How to Find an Honest Mechanic: Five Questions to Ask

These questions will help you identify a mechanic that can be trusted with your car and your money.

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Shopping for a mechanic should be about more than convenience, especially if you envision a long-term relationship with the perfect caretaker for your car. It’s worth getting to know your mechanic or repair shop to gauge the quality of their service even before you drop your car off.

Here are five questions to focus on when you’re looking for a good, honest mechanic:

1. Are you ASE certified?

A mechanic with Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification will have passed at least one of over 50 tests administered by the nonprofit National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. Shops may display certificates of completion for ASE-administered tests, which the organization says are so challenging that one in three test takers will fail their first attempt.

Additionally, the organization requires retesting every five years to ensure that mechanics are up-to-date on the latest technology.

2. Do you charge an hourly rate, a book rate, or a standard rate?

The way repair shops and independent mechanics tally costs can vary. Some will charge an hourly rate, some may use a figure quoted by the car’s manufacturer, and some will charge a flat job rate based on their experience with the work in question.

One is not necessarily better than the others, but it’s helpful to carefully consider the options when you’re shopping between mechanics. A slow-moving mechanic might wind up charging you much more for a service than one who works efficiently.

Pro tip: It’s not always prudent to go with the lowest estimate. Even an honest mechanic may encounter time-consuming complications. It’s a good idea to understand how these hiccups could raise your final bill.

3. How much is a diagnostic visit, and does that fee apply to the final bill?

Unless it’s immediately obvious to you or the mechanic exactly which services or repairs your car needs, the shop will have to spend time on diagnosis. This may be as simple as plugging a special computer into the car to look for fault codes—or it may require a lengthy test drive to reproduce the issue.

Either way, the shop will understandably want compensation for their time. Some shops apply their diagnostic fee toward the final repair cost, so check to see if that’s the case.

4. Do you work on a lot of these cars?

If you take a BMW to a shop that specializes in Toyota models, the mechanics can probably do the work, but it might take them longer. Familiarity with the way a certain brand assembles its cars can reduce the time it takes to repair an issue.

Although a brand specialist can cost more than a generalist, some of today’s cars are complex enough that it’s worth paying extra for someone who works on cars like yours every day.

5. How long will it take you to fit my car in?

You might be surprised at just how backed up some mechanics are. The labor shortage has hit car-repair shops, and some may quote as much as a week or more before they can even get to your vehicle.

If you’re just waiting to schedule regular maintenance, that may not matter to you. But if your car is making a worrisome noise, you’ll want someone to look at the car soon.

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Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz has had cars in his blood ever since he gnawed the paint off of a diecast model as a toddler. After growing up in Dallas, Texas, he earned a journalism degree, worked in public relations for two manufacturers, and served as an editor for a luxury-lifestyle print publication and several well-known automotive websites. In his free time, Andrew loves exploring the Rocky Mountains' best back roads—when he’s not browsing ads for his next car purchase.