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Find the Best Auto Service and Repair Companies

by Lauren Fix Auto & Finance Contributing Editor

Auto service and repair shops perform preventive maintenance, general repairs and safety checks to keep your vehicle in good shape. Use our guide to research the best auto service and repair companies for you. Consumers should find a technician they trust to perform the services they need at a fair price.

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Considerations when searching for auto services

Technicians

Depending on the type of work you are having done, you may want to have a certified professional mechanic or technician complete the work on your vehicle. The more complicated the repair, the more likely you’ll want to use an experienced and certified mechanic. Understanding the types of certifications can help you select the best mechanic for your service or repair need. Because newer vehicles have computers and new technology, using an educated technician is your smartest choice.

  • ASE Certified: Certification from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) is the gold-standard of mechanic certifications. ASE is a non-profit organization that administers exams to ensure technicians are knowledgeable and qualified. Individuals must have one year of on the job training and a two-year degree in automotive repair or two years of on the job training to sit for an ASE certification exam. Only about two-thirds of test-takers pass on their first attempt. Top ASE certified technicians are called, Master Technicians. Mechanics can earn Master Technician status by passing a specified group of tests in a series. They must also document at least two years of relevant hands-on work experience and must recertify in each test area every five years. Finding a Master Technician is worth the effort.
  • Brand/chain certified: Many chains have their own training program that all technicians must complete. These certification tests may or may not be as rigorous as the ASE tests. If the technician you’re working with only has certifications from their company, you may want to consider other factors, like trustworthiness and years of experience, before agreeing to any work. Many technicians will hold dual certifications.
  • Manufacturer certified: Most vehicle manufactures and some aftermarket parts manufacturers provide a training program and test for those who work on or use their products. Technicians with this kind of specific certification will be very familiar with the technology of that specific brand and/or service.
  • Oil Change Certified: The Automotive Oil Change Association ensures their technicians are educated and certified with industry standard. They offer their own testing and technical training for lube center employees.
  • No certifications: Some mechanics do not hold any certifications, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are unqualified. If they don’t have any type of certification, rely on the number of years they’ve been in business, recommendations from friends/family and online reviews. Using a technician who has the tools but not the experience can be risky.

Hours

Vehicles don’t always break down during regular business hours. When selecting an auto service repair shop, consider whether they are open at hours that are convenient for your schedule.

  • Early/Late: Shops that close on weekends may open very early or stay open later in the evening. Ask whether all types of technicians work during all the hours a shop is open. Some businesses remain open late, but the mechanics/technicians who perform more complicated repair services only work during regular business hours.
  • Weekends: Many national chains are open during the weekends. Make an appointment in advance if possible.

Trustworthiness

Auto service and repair is often expensive, and if you aren’t mechanically inclined you have to take the word of the technician that the problem they have identified is actually the problem. You should choose a repair shop that you trust not to overcharge you or tell you that you need services that you don’t.

  • Written estimates: Shops should be willing to give you a written estimate before they do the work. An estimate allows you to compare their prices to other shops’ prices. Getting quotes from more than one shop for expensive repairs is a good idea.
  • Reviews: Online reviews help you get a broad sense of a particular shop’s reputation. Other people’s reviews will not only tell you if they do good work, but they will also give you a sense of how they treat their customers.
  • Personal recommendations: Asking friends, family members or coworkers if they can recommend someone they trust at a particular shop. However, checking online reviews, getting estimates and asking about technicians’ certification can give you further peace of mind.

Warranties

Many auto parts come with a warranty, and some shops offer warranties on products and services. Remember to read more than the large print on these warranties. The details are important, and keeping these warranties and the receipt in a safe place can support the warranty.

  • Honored nationally: Chains should honor their warranties at any location, meaning you should be able to have your vehicle serviced or repaired at one location and have its warranty honored at another location.
  • Recorded: Ask if the company keeps records on the parts it sells and the services performed and if warranty information is tied to that record. Knowing the company has a record of your warranty might make it easier to get a repair or replacement if you lose your warranty information.
  • Clear terms and conditions: Most parts and services have a limited warranty. When you have work performed, the repair facility should provide you with clear warranty information, including any exclusions.

Location

Many auto repairs and services cannot be performed quickly. Consider the shop’s location so you can easily get to work or have something to do while you’re waiting for your car to be ready.

