by Jim Kerr
Trust. Just the other day when I was told, “You can’t trust a mechanic.” It was said in jest, but unfortunately this image of mechanics is far too common. Most vehicle owners understand very little about the workings of their vehicle so they rely heavily on the suggestions from their repair shop. Some drivers fear being sold service that is not needed or paying for work that is not done. As a mechanic and an automotive educator I have worked with thousands of mechanics over the years and found honesty a common trait. However, just like every other profession there is an occasional bad apple and some that excel. The key to excellent automotive service is finding the ones that excel.
After years in the industry, I can walk into a repair shop and quickly recognise if that shop does good work. So can you, if you know what to look for. I look for a neat organised facility where employees are busy. They may not always be working on vehicles. Sometimes there are slow periods in the repair industry, but good shops will have their staff helping customers, cleaning equipment, and learning new repair methods. Neat, organised shops are signs of staff who take pride in what they do and those are the people you want working on your vehicle.
Most shops have signs posted restricting customers from the actual repair shop for insurance reasons, but if you ask, usually they will give you a quick tour to show you where your vehicle is being worked on. Remember, working on vehicles can be a dirty business, so everything won’t be spotless, but a neat shop is a sign of a quality repair facility.
I stopped at a shop recently to see a couple former students about their new training needs. They now run a thriving repair facility. One of the first items I noticed was the Motorist Assurance Program Canada (MAPC) sign. MAPC accredited facilities use service standards that allow customers to easily understand the What, How Much and Why of service work done on their vehicles. That’s a great way to start your search for a service shop.
Word of mouth is another excellent way of finding a skilled technician and good repair shop. When you see someone with the same vehicle as yours, ask where they get their service work done and if they are happy with the work. By asking several owners, you will quickly get a clear idea of where you might want to take your vehicle.
Don’t wait for the last minute to look for a repair shop. When your vehicle is broken and you need it right away, you are dealing with the unknown. Good shops are often booked days or even weeks in advance so don’t expect to get your vehicle in for repairs immediately. However, if you are a regular customer and the work is minor, they may be able to squeeze you in sooner. That’s one advantage of a “long-term relationship” with your repair shop. Another advantage is that the mechanics get to know your car and your driving needs so they can predict future service requirements. The complexity of modern cars and trucks makes it even more important to get service where the complete vehicle is looked after. Going one place to get a muffler, another for an oil change, and a third for tune-ups loses the continuity necessary for quality, comprehensive maintenance.
Finally, look for prominent well-known business names, and coast to coast representation. These types of facilities are here for the long run and depend on satisfied, repeat customers. True, there are some excellent very small shops with one or two mechanics in them but only take your car there if they specialise in a certain make of car and they come highly recommended by others. Otherwise, why let them practise on your vehicle? They may not know what they are doing! Finding an excellent service shop doesn’t have to be difficult – it just takes a little time. And yes, you can trust their mechanics.