Finding a trustworthy mechanic can be a daunting task, especially if you don't know an alternator from anti-lock brakes. John Paul, manager of public affairs for AAA Southern New England in Massachusetts, said word-of-mouth can be the most reliable way to vet local garages.

Finding a trustworthy mechanic can be a daunting task, especially if you don't know an alternator from anti-lock brakes.


John Paul, manager of public affairs for AAA Southern New England in Massachusetts, said word-of-mouth can be the most reliable way to vet local garages. But if you're new in town or don't know anyone who could give a recommendation, you can first test out mechanics with basic repairs and services like broken headlights or oil changes, Paul said.


If the minor service takes longer than promised or if the mechanic tries to pressure you into authorizing unrelated repairs, then that could be a warning sign.


"Use your own judgment based on how you think the repair was done," Paul said.


While it may be tempting to pick the shop that offers you the cheapest quote, you should first take a look at how you'll be billed for the labor. Glenn Wilder, owner of Wilder Brothers American Car Care in Scituate, Mass., said some garages use flat-rate billing: If a given repair typically requires three hours to complete, these shops will charge you for three hours of labor, even if they did the repair in less time.


Wilder's shop bills customers for the hours his employees actually work, a system that he said also produces better service. Mechanics don't feel the need to cut corners to complete a job in an allotted timeframe, since they'll be paid for however long it takes. The majority of consumer complaints, Paul said, stem from a lack of communication, and it’s not just on the mechanics' part.


"As a consumer, don't go in and try to tell them what's wrong with your car," he said.


Instead, provide as much information as you can, and let the mechanic make his own diagnosis, Paul said. That way, he won't end up fixing a problem your car doesn't actually have. 


Alex Spanko may be reached at aspanko@ledger.com. 


Let’s make a deal


It's an age-old question for drivers: Should you get your car fixed at a dealership or an independent mechanic? If your car is still under warranty, go to the dealership for scheduled maintenance. Dealerships may have information about product recalls that independent shops don't. This is especially important when car companies extend warranties to cover repairs associated with recalls. Mechanics at dealerships see the same models on a daily basis. They may know the ins and outs of your specific car better than someone at a local shop who may work on a particular model only once or twice a year.


At an independent garage, you have a better chance of dealing with the mechanic who actually worked on your car. Information about vehicles may be passed through several employees at dealership service centers, and details can get lost along the way. If your vehicle isn't under warranty, dealership service can be more expensive than suburban garages.


Source: John Paul, manager of public affairs, AAA Southern New England, Mass.