  • Shopping district: Several national chains tend to build/open locations in mall parking lots or near a walkable shopping district. Going to one of these shops many be convenient if you already need to do other shopping, if the shop is very busy and/or if your vehicle needs a time consuming service or repair.
  • Courtesy car: Some mechanics, especially those at dealerships, offer customers a courtesy car to use while their car is in the shop. These may only be available to those whose repair will take a longer time to complete. Many shops offer transportation to work, home or the airport while your vehicle is being repaired.
  • Guaranteed completion time: Some shops guarantee that they will complete a service in a certain period of time or by an estimated time. This guarantee helps you determine whether you should visit a location with nearby shopping or entertainment or that offers a free car or shuttle service.

Specialty

While many mechanic shops can perform a wide variety of services, others offer limited services or only work on certain types of vehicles. These shops may be especially helpful if you want a technician who is an expert on a particular service or brand.

  • Dealership: Dealerships can work on any make of car, not only the brand that they sell. However, the technicians at a dealership’s service center will likely be more familiar with their brand of car than other brands. If the car needs repaired because of a service recall, you may be required to use the dealership’s service facility.
  • Non-dealer brand focus: Some shops focus on a particular vehicle manufacturer/brand. Consumers with a unique and/or imported brand may be more comfortable with a specialized shop.
  • Work type: Most service shops can perform a wide variety of tasks; however, they often cater to those looking for either preventative maintenance, repair, or auto body work.
  • Restoration and modifications: Owners of classic cars or want their cars modified may be interested in a mechanic who specializes in restoring classic and antique cars and that type of modification. These shops will be familiar with suppliers to make old cars look new again. Modification jobs usually take a bit more time.

Other Tools

Apps and other tools can help you save money. Some are free while others have a small fee.

  • Repair Pal: Repair Pal is free and available for iOS and Android devices. Auto mechanics usually don’t price out parts and labor separately, this app does. Calling different mechanics around town for repair quotes can be a real pain. Repair Pal does that legwork for you. Just select your car and the type of repair needed, and it'll display costs in your area for a particular repair. It is available as a website or app on your smart device. Repair Pal also offers a warranty if you use their repair referrals.
  • Openbay: Openbay empowers its members by delivering repair quotes from shops nearby, combined with an easy-to-use platform to schedule and pay for service. Instead of spending hours researching local car repair shops, hoping to find an honest mechanic, you can simply search using Openbay’s website or app. Openbay recommends local shops, provides secure payment processing and allows customers to track services online. Be aware that Openbay only shows quotes from partner repair shops.

Types of auto repair services

Preventative maintenance shops

All vehicles need regular maintenance to keep them running well. Shops that focus on services like oil changes, transmission flushes and tire rotation likely cater to many customers who simply need to keep their care running well. These shops usually offer basic repair services for items that naturally wear out over time, like batteries, wiper blades, timing belts, fuses, fuel pumps and more.

Repair shops

Repair shops can perform all preventative maintenance as well as replace mechanical parts that have just worn out. They can also do more complicated repairs like installing a new transmission or engine.

Retail stores

Some shops are attached to or include a retail store that sells auto parts and/or accessories. Customers who want to perform their own car maintenance or repairs can purchase the necessary parts at these stores.

Who needs auto repair services?

Commuters

People who rely on their car or truck to get back and forth to work every day should pay special attention to preventative maintenance.

Parents

Parents may wish to regularly have their vehicles’ safety features inspected on a regular basis.

Used car buyers

Anyone purchasing a used car should have it inspected by a trusted mechanic before making the purchase.

Budget conscious consumers

Consumers who like to make sure they’re getting the best deal should compare different chains’ prices, promotions and rewards programs.

Car enthusiasts

Individuals who want to make sure their car, truck or SUV always runs at peak performance should find a mechanic who is familiar with the make and model of their vehicle and won’t over change them for unnecessary services.

Car owners with warranties

Anyone who purchases a brand new automobile or a certified pre-owned vehicle probably has a warranty that covers most mechanical issues. Many times, owners must show that they’ve performed preventative maintenance on the manufacturer’s recommended schedule in order for their warranty to be honored.

