stuff like wheel bearings that are a huge pain, there’s a place down the street that I go to. They can’t do alignments or tire stuff, so I have another shop that’s farther away, but that I can still walk home from in less than an hour, that I go to for that stuff.
I had a couple other places that I used for tire mounting/balancing, but they’ve either closed, done stupid things to family members’ cars, or hiked their prices, so they’re off the list.

Harvey Firebirdman
Harvey Firebirdman
1 month ago

I try to do most work myself. If it isn’t something I have the time or tools for I normally try to look at google reviews and make sure they are legit and also ask family, friends and co workers if they know any decent shops. Only time recently I brought a vehicle in was for an alignment anything else my dad and I have done the work. Also exhaust work unless it is a bolt on kit I bring to shops as I have not learned how to weld or have a welder (would like to learn at some point before I die hah)

Thatmiataguy
Thatmiataguy
1 month ago

For me it’s most important if the place is run by people who are knowledgeable about what they do. I really hate having to explain to someone how to properly fix my car.

If they are also honest, fair, and passionate about cars in general, that’s basically the perfect shop. I’m lucky enough to have stumbled upon a place like this by accident, and I still drive there today even though I’ve moved out of the area.

A great shop is worth the drive.

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
1 month ago

I have a local shop that is close enough I could easily bicycle home from in a pinch (or walk, but that’s much more effort) that will let me both:
A) buy parts myself that they install
and
B) finish up my half-done work that I can’t finish (either I broke something, ran out of time, or ran out of skill)

All without any complaints, “I told you so”, or warnings of my own shortcomings. And often with constructive feedback of “here’s what went wrong”. And their work has been solid, with a fair rate (hourly).

Dan1101
Dan1101
1 month ago
Reply to  Spikedlemon

Having a shop like that nearby is pretty lucky!

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan1101

I’m very fortunate that they are so good to me, and close by.

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