For car owners, a visit to an auto repair shop can cause as much anxiety as a trip to the dentist. Who knows what unforeseen problems will turn up? It’s the reason finding a reliable, honest mechanic – someone with your best interests in mind – is so important to car owners, especially those with little knowledge of the workings of a car.
So how can car owners find such a car repair shop and ensure they won’t be taken advantage of? Fortunately there are a number of things you can do to find a mechanic who will provide reliable advice and honest quotes.
Research auto repair shopsBefore you even leave the driveway, you first need to do some research. Ask friends or family to recommend a car repair shop in your area. Ideally, you will want to find a mechanic who is located close to you so it’s convenient to take your car in for repairs. Query friends who own similar autos on their experiences with mechanics. Friends typically like to offer advice, and they are more trustworthy sources than any claims of “best shop in town” by a repair shop.
You can also conduct searches online on review sites such as Yelp and the Better Business Bureau, which offers an accredited list of businesses. You can also explore car-specific sites, such as Car Talk, which has a listing of mechanics reviewed by the NPR show’s online community. Google offers ratings of shops as well. Of course, it’s important to take online reviews with a grain of salt because issues and expectations can differ with each individual.
Another way to check out a potential auto mechanic is to search for any investigations or complaints about their work. For starters, many state attorney general offices investigate auto repair shops and keep a database of complaints. You can find your state AG office online and search for complaints against the shop you’re interested in using. If your state AG office doesn’t handle automotive repair shops, see if your state consumer protection agency has a database on auto mechanics.
Check for credentialsThere are other concrete things you can look for that will help you decide which repair shop to visit. “The first thing we like consumers to do is determine whether it’s a licensed repair facility,” says Joseph Henmueller, president of the Automotive Maintenance Repair Association. He cautions motorists to avoid mobile operators and individuals found on Craigslist who offer bargain rates. “If anything goes wrong, they’re not licensed by the state, and consumers have no recourse.”
Also, look for certifications and accreditations with auto repair licensing organizations. Besides Henmueller’s association, others include ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) and iATN (International Automotive Technicians Network). “Look to see if they have an AAA association, and have ASE technicians in their shop,” Henmueller says
Make sure the technician assigned to work on your car is certified for your specific problem. ASE certifications require separate tests for different parts of a car, such as brakes or transmissions. “You want to know if the guy working on your brakes is ASE certified in brakes,” Henmueller says.
Ask for documentationWhen trying to find an auto repair shop, it’s also important for the shop to have a process in place to provide written documentation for each step of the transaction. Your initial concern should be documented, and customers should get written reports of any inspections and estimates before any work is started, with separate line items for parts, labor, taxes and fees. And parts should always be identified as new, rebuilt, remanufactured or used. At the same time, whatever warranty is offered should be printed on or attached to the invoice. A typical minimum warranty is three months or 3,000 miles.
Another sign of a reputable shop, Henmueller says, is a policy that offers to return any replaced parts to the consumer, or at least to make them available for inspection. “If you replace four tires, you want to be able to see the tires before they send them to recycling,” he says. “It gives you some assurance that parts were taken off and new parts put on.”
Do an in-person visitBefore committing to a mechanic, you should visit in person to get a look at the shop itself. If the shop appears to be unprofessional or in disarray, that may be an indication of how your car will be treated. “If there are indiscriminate cars pulling up delivering parts, they could be coming from a junkyard,” Henmueller says. “Professional organizations look, sound, smell and feel professional. If it smells funny, it is funny.”
See where you can save moneyGoing to a repair shop shouldn’t put a dent in your wallet. When shopping around for a mechanic, it’s important to keep in mind:
They can come, seemingly, from out of the blue. One minute you’re driving your car and everything seems fine, and the next moment you hear a strange noise coming from your car as you accelerate.
Before you turn up the radio a little louder in hopes that sound goes away, take a closer listen and find out where that sound is coming from. Learning a little bit about some of the common noises your car might make, can help you identify what the problem may be and help determine when you should visit your mechanic. That might be the difference between some preventative maintenance and a costly repair bill.
Here are a few common car sounds and — and helpful tips on what to do about them.
Noises under the hood
Sound: A screeching sound that has a continuous pattern and seems to come from under your hood.
Probable cause: A loose or worn serpentine belt.
What to do about it: Your serpentine belt drives several vital pieces of equipment in your car, including the alternator, water pump, power steering pump, air conditioning compressor and radiator fan. If you think the screeching sound is a loose or worn belt, make an appointment to have it looked at. Your mechanic can tell you how serious it is and how soon you need to replace it. The most important thing is to avoid having it give out unexpectedly; your car won’t run without it.
Sounds from underneath your car
Sound: Chugging or rattling noises.
Probable cause: Exhaust system.
What to do about it: A damaged exhaust system can produce a veritable symphony of sounds and each unique sound may mean something different. A chugging sound could mean there’s a blockage in the exhaust system. A rattling sound might mean it’s out of alignment. A hissing sound could mean there’s a crack in the exhaust system. Take your car in for an exhaust system check.