Auto Service and Repair FAQ

How do basic car repairs work?
Although certified professionals should complete the majority of car repairs, there are several basic repairs you can do yourself:

Changing a flat tire:

  1. Loosen the lug nuts with a tire iron.
  2. Raise your car on its frame with a jack.
  3. Remove the lug nuts.
  4. Replace the tire with a new or spare.
  5. Screw the lug nuts back on the tire.
  6. Release the jack so your car returns to the ground.
  7. Tighten your lug nuts once more.

Changing your spark plugs:

  1. Search through your owner’s manual to find the location of your spark plugs.
  2. Remove the spark plug wire (generally found attached to the top of the plug).
  3. Replace it with the new spark plug.
  4. Plug the spark plug wire into the new spark plug.

Replacing headlights or taillights:

  1. Unscrew the headlight frame from the bracket — this may simply be a cover found on the inside of the hood (headlights) or trunk (taillights).
  2. Unhook the bulb from its mount and unplug the lightbulb from the electrical connector plug.
  3. Replace it with the new bulb, being careful to hold the new bulb with a tissue or gloves and not your bare hands.
  4. Reattach the mounts and return the headlight frame to the bracket.

Jump-starting a battery:

  1. Locate the battery via your owner’s manual.
  2. Pull out your jumper cables.
  3. Safely move a running car to a position near your car where the jumper cables have enough length to touch both batteries.
  4. Shut both cars off.
  5. Attach one end of the red jumper cable to the red (positive) terminal on your battery and attach the other red clamp to the running car’s red terminal.
  6. Attach the black (negative) clamp to the running car’s black terminal and the other clamp to an unpainted metal surface, such as the metal struts that latch your hood shut.
  7. Start the running car’s engine and let it charge your battery for a few minutes.
  8. Now, start your car and let it run for about 15 minutes.
How do I find a reliable mechanic?
There are a few ways you can find a reliable mechanic to service your car:
  • Talk with family/friends: The easiest way to find a great mechanic is to speak with a trusted group of people like your family or friends.
  • Check trusted review sites: Looking at reviews is a fantastic way to get recommendations for solid mechanics as well as shops to avoid.
  • Look at a shop’s certification: With legitimate certification — like specific auto manufacturer certification or National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (NIASE) certification — you can trust the shop in question is performing to a fixed set of standards and rules.
  • Test a shop with smaller repairs: Before you need any major servicing, test a shop by having it service your fluids or rotate your tires. By doing this, you can see if a mechanic’s customer service is up to your standards and whether it overcharges for basic service.
How long does a major car service take?
The length of a service depends on the make, model and condition of your car. A routine major, scheduled service usually takes two to three hours.
How much does it cost to get your car looked at?
The cost for a mechanic to look at your car depends on several factors — mainly the make, model and condition of your car. An inspection before performing any service should cost roughly $20 to $400.
Is there a warranty on car repairs?
Repair warranties differ from shop to shop. Make sure you ask about warranties for repairs before your car goes in for service, and get a copy of the warranty in writing.

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    Sears Auto and Tire

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    NAPA AutoCare Center

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    AAA Car Care Plus

    AAA Approved Auto Repair centers has over 7,000 locations across North America.  Every AAA Approved Auto Repair Facility can provide routine maintenance and repairs. Many centers offer member services, travel, insurance and other services at the same location. You do not have to be an AAA member to get your car serviced at these repair shops.

    • Warranty: A warranty is offered to AAA members as a 24-month/24,000-mile repair guarantee.
    • Discounts: Discounts on labor for auto repair or maintenance service are available and run up to $50 for AAA members.
    • Free Inspection: Receive a free maintenance inspection with any paid service, with a written list of repairs that will be needed.
    • Loaner Car: AAA offers a Vehicle triage within 60 minutes of a AAA tow to the facility. This means they can assist you in obtaining alternate transportation if necessary.
    • Disputes: AAA offers support to help resolve disputes arising from a service or repair at a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility. Call them and they will help resolve the issue.

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    by Lauren Fix Auto & Finance Contributing Editor

    Lauren Fix, also called The Car Coach, is an automotive and auto finance expert. Her understanding of vehicles has made her the “go to” person on TV, radio, print media and the Internet. She has authored multiple books and writes a column for several outlets, including Parade Magazine, NewsMax and Car Coach Reports. She is a regular guest on major news and morning shows, discussing the latest updates on cars and car financing that will help drivers make smart decisions when buying, maintaining and financing cars.

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