I often have friends ask me where a good place would be to take their vehicles. After years of owning an independent repair shop and consulting, I can definitely say that there are indicators that you've found a good place. Honesty is key of course but it's not nearly as much of an issue as some would think. There are many honest auto shops out there that still don't do their customers any favors. Here are 5 steps to help you choose a place to have your vehicle serviced should you have the need.
1. REPUTATION: The information revolution has made this task easier. Google and Yelp are currently the top online sites for reviewing automotive service shops. The number of reviews is important as any business can get 5-10 friends to review them. The more reviews there are, the more likely that rating is true. Everyone can have a bad review but how bad reviews are responded to is an excellent indicator of how a shop handles it's business. Recommendations from people you know that drive the same type of car are also great if you can find them.
2. EXPERIENCE: It's hard to be good at everything, right? Doctors specialize in certain areas because there's a lot to know! It's the same with cars. Although it can be harder, finding a shop that knows YOUR type of car well can make the difference between your car lasting 100,000 miles or 200,000 miles before being retired. In a situation without an independent shop available, a dealership can sometimes provide that level of experience although many people have reported other issues with dealership service. Like independents, it's a case by case basis.
3. TRAINING: The automotive service field is rapidly changing. Some shops are staying on top and others are not. At Dubwerx, our entire staff is attending the Vision 2015 Expo and Training to stay up to date on recent advancements and just to hone our skills. If a shop's staff does not take the time to stay up to date on ASE and manufacturer certifications and training, they may be lacking in the skills needed to diagnose and repair your vehicle effectively. This will cost you more money! Ask what training and certifications they have, especially the technician who will be working on your vehicle.
4. INSPECTIONS: This is a BIG one and probably the area most shops seem to lack in. Although we cannot always predict every repair a car will need, shops must be diligent in informing their customers of the need to have their car inspected fully once, preferably twice a year. We recommend a 5,000 mile service that includes oil service, tire rotation, and full inspection. A full inspection saves you money by catching problems before they get more expensive and also lets the customer plan better by knowing more of the complete picture of what the car needs. A common complaint we hear is that a customer has spent money only to find out later that they had to spend a lot more. So many shops are just not recommending or properly inspecting the cars in their shops. Also make sure to ask if the shop will estimate the manufacturers recommended maintenance. I have a friend who has owned her car since new. Her transmission fluid should have been changed every 30,000 miles but the dealership she took it to never did it! Now at 100,000 miles, it's too late to do it and the life of her transmission is significantly shortened. Preventative maintenance and inspections cannot be stressed enough to reduce costs!
5. COMMUNICATION: This should not be a surprise but I still hear stories of "They put a part on that didn't fix the problem," or "It cost more than I was told." One difficult reality of auto repair is that there can "grey" areas. A real test of a shop is how well they handle these situations and how they inform the customer of risk. You will likely have to try a new shop out for a repair in order to fully vet whether their communication is up to snuff. The service advisor should sound confident, be able to answer all of your questions, be friendly, properly prepare you for all outcomes, and let you know cost and timeframe before any work is begun. When you pick up your car, the work should again be reviewed, and great shops will follow up with you after your service just to make sure all of your needs were met.
Ultimately, your vehicle and all of it's service is your responsibility. Most people will not want to spend the time scouring the internet to determine the best services for their vehicle. Whether you drive an Audi, Volkswagen, or other make of vehicle, choosing the right shop can make a huge difference in getting the correct recommendations. This can take some of this responsibility off of your shoulders and save you lots of money when you end up owning one car over a 10+ year period instead of two or three cars. Best of luck choosing a great auto shop!