By Jim Kerr

Vehicle repairs are a big hassle. You need to drop your vehicle off at the repair shop, get a ride to work or home, get a ride back again when it is repaired, and in the meantime you probably don’t have a vehicle to run necessary errands. Then there is the cost of repairs. Did they charge too much? Did they repair it correctly? Can I rely on their service? Eliminating much of the frustration and aggravation can be accomplished if you take your vehicle to a quality repair shop. The big question is how do I find such a shop?

Over the years, I have been through many automotive repair shops. Some were very good – some were very bad, and it doesn’t take long for me to figure out which ones are good. Recently, I was given a quick tour of an excellent repair shop. Derek Atwill, Manager of Atwill Service Centre in Ottawa spent some time with me as we walked through their repair facility which served as the base camp for Autos’s 2008 50-Litre Challenge fuel economy marathon.

Atwill Service Centre is a family-operated shop with 14 bays inside and two more bays outside that can be used in fair weather. You may not be close enough to take advantage of the Atwill service, but by looking at what makes this a superior repair shop, you will likely be able to find a similar shop in your own locale.

First impressions are important and that is no different in a repair shop. Step into Atwill’s reception area and customers are greeted with a large open foyer with large windows to both the outside and a view of the shop. Comfortable sofas and chairs, a large television and even a paperback novel exchange library are there for customers that may want to wait for their vehicle repairs. A spotless ceramic tile floor set the standard for the rest of the facility. Even the restrooms were spotless and featured modern automatic taps and paper towel dispenser. I have found that restrooms are a great clue. If they care enough to keep the restroom in good shape, they will look after your vehicle in a similar manner.

Inside the shop, the floor is clean and tools are neatly organized. Computer terminals with large screen monitors enable the technicians to access the latest service information and bulletins. Access to service information is critical to successful and efficient repair of today’s vehicles and Atwill subscribes to three different systems to ensure the best repairs.

The latest diagnostic equipment is in use and the Atwill mission statement includes the statement that they will be competitive and “will ensure that our business has the most current technology through research, growth and prosperity.” When was the last time that you have seen a mission statement from a repair facility? Atwill lives up to theirs. They recently sent technicians to the U.S. for training in new vehicle technology and are have plans to get training on Hybrid vehicle repair.

Derek Atwill proudly told me they are a “one-stop” shop and that they work on many brand new vehicles from repeat customers. If a vehicle needs repair that is covered under warranty, they take the vehicle to the dealership to have it done. If the vehicle needs a windshield or detailing, it can be done on site. Atwill looks after the complete vehicle, with the equipment and technicians to perform wheel alignments, emissions certification and even install and balance your new 22-inch custom wheels and tires.

Perhaps you may not recognize what is the latest in diagnostics and repair equipment when you see a shop, but by talking with the service personnel, you can quickly determine what type of repairs they can do. If the shop is working on new vehicles, then they undoubtedly have newer equipment. If all the vehicles in the repair bays are older, then probably the equipment and technician’s skills match the vehicles. Do you want them working on your new vehicle?

Finally, an automotive repair shop does get dirty, but a neat, organized and well-maintained facility is a good indication that they will repair your vehicle in a similar fashion. At a time when many smaller shops are closing their doors because they haven’t kept up with technology, progressive shops like Atwill’s have a prosperous future, and that means we as consumers will have choices of where we get our vehicles repaired.

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