By Erik Badia
Last month I gave you some basic guidelines on how to find an honest and reliable automotive shop. This month I will expand a little on how to properly snoop around, and what to look for. Remember, this is not intended to be a fail-proof way to find the best shop on the planet; it is intended to be a guide and offer advice on finding a dependable and trustworthy automotive
repair business. Here are some more tips for finding the right place:
Check out the workspace: Your vehicle will be worked on and stored in this space, potentially for several days. Granted it is a workshop and it will probably be "dirty," but that doesn't mean it can't be neat and efficient. A tidy and efficient shop will ensure the safety of your vehicle and should save you money on your invoice. If the technician working on your 'car is able to work quickly and smoothly, it will save him time and you money.
Some things you want to look for: Do they leave tools, parts or other items on cars? Do they cover the fenders when working on them, or are they leaning on the paint? If wheels, bumpers or other parts of cars are off, where are they being stored - are they lying on the ground piled on top of one another, or stacked and stored safely and neatly? If the shop is large and has several cars in it, are they placed far enough apart so that there won't be any door-to-door (or other) contact? Do the lifts look like they are maintained?
What is the overall appearance of the shop?: Is there space to walk or are there parts and tools everywhere? Are the technicians working or hanging out? Granted everyone is entitled to breaks, but if you notice that this is a regular occurrence, you might want to check the labor times on your invoice. This is not to say that all good shops are neat and tidy and all dodgy shops are messy and cluttered. This is just one factor of many. However, as with someone's desk in an office, sometimes a visual inspection can tell you about that persons work habits.
Check out the proprietor: If you are going to a small, privately-owned shop, try to meet with the owner if at all possible. Talk to him or her about the shop. How long they have been in business, what their policies are and how they operate their business. Find out what type of guarantee they offer on their work. If the symptom you brought your car in for reappears, a part they installed fails, or there is a problem with workmanship quality in two weeks, what type of recourse will you have? What about in two months? If at all possible, get this in writing. The warranty should be on the invoice or estimate, but if it is not, again, try to get it in writing.
If you are using a dealership, these tactics are best accomplished by talking to the person who runs the whole service operation, usually called the Service Manager or equivalent title, and again, by reading as much as you can online.