Sound: A low-pitched humming from under your car.
Probable cause: This could be a few different issues. Note when the noise happens so you can better help your mechanic diagnose the problem. If your car makes a humming noise, it could mean the differential needs lubricant, the transmission is failing or the universal joints or wheel bearings are wearing out.
What to do about it: Pay close attention to what happens before and when your car starts making the sound. Try to give your mechanic as much information as possible to work with; without a thorough, professional inspection, it can be difficult to tell what the problem is. Don’t let the noises continue without having an expert take a look at your vehicle.
Sounds from your brakes
Sound: A squealing or loud grinding sound when you apply your brakes.
Probable cause: Worn out brake pads.
What to do about it: The sound you’re hearing is likely the calipers grinding against the rotors. Get your car to a dealership or brake repair shop ASAP. If you’re not tapping the brakes but you still hear the sounds, don’t think that everything is OK. This issue will only worsen, and your brakes are extremely important for your safety while driving.
Noisy tire sounds
Sound: A thudding noise from your tires.
Probable cause: Low air pressure in your tires or improper tire alignment.
What to do about it: Check the air pressure in your tires and make sure they’re inflated to meet the tire manufacturer’s recommended levels. If that doesn’t take care of the problem, see about getting them aligned. Improper alignment wears out your tires faster and can result in poor gas mileage or a bumpy ride.
Sounds from your windshield wipers
Sound: Scraping noises
Probable cause: Your wiper is wearing down.
What to do about it: Fix this issue as soon as possible. If the worn-out wiper scratches your windshield, it can be expensive to replace. A bad wiper will also reduce visibility when raining, making it much more dangerous to drive.
Additional noises to watch out for
Clunking noises: If this happens while you’re driving, it might be a bad shock absorber, which has an impact on handling, steering and even braking. Get it checked out.
Loud clicking noise: If this happens while you’re turning, the CV joint, which lubes the front axles, is the likely culprit. When it wears out, it loses the grease that keeps the axles lubricated. It’s best to replace the CV joint rather than waiting until you need costly axle replacements.
Ticking noise: Typically, you’ll hear this while you’re stopped—if you’re low on oil. Get an oil change as soon as you can.
It’s important to pay attention to the noises your car makes and take care of things promptly to avoid facing more expensive repairs. Find a mechanic you trust so you’ll know your car is being properly maintained.
Taking good care of your car also means making sure you’re properly insured. Create a policy that fits your specific needs and helps keep you and your car protected.
 “Noises From Belts and Pulleys,” My Car Makes Noise
 “How can I tell if my exhaust needs attention?,” KwikFit
 “8 Car Noises: What They Mean and If You Should Worry,” Firestone Complete Auto Care
 “6 Car Noises to Keep an Ear Out For,” Paul Campanella’s Auto & Tire Center
You’ve given your car the royal treatment – cleaning, removing dents, getting rid of scratches – and it’s never looked better. For the final installment of our Creative Car Hacks series, we’re switching gears and listing hacks specifically for you – the driver. You’ve probably found yourself in some of these common scenarios below. Next time, you’ll know how to deal with them.
Don’t know which side your gas tank is on?
Check the dashboard. You’ll likely find an arrow on the gas gauge pointing left or right.
Having difficulty separating your key rings?
No need to break a nail trying to separate your key rings. A staple remover will do the trick – no injury involved.
Nervous about parking on a slope?
If you’re parking uphill at a curb, turn your steering wheel away from the curb so your front wheels are facing the road. In the event your car rolls backwards, the curb will catch your tires and act as a block. Do the opposite for downhill parking. When facing uphill without a curb, turn the wheels to the right so that if your car rolls, it will go off the road rather than into traffic.
Are you filling up your gas tank way too often?
Keep gas station trips to a minimum by adapting certain hypermiling techniques to boost your car’s fuel economy. Two simple ways: Reduce idling and check your tire pressure monthly.
Picked up dinner & want it to stay warm on the ride home?
If your car has a seat warmer, you’re in luck. Place hot food on the passenger seat and turn on the warmer to keep it toasty.
Seem to always forget where you parked?
Download apps, such as iFind My Car or iCarPark, to assist. The apps record the location of your parking space and direct you there with ease.
Want to protect your car & perfect your garage parking?
Not only do they keep you afloat in the water, but pool noodles can keep your car door protected, too. If you’re prone to opening the car door into the garage wall, maybe you need a cushion. Simply cut the tube in half and nail it to your garage wall.
You can also use a tennis ball to ensure you park in the right spot in your garage every time. You’ll need a tennis ball, a string and two screw hooks. Then:
1. Park your car in the proper spot
2. Measure from garage ceiling to the middle of your car’s windshield (add about 12 inches) and cut string
3. Screw one hook into the tennis ball and the other into the ceiling above your car
4. Tie the string to both hooks
Key stuck in the ignition?
Don’t panic. It may mean your steering wheel is locked in the wrong position. Turn your car back on to unlock the wheel, point the steering wheel straight ahead and turn off the ignition. Your key should come right out.
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