5 Steps to Finding a Mechanic You Trust
It could be the key to keeping your car running smoothly.
Aaron Miller/Capital One
Updated on July 18, 2019
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. (
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:
Find auto shops in your area and read customer ratings and reviews.
Search for mechanical repair, auto body and detailing, or even glasswork shops near you. All are backed by AAA, no membership required.
If you’re looking for a reputable shop, BBB rankings are always a good place to check.
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.