5 Steps to Finding a Mechanic You Trust

It could be the key to keeping your car running smoothly.

Finding a mechanic you can trustAaron Miller/Capital One

Updated on July 18, 2019

Article QuickTakes

Ever had an oil change turn into a major repair? You take your car to the shop, and you wait… and wait. Just when your name is called and you’re ready to leave—surprise! Your car needs a brake flush, a belt replacement and three new tires.

As a former auto mechanic, I’ve seen this scenario from the other side. Customers always pause and ask, "Do I really need all this?"

That question is much easier to answer when you take your car to a mechanic you trust.

How to Find a Reliable, Trustworthy Mechanic

1. Do your homework

The first step in choosing a mechanic is learning about the options. As with most things these days, the best place to start is the web. ( in your area.) 

If you happen to know someone who owns the same car you do, find out where they take it for service. This can be especially helpful if you drive something less common, or that tends to require someone who specializes in the brand, like a Volkswagen or Mercedes, for example.

Consider searching for “independent shops” along with dealerships. Independent auto shops are highly specialized—they often only service vehicles from a single manufacturer or country. They hire expert mechanics, many of whom are trained and certified by European manufacturers. You might not be able to take your VW to Germany for repairs, but an independent auto shop may be the next best thing.

2. Consult your maintenance records

All vehicles have a preventive maintenance schedule—services performed at regular intervals such as fluid flushes, filter replacements, tire rotations and the like.

If you’re told you need an unexpected service, check your owner’s manual first to see the recommended services for 30,000, 60,000 and 90,000 miles, and several in between.

That said, remember that your car is only a machine, and something will fail unexpectedly—I promise. If a mechanic finds a problem that sounds concerning, but also expensive (a brake failure, for example), give them the benefit of the doubt and…

3. Ask to see your car and the problem

Many mechanics will gladly take you into the garage to show you the part or fluid in question—ask how it’s supposed to look, compare it to your car, and use your best judgment. If something’s clearly damaged or faulty, let the shop perform the service.

If you’re not allowed into the shop for safety reasons—some shops have insurance policies that prohibit customers on the shop floor—ask the mechanic to bring the damaged component (or a photo of it) to you.

4. Prioritize repairs

All mechanics should recommend service for the future, but good ones will tell you what’s most important to your safety. Be careful of service centers pushing dozens of “urgent” repairs; failing brakes can kill you, but a wheel alignment can probably wait. If you get a laundry list of recommendations, ask three questions:

  • Which of these services are most important, and why?
  • Is my car safe to drive without performing them?
  • How many miles can I go before completing them?

If you’ve asked these questions and still feel pressured to pay, it might be best to just say "no, thanks" and move on to Step 5.

5. Get a second opinion

Getting your car in the shop once is frustrating enough, let alone twice. If the prescribed repairs are just too expensive, or if your car’s fatal diagnosis sounds fishy, getting a second opinion from another mechanic is smarter than ignoring the problem. (That is, of course, assuming your car is safe to drive...)

Things to Know About Preventive Maintenance 

When it comes to preventive maintenance, there’s little middle ground in customers' beliefs: they either pay blindly or think it’s completely unnecessary. There are some mechanics out there who are willing to bank their commission on your lack of automotive knowledge.

The truth is, not all preventive maintenance is a trick to take your money.

The 30-60-90 intervals

The 30-60-90 rule is an old industry term. It doesn’t mean your car only needs service at 30,000, 60,000, and 90,000 miles, but those milestones are useful in driving home an important point: Your car does need regular check-ups.

The services you need at each interval will vary (again, refer to the owner’s manual), but common examples include:

  • Spark plug, engine belt and filter replacements
  • Tire rotations
  • Brake system checks
  • Fluid flushes

Why are these important? Take fluid flushes, for example. Most of your car’s major systems, like the brakes, transmission and the engine’s cooling system rely on fluid to function. Automotive fluids are engineered to do a specific job very well. Over time, they break down, become contaminated with debris and water  and, eventually, their ability to lubricate and maintain pressure declines. That’s exactly what happens to engine oil, and it’s the reason you need regular oil changes.

Shelling out hundreds when your car is running fine might be tough. Think of it this way: Your car is a machine you trust your life with—literally. So it’s worth it to stick to your car’s maintenance schedule, and find a mechanic you trust to keep it running right.

Resources for finding a mechanic you trust

Here are a few places to start in your search for a mechanic:

Mechanic Files at CarTalk.com

Find auto shops in your area and read customer ratings and reviews.

AAA Approved Auto Repair Network

Search for mechanical repair, auto body and detailing, or even glasswork shops near you. All are backed by AAA, no membership required.

Better Business Bureau

If you’re looking for a reputable shop, BBB rankings are always a good place to check.

National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE)

The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE for short) issues professional certifications to mechanics who complete their training courses. If you drive an import or other specialty car, looking for ASE certification is smart. Otherwise, don’t put too much weight in the certificate. ASE-certified mechanics are certainly experts, but the required exams are expensive in both time and cost. Not all mechanics have the resources to take them, and those who do may charge more for their services.

This site is for educational purposes only. The third parties listed are not affiliated with Capital One and are solely responsible for their opinions, products and services. Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above. The information presented in this article is believed to be accurate at the time of publication, but is subject to change. The images shown are for illustration purposes only and may not be an exact representation of the product. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.
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Nick Say
When I'm not writing, you’ll probably find me tinkering with my car. I started turning wrenches at 16, and worked at an auto shop while studying journalism in college. Now at Capital One, I combine my two favorite things—writing and cars.