By Erik Badia
Getting involved with an automotive shop can be like having a relationship. When things are going well, you're as happy as can be; once things go badly, you'll be just as miserable as you are angry-hence the importance of choosing a good, reliable automotive shop. Naturally you're not going to just take the shop owner's word for it; so what can be done to find out if the business where you can potentially spend thousands of dollars is reputable and fair?
There are several important issues when choosing the right automotive repair shop. Depending on the year of the vehicle and the complexity of its systems, you may be forced in certain instances to use the dealership-this is especially true of very late model vehicles. However, many of these tips can be used in finding a good dealership to service your vehicle, as well. Do your research: Depending on the size of the shop and how many customers it services, you may be able to find information on the internet. This is a good start, as there are thousands of internet sites, web forums and the like where one can find valuable customer feedback (good and bad) about shops in the area.
If you do find information on the particular shop you are thinking about using, make sure to read customer accounts carefully. Sometimes customers get upset about things that are beyond the control of the shop and they may give a negative review, even if it is not warranted. Use common sense here, if the circumstances of the customer's account seem suspicious or unreasonable, you may want to take that review with a grain of salt or discount it. Check in the waiting area or lounge of the business to see if they have any positive letters or other feedback from customers. Also be sure to ask friends and family if they have used the shop, or know anyone that has, and see what their experiences have been like.
Investigate the business: Beyond customer feedback, you can do a little bit of snooping yourself. Check to make sure the shop has a New York State business certificate and that they are licensed by the state to do repairs (there should be a metal sign somewhere on the building that has the business' repair number). Before you do anything with the shop, make sure to ask whether they charge for estimates and find out what their labor rate is per hour. When you get an estimate for work, don't make a decision on the spot, bring it home, review it and have someone else look at it.
One important thing to look for on the shop's work order or estimate is the way in which they describe the repair and how they will perform it. In order to leave themselves more wiggle room and/or to take advantage of customers, sometimes shops will lump many separate repairs into one lump sum (i.e. "Remove front suspension, install new shock absorbers, brakes and rotate tires - $2,000"), or they will be very vague in their description. What you really want to see is a fully itemized list of repairs with the labor time and part cost for each separate item.