Panicked. Scammed. Dissatisfied. Lovely words most of us motorists associate with the inevitable experience of dealing with a mechanic. Years of experience and education are needed to perform solid auto work, credentials only those mechanics can claim. But we fear the flipside of that knowledge -- namely that they'll use it to rip us off with brusque service and mediocre work, all because they can. Enough; let's not settle any longer for unscrupulous grease monkeys. Here's advice on meeting that mighty mechanic that you'll happily call, "my auto hero."

First off, refrain from launching a rushed emergency search for a mechanic right as your car's been sidelined on the freeway. You might encounter a tow truck driver who practically extols a particular mechanic, only to later discover that he and that mechanic work together in a shoddy kickback scheme fueled by the gullible and desperate.

Choose to conduct repairman reconnaissance when your vehicle is in its problem-free prime. Doing so grants you the luxuries of plentiful time and a cool head, both of which heighten your odds of landing upon a mechanic with a (well-priced) Midas touch.

Asking friends and family members about their auto repair experiences can help you locate a mechanic who has already passed one major hurdle -- they've earned strong word of mouth. Evaluate any recommendations you receive this way with some caution, however. Your best friend's mechanic referral might not be that helpful if a '67 Volkswagen hulks in her driveway, while you own an '08 Jaguar. Give more weight to the opinions of those who drive a similar automobile.

But say yours is the only car of its kind in your circle of friends, indeed for a 500-mile radius. You're not out of luck, Mr. or Ms. Unique; flip open the classifieds in search of someone selling a car like yours, and inquire into their regular mechanic. Owners of luxury and classic cars employ this tip to pinpoint appropriate auto repair experts wherever they roam.

Scour the Web, in addition, for Internet forums that cater to your car's make and model. SonataForums.com celebrates the eponymous Hyundai sedan, for instance. Vroom to VetteWeb.com if you drive that sleek Chevy sports car. JeepForum.com has Jeep enthusiasts jumping for joy, while Ferrari aficionados flip for FerrariLife.com. Search the appropriate site for all messages mentioning phrases like "mechanic" or "auto repair," or start a thread about great repairmen near you. These webpages naturally attract serious devotees of the featured automobile; you'll likely discover a gem of a mechanic in this way.

You will next need to thoroughly scrutinize the reputation of any prospective mechanic, formulating your own opinion of his or her business via serious independent research. Step One: warm up a bowl of alphabet agency soup.

Several triple-letter organizations exist to help consumers appraise mechanics for their qualifications and integrity. Membership with the BBB, or Better Business Bureau, is a promising sign; should you have a problem with a BBB-affiliated mechanic, the agency will help to mediate the dispute. Outstanding customer service and excellent repair work are mandates of the ASA, the Automotive Service Association, which also manages a registry of top-flight mechanics. Any repairmen and women looking to enlist with AAA (American Automotive Association) have to provide a 12-month / 12,000-mile warranty for their work. You yourself don't need to be an AAA member to peruse their listing.

Wielding the most weight of any auto repair group association is certification with the ASE (Automotive Service Excellence). To maintain his or her ASE certification, a repair expert must have passed a demanding exam and participate in continuing education. (Be sure to locate actual ASE certificates in a mechanic's shop, as above, not only patches on the employee's sleeves -- a common tactic of fraudulent establishments.) As you might infer, truly high quality mechanics likely enjoy membership to more than one of the previously mentioned associations. Beeline to such mechanics and you'll save yourself many a migraine.

Step Two requires that you read multiple unsolicited reviews on a mechanic as well. Do so first through the BBB's site, which records any complaints associated with its members and openly publishes them for browsers to consider. Head to CarTalk for its stash of reviews, 30,000 strong; they include specific ratings on mechanics' honesty, timeliness of service, convenient service hours, et cetera. (Women, often frazzled by chauvinists in auto repair, will appreciate that CarTalk also asks of its reviewers if the mechanic they used "treats male and female customers in the same way.") RankMyMechanic performs just that: it grades each repairman according to the user reviews he or she receives. Consumer Checkbook and its nonprofit ratings and price comparison also proves worthwhile. Found mechanics that have both memberships to reliable registries and that have attracted consistently excellent online reviews as well? You may have found a real auto repair winner.

You've ideally winnowed down your mechanic search to a shortlist of two or three, a convenient number when eyeballing each auto garage in person, the next essential step. Don't barnstorm the place right away, but rather stake it out with some innocent private eye performance.

Drive unannounced to the establishment with a meticulous mindset. A clean parking lot; tidy service bays; an overall shipshape appearance: first-line indicators of a classy mechanic you can trust. Then enter the shop, probably initially through the customer lounge, which should be inviting and comfortable.

Expect to be instantly warmly greeted. Look for that ASE certificate. Any hanging signs and posters should be up-to-date. Peek into the bathrooms anticipating spotlessness. Then ask to see the repair garage itself. The mechanics' uniforms ought to look recently well-laundered. Finally, glance at the ultimate litmus test of mechanic experience: the toolboxes.

The size of toolboxes for accomplished auto repair experts accrues over time. These toolboxes are therefore relatively massive, approaching a tipped over living room sofa in size. Longtime mechanic pros have to physically exert themselves to push their impressive toolboxes to and fro around the garage. Newbies will probably have a toolbox the size of, well, a literal toolbox. Size suggests experience, not necessarily quality. But a garage full of giant toolboxes shows an establishment with ample experience -- another excellent sign.

Test the mechanic's mettle with a rather menial request: an oil change or an air filter replacement. This lets you sample his or her demeanor and workmanship. Fumbling with these simple tasks reveals a mechanic with sub-par skill -- something you should know before you entrust him or her with a more urgent auto scenario.

Investigate every mechanic on your shortlist in this way. Rule out any that don't pass muster. In the event that your car does require repair, have one of the mechanics survey the car, diagnose the damage, and offer an estimate. Call the other fully vetted repair shops for their quote. Then consult RepairPal's Estimator to land on a fairly priced figure. Whichever mechanic's quote either meets or beats the Estimator's cost is the one to head to.

Phew. Who said finding the perfect mechanic would be a cinch? Yet as the saying goes, a stitch in time saves nine. Toil to find the best possible repair specialist now -- surely nine times less stress, emotional and financial, than what you'd experience otherwise.

Categories: Used Rental Cars
Tags: Tips, Maintenance

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