What to know when discussing car repairs with a mechanic
Learn how to find a reliable mechanic and how to determine what jobs you need done.
Some of us may not know very much about what goes on under the hoods of our vehicles. That's why relying on an experienced, trustworthy mechanic is key for regular upkeep and maintenance. Make sure you know when a mechanic is taking good care of your vehicle, not just taking your money.
How to find a good mechanic
The first step to getting your car repaired is finding a good mechanic. State Farm® can help you find a mechanic but there are several questions you should ask any mechanic before relying on them. You should ask questions like:
What's your experience with cars similar to mine?
Some repair shops specialize in particular makes and models of vehicles — especially if they're older, less common or more expensive to repair — while some mechanics take more of an all-make, all-model approach. Ask ahead of time to establish your mechanic's familiarity with your vehicle.
Do you have references and professional memberships?
The best referrals often come from coworkers, friends and family members who have had a positive vehicle repair experience. Online review sites may also provide some insights. In addition, mechanics may obtain professional certifications such as the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) seal, which indicates training and testing minimums. Or they may belong to organizations such as the Automotive Service Association (ASA), which encourages members to adhere to a code of ethics.
Use the resources of the State Farm Select Service® program. It's a network of vetted auto repair shops that must meet performance standards. Shops within 70 miles of you are listed on the Auto Repair Shop Locator. (The program is not available in all states.)
How much do you charge per hour?
Hourly labor rates vary widely across the country. The labor rate could range, on average, anywhere from $70 to $125 per hour. Most repair shops will charge a flat rate per hour. A flat rate will help the mechanic give a consistent and fair estimate for the work.
Can I have a copy of the estimate?
The answer should always be yes. The estimate should be signed by the mechanic and include all parts and labor totals. Ask the repair shop to go through each line item with you and explain it clearly — and don't be afraid to ask questions if you don't understand something. Also find out whether the repairs are recommended or essential.
What are my options for parts, and can I choose what you use?
There are often different price points for some car parts — tires, for example, come in varying ranges according to their material and quality. Some car parts may be made by the manufacturer (often referred to as original equipment manufacturer or OEM parts), while aftermarket parts are made by a different company. And some parts may be covered under a warranty so ask about that, too, and get the details in writing. When it comes to these decisions, you should have a say in what the mechanic uses. In addition, if during the repairs the mechanic runs into something unexpected that wasn't on the original estimate, they should always get your approval.
Signs of a bad mechanic
Most mechanics are honest and reliable because their reputation is their most valuable asset. However, there are some red flags that you may spot. If you hear one of these from a mechanic, pay close attention:
- "Your air filter is dirty." If your mechanic shows you a filthy air filter during your next visit, make sure that the filter actually belongs to your vehicle. Know what yours looks like in its current condition and its usual replacement schedule - typically every 30,000 miles or three years, or according to your owner's manual.
- "Your vehicle needs synthetic oil." While synthetic oil may last longer than its conventional counterpart, it's typically double the cost, and you may not notice much difference in how your vehicle performs. Before scheduling regular vehicle maintenance, read your owner's manual to know what kind of oil is required.
- "You need additional repairs." If you take your vehicle in for one low-cost service such as an oil change, your shop may try to persuade you to get additional, unnecessary repairs. Avoid this by keeping a record in your glove box that tells you what work has recently been done, or what your owner's manual recommends for regularly scheduled maintenance.
Protect your wallet
You can take the following steps to protect against auto repair problems before they arise:
- Check local review sites to see what other customers have said about a shop.
- Ask for a written estimate before authorizing vehicle repairs.
- Consider a second opinion from a different mechanic.
- Decide if you want to use an independent repair shop or a dealership. Dealership mechanics are often more expensive but will use authorized parts and will be more likely to know about any recalls on your car.
What to do if a mechanic overcharges you
If you feel that you've been overcharged or have received substandard service, you should try to get it fixed right away. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to dispute any charges. To dispute your bill you should:
- Ask for an explanation for the price. A good mechanic should be able to itemize all the charges and be able to show you any parts that were removed or replaced.
- Ask to speak to management. Try to remain calm while seeking answers. If you are unable to find a manager, then ask them how and when you can speak to them.
- Have your credit card company fight for you. If you aren't able to reach an agreement while at the shop, inform the repair shop that you're going to have your credit card company stop payment on the bill.
- File a complaint. You can contact the Better Business Bureau and file a complaint as well as reach out to your state's automotive repair regulatory body through your state's attorney general.