You know, this question gets kicked around a lot and I have read others recommendations on how to find a good repair shop so I thought I would give my opinions. The number one way to find a good automotive repair shop is to ask! The only problem is who do you ask? You can always ask friends, family and even perfect strangers but let’s face the truth, if these people really knew anything about auto repairs they would be in the business. Your friends and family can relate to you that the problem was or was not fixed. They can relate their feelings about the services but “do they really know what a good shop or mechanic really is?”
Some of the problems that come from asking this group of people are:
1. Timeline of repair history. Did your friend or family member have their experience with a repair shop last week, last month, last year or several years ago? Shops can change for the better or for the worse within a few days, let alone months or years. You could visit a shop today and have a particular experience (good or bad) and tomorrow the key person responsible for that experience (good or bad) could be gone. That person could have just been having a great or terrible day themselves (an average of experiences means more than a single experience). I usually am quite honest with my customers, if I am having a particularly bad day, I let them know. Of course I wear my emotions on my sleeve and therefore it is pretty easy to tell about me. I know that about myself and normally I will pre apologize for not being my normal self.
2. Frequency of repairs. Did your relative or friend visit a particular repair shop once, twice or many times. I will let you in on something. If you visit a shop once you are a consumer. If you visit a shop several times you are a customer. In the services industries of which an auto repair shop is part of, a consumer is some one that comes in once (usually with the worst of needs) and you know in your heart will likely never return for anything simple. A customer however is some one that will frequent the establishment and likely return for future needs of all sizes. Most shops do not consciously think of it this way (I Do) but it is just part of being human. The more you see a person the more comfortable you are around them and the better you will treat them. Both a good shop and a good customer are trying to find out if this first step, in the relationship is going to work or not. Once you have found a good shop remember to be a customer and not a consumer. Equally important once a shop has found a good customer take care of them. I have dozens if not a few hundred of what I consider to be really good customers. I will do whatever it takes to help them (within reason of course) and this includes delaying service on a consumers vehicle. Would you rather be considered a “good customer” or a “consumer” if your car was broken?
3. Attitude. Ask yourself this question. Would you want to do anything for your friend or family member, that requires you charging them a fee? If you would great. If you would not, then find someone else to ask! If they are too much of a pain in the rear for you to deal with, chances are they will not have a good opinion of any shop and very little knowledge can be gained.
So, who should you ask? The people to ask are the counter people at your local parts stores. This works whether you are in your home town or traveling. If you have a problem you cannot handle yourself and need the services of a professional mechanic go to your local parts store, explain the type of vehicle and the type of symptom you are experiencing. Then ask, “If it were their vehicle, who would they take it to?” Repeat this at several parts stores in the area and if one name keeps coming up that is where you should go. Although they cannot discuss the actual details, the part stores know a lot about shops and mechanics.
For example they know if the shop is credit worthy and actually pay their bills. They know if the shop has a high parts return ratio (this means the shop is trying parts in order to fix cars, rather than diagnosing). They know the general demeanor of the shop (are they easy or hard to get along with). They hear a lot of feedback from their customers about shop experiences (sometimes accurate, sometimes not). Believe it or not the best thing to hear about a shop is that “They are a little expensive but they fix it right the first time.” I may be a little biased, because this is the most common statement about my shop and I like it for two reasons.
1: I know what I have to charge to stay in business.
2: I know I will fix the vehicle if I agree to do so.
I know that I am a little different but I also know I am not alone in this industry. There are a lot of really good shops and mechanics out there. There are also a lot of really good customers out there. The problem is getting the two together. Maybe my opinions will help.