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Shopping the Shops

Updated on July 27, 2013
Look for this logo when shopping for auto repairs.
Look for this logo when shopping for auto repairs.
A typical plug-in automotive diagnostic computer
A typical plug-in automotive diagnostic computer

These simple steps will help you in the long run:

Drive around. Look at all of the shops from the road as you drive by. Are the bays full? Is the parking lot full? Are they the same cars in the lot and the bays over several days? If they are the same cars or no cars, then this shop has been doing no business, and probably for good reason. Many shops will “stack the lots” to look busier when they really aren’t.

Large Corporate Shops are not always the best places to go. Their prices for service may be in line with the economy, but many of them are too big to care about personalized customer service. Small shops on the other hand have less buying power than the big corporate ones do. Their parts prices may be higher, but the customer service will be much better.

Pay Attention to what is going on around you when you are in the waiting room of any shop. When the auto parts are delivered, who delivered them? Was it Auto Zone? Advance? Napa? When you get your estimate for your repairs, chances are the service manager called around for a price on parts from one of the local parts stores, and then added a huge mark up to the price.

Shop the Parts Stores after you receive your estimate. You will most often be shocked at how much more the auto shop has marked up the part price for your repair. You would be much better off buying the part yourself and having the shop put it on. Many shops will refuse to do this because they lose the markup. They will try to dissuade you from doing that by using an excuse like “we can’t guarantee our work if you supply your own part.” Don’t worry. A reputable part supplier will warrantee the product for you. The shop may even raise the labor rate to compensate for the loss. This is an illegal practice, and you should point it out to the man behind the counter. The labor times are set by the industry, and all shops that are worth their salt use the same industry guidelines.

Shop the Labor Rates. At the time of this writing, the labor rates in the southeastern US are about $88 to $92 an hour. The mechanic usually gets about $20-$25 per labor hour. A labor hour is the predetermined time set by the industry labor guides that it takes to get a certain job done. If the guide says it takes 1.1 hours to do a brake job, and the mechanic finishes it in .75 hours, he gets paid the 1.1 hour rate. That is why you see mechanics working so fast on more than one car at a time. Many times a mechanic will get the work on your car done long before you realize it, and will let your car sit on the rack while you wait. This is to give you the illusion that a lot of labor time was spent on your vehicle. Pay attention to what is going on, you may save some $$!

Ask Around. Talk to your friends. Find out where they go for service. If you repeatedly hear the name of a certain shop, check them out. Ask the auto parts stores to recommend someone. Ask them who the busiest shop in the area is. You do not want to take your car to a dead shop. They are dead for a reason.

Do Not allow your oil to be changed by one of the myriad of “Quick Oil Change” outfits. These people are usually not trained in proper automotive service nor are they certified mechanics. If they were, they wouldn’t be working there for $10 an hour. Do not fall for the “service add-ons” unless it is a currently dangerous safety issue. The mechanics make their money on what they do, so they will try to sell you as much as possible. Don’t fall for add-ons like the “Power steering flush” or the “Brake fluid flush” (unless you are getting a brake job and the fluid is a dark brown or black color. The same goes for your transmission as well). These add-ons take just minutes to do, but you will be charged for an hour’s labor. Remember, Mechanics are hungry! Always get a second opinion on your estimate!

Do Not Pay For Plug-In Diagnostics! One shop that I worked at charged $89.63 to have the mechanic plug a hand held diagnostic computer into your car. The whole process takes 2 minutes to get a reading. To console the customer, they told him “we will refund half of that amount if you get the repairs done here”. What a scam and a rip off it was. Many auto parts stores will plug in and give you a diagnostic code for free. You can look up the code online or ask a shop to look it up. If the man behind the counter tells you that they have to “read the codes ourselves to get an accurate reading”, go somewhere else. The reading will be the same.

Beware of Advertising Ploys! Make sure that the ads for services are crystal clear and that you understand the offer completely. Ask questions. The biggest scams that I have seen are with shops that go out of their way to advertise that they are a Christian organization. There are true Christian based shops out there that are doing good, honest and fair work. They are usually low key in their Christian-based advertising. For example, if you see a big sign that says “Simon Peter’s Auto Service: We’ll Walk on Water for You!”, then I’d stay away. If the shop is pushing how much honesty and integrity they have, that is another indicator of a guilty conscience on their part. I could be wrong, but my experience has been that if they try to gain your innocent trust through religious overtones, they can’t be trusted. But you should take them at face value until you know for sure. As an example, the shop I mentioned above that charged $89.63 for 2 minutes of diagnostics was a “Christian” one.

Finally, always look to see that the shop and the mechanics are ASE Certified. ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) is a nationally recognized authority over the training and testing of all mechanics in the industry. But just because a shop has an ASE sign, doesn’t mean that the mechanics are certified. Anyone can get a sign. All certified mechanics must display a certificate with a picture in plain sight for the customers to see.

I hope that this helps! Feel free to email me with any questions.

As always my friends, thanks for stopping by. Stay healthy, always do a good deed for a stranger and give the Good Lord above thanks for everything, the good and the not so good.

I bid you peace.

©2013 By Del Banks


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    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Great article for someone like me who needs to be led by the hand. Thank you very much. Voted Up!

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 4 years ago from Central Texas

      Excellent advice and be sure I'll save this one and follow your tips. I often think automotive shops and mechanics kind of look for the uninformed woman like me -- we're an easy touch! Best/Sis

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Great advice! Bookmarked.