Car & Driver

10 Car Repair and Service Questions to Ask Your Auto Mechanic

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You’re driving along when you notice that something isn’t quite right with your car. The steering wheel is vibrating, and the car makes a strange noise every time you stop or slow down. And is that weird smell coming from inside your car?!

Whether your car just needs a tune-up or major car repair, chances are you’ll need to call a trusted auto mechanic to take a look. Keep in mind that the first conversation you have with a car mechanic can determine how successful the rest of your service experience will be. To make sure you’re on the same page, ask a mechanic these 10 questions before he or she gets started.

1. Have you worked on my make and model of car before?

Some vehicle repair shops specialize in specific types of cars. Many have their auto technicians certified to work on certain makes and models. Taking your car to one of these shops will ensure your car is repaired by someone who is not just familiar with your car but is an expert regarding that model.

2. What automotive associations does this shop belong to?

The largest organization for auto repair businesses is the Automotive Service Association®, which requires that its members adhere to industry regulations and the association’s code of ethics. AAA is another organization that puts repair shops through a review process to ensure they meet industry and customer service standards before they will recommend them to AAA members.

3. Can I speak to other customers for reference?

You can ask for references, but also take time to do some digging online. You can check the Better Business Bureau®, in addition to review sites like Yelp and Google Local. Another great site is Car Talk® Mechanics Files, where customers have posted reviews of more than 75,000 mechanics around the United States. Use these sites to see what customers are saying about the service and experience. Also keep an eye out for other customers at the shop when you are there and watch how they are being treated.

4. Will my estimate be free?

Check to see whether the diagnostic exam of your car to find out what is wrong — along with an estimate of the cost to fix it — is free. If the car repair shop does charge, ask them how the cost is determined — is it an hourly rate? A flat fee? — and what you can expect to be charged.

Know Before You Go

Another way to make sure you’re prepared before taking your car in for repairs is to do a little online research about average repair costs. One website, RepairPal.com, allows you to enter in the make, model and year of your car, along with the repair needed and your ZIP code, and shows you a price range for that repair in your city. It even breaks down the cost by parts and labor.

Using a car repair estimator tool like this provides you with a reference point when talking repair costs with your car mechanic.

5. Do you provide written estimates?

You will want to make sure to get a detailed estimate in writing and signed by the mechanic before proceeding with any vehicle repair. The estimate should include what needs to be repaired, what parts are needed to perform the repair and all the labor charges. Not only will this provide you with an idea of how much you will be paying, but if you run into any problems down the road with the final cost and the repairs done, having something in writing makes any legal action much easier to pursue.

6. Will you explain to me details of the necessary repairs?

This might seem like a silly question, but you want to make sure the auto mechanic will be able to tell you in plain, easy-to-understand terms what needs to be done and why. When you comprehend the reasons behind the repairs, you will be able to ask more informed follow-up questions and have a better grasp on the entire process.

7. Will I be able to choose what car parts are used for the repair?

There are various kinds of parts that can be used to fix your car. The mechanic might suggest that you use parts made by the original manufacturer: these are referred to as OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) parts. They should essentially be duplicates of the part they are replacing. For certain types of car repair, mechanics might suggest you use a used car part. If they can assure you the part is in excellent working condition, this is a great way to save money and recycle. Be sure if you do go with the used part that the shop doesn’t charge you the same price as a brand new part.

8. Will you call me with any unexpected expenses or discoveries during repair?

Some states actually require that the shop calls you to get your approval on any repairs or parts that exceed a certain amount. Even if you don’t live in a state where such troubleshooting is required, you should request that the mechanic calls you if anything comes up in addition to what you were quoted on the written estimate.

9. Are the parts and services under warranty?

Warranties vary from place to place. Be sure to verify what is covered and for how long. As a benchmark, keep in mind that AAA requires their “approved auto repair facilities” to guarantee all repairs, parts and labor for a minimum of 12 months or 12,000 miles.

Busting the Warranty Myth

If you have a newer car that is still under the manufacturer’s warranty when something happens to it, you might think you have to take your car to the dealer so you don’t violate the warranty. Wrong. It’s actually illegal for warranty coverage to be denied because you took your car to a place other than the dealer for routine maintenance or repairs.

Keep in mind that there are specific times when repairs might not be covered. Also, if your dealer provides repairs free of charge for certain issues under warranty, they can limit where you are allowed to take your car. Check out the Federal Trade Commission’s information on auto warranties for more specifics.

10. Will you provide me with a detailed invoice once the repairs are completed?

You will want to know exactly what parts were replaced and have that for your records. In the future, if a part stops working, you will then have proof of the date of service and the warranty. The detailed invoice will also come in handy if you sell the car, because you can show prospective buyers what work has been done to it.

These 10 questions may seem like a lot, but a patient, experienced auto mechanic will appreciate your thoroughness and be happy to help you. Plus, the more informed you are ahead of time, the more you can avoid dealing with potential legal issues down the road if the repairs don’t go as expected.

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