If you own a car, you know how important a good mechanic is. Of course, we’ve all heard stories of car repair shops that rip people off or try to take advantage of uninformed customers. So how do you find a mechanic you can trust, and keep from being taken advantage of?

In a sense, it’s like anything else. Start by talking to the people you know that have a car like yours. If you don’t know anyone with the exact same type of car, find people with similar cars (such as Toyotas or Fords). Ask them where they take their cars, and how they like the service.

Ask questions like:

  • How long has the mechanic/shop been in business?
  • How long have you been going to them?
  • How did you hear about them?
  • Did the repairs the mechanic/shop did do the trick?
  • Have you ever had any problems with them?
  • Has your mechanic ever told you that a repair was unnecessary? (If so, this is a great sign.)
  • Has your mechanic ever pointed out things you should get fixed that they don’t fix themselves?
  • Do they answer your questions?
  • If there is a problem, do they show or explain what the problem is and lay out possible solutions?
  • Do offer you a choice of new or remanufactured parts?
  • Do they offer to let you keep old parts?

You can also try looking for good shops using sites like Angie’s List, Car Talk’s Mechanics Files, AAA, etc.

Once you have a few candidates in mind, Google them and see if a string of complaints comes up about them. Obviously you want to avoid those. If a string of praise comes up instead, that’s ideal. (I wouldn’t give much weight to only one or two complaints OR only one or two praiseworthy-comments. There will always be outliers.)

Next, visit the shops of the remaining candidates for something minor like an oil change. (Take a mechanically-inclined friend with you for this if you’re just not a car person.) See how the shop does with the oil change, and how they treat you as a person.

Do they try to upsell you on a bunch of stuff? It’s one thing for them to point out that you have a very small oil leak from the whatchamacallit, but another for them to say you that you have a very small oil leak and to pressure you to fix it Right. Now. For $1200, or else.

Do they really care? You can just tell when a mechanic really cares about what they do. They like fixing cars, and they like helping people, and it’s usually obvious upon working with them a little. In the ideal world, you want to do all of this before you need a major repair.

I found my original mechanic using these methods, and couldn’t have been happier with him. I used him until he retired and sent all of his business to another mechanic. That was all the recommendation I needed, and I’m equally happy with my new mechanic’s work. Strangely, both mechanics are big animal lovers and both do rescue work. That’s another big recommendation in my book.