New cars are expensive. The economy, is frankly, bad. Because of this, you are probably thinking more about preserving your current chariot than buying a new one. You are not alone. According to a recent AAA survey, 54 percent of American drivers say they have decided to keep an existing vehicle rather than invest in a newer one. It can be a cost-effective strategy, but it requires that you find a good repair facility and a mechanic you can trust.
So how do you make this magic connection? The first order of business is to start looking now rather than on the day you walk out to your car and find its transmission lying on the street. One good method is to ask for recommendations from family and friends. You can also visit the AAA website to find nearby AAA Approved Auto Repair (AAR) shops.
When it comes to servicing your vehicle, you have three basic choices: You can take your car to a new-car dealership; go to an independent repair shop; or go to a shop that specializes in the particular problem you are currently experiencing (like a brake repair shop or tire retailer.) Once you've made that decision, check out the facility. Does it seem well-organized? Are the employees you talk to responsive to your questions, or are they clueless? Typically a repair shop isn't the tidiest place on Earth, but it should give the immediate impression of being well-run.
See if the owner/manager is on the premises. Shops run by technicians with "skin in the game" often deliver better service than those operated by absentee owners. Of course, the facility should employ qualified technicians who receive ongoing training in the latest technology. Certifications from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) are often posted, and dealerships may display vehicle manufacturer service training credentials as well. Collision repair shops often have certificates from training offered by the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR). Remember, though, that just because these credentials are posted, it doesn't mean that all the mechanics working in that dealership or shop are certified.
Ask an employee how he will go about diagnosing the problems you have with your car. A good repair shop will have up-to-date service equipment and repair data to help technicians make good calls. The amount of information that is necessary to repair modern cars can no longer be effectively contained in paper manuals, so quality shops today have Internet access to repair information or an on-site service information library of CD/DVD ROMs.
Finally, look at the shop's reputation. Check with the Better Business Bureau, the state department of consumer affairs or the attorney general's office; they will provide you with information on how the shop handles any consumer complaints. Additionally, ask how long the dealership or shop has been in business. The economic travails of the past few years have forced many dealerships and independent service shops to close. If a repair facility has weathered the storm, it is a good indication that it continues to satisfy its customers, and that's what you're looking for.
Luigi Fraschini is a Driving Today contributing editor who writes frequently about auto repair and the financial side of vehicle ownership. He is based in Cleveland.
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