Reputation, experience important when choosing a mechanic

To find a professional technician that will care for a vehicle properly, many vehicle owners rely on friends and family for referrals.

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Leith : Spotlight : Finding a mechanic
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Transportation is the second largest expense for American households at $750, about 20 percent of monthly spending. Only housing, at around 30 percent, is higher.

Finding the right technician to protect this investment is one way consumers seek to keep these costs from rising further.

Asking around

To find a professional technician that will care for a vehicle properly, many vehicle owners rely on friends and family for referrals.

"We've found that by doing quality work and standing behind it, referrals come naturally," said Kirby Morrow, consultant for fixed operations at Leith, Inc. "If you have technicians who are familiar with the latest models and have up-to-date equipment and training, it puts you on another level from the corner mechanic shop."

Online reviews are a more modern version of the referral. Instead of getting suggestions from one's social circle, online reviews widen that circle to the entire community to get a consensus on the business's performance. If one particular technician is mentioned by name in many of the reviews, it isn't unusual for customers to request them.

Certifications and warranty offered on work performed

Service centers that are connected with larger organizations, especially dealerships and franchises, will be able to offer some documentation and guarantees that ensure the work that they've performed.

A warranty on parts and labor is common practice and provides protection if something goes wrong with the repair. A service center connected with a nationwide group will offer warranties that are honored even if the work was done while in another state. It may be more difficult to recoup a loss on faulty work from an out-of-state independent corner mechanic.

"There is a level of comfort that customers have when getting their car serviced with places like dealership service centers," Morrow said. "The nationally-honored warranties let people know that even if they are far away on vacation, the technicians will stand behind their work."

These technicians are also judged by the certifications they've achieved. The most-widely recognized certifications that show a vehicle technician has good general automotive knowledge are the ASE certifications from the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence.

Dealer service centers will specialize in a specific make and their technicians will be required to go through additional training and certification to hone their knowledge of that brand's models. Asking a service center what certifications their technicians have is common practice.

No pressure tactics

A lot can be learned about how a service center is run by how they treat their customers. Any sense of desperation for business or pushy up-selling is a sign they have trouble earning enough work honestly. A technician without loyal customers, and the referrals that come with them, is one whose work should be given extra scrutiny.

In modern service centers, the customer is likely to interact with a service advisor not the technician. This position is held by professionals who are very familiar with the workings of vehicles but whose position is centered around customer service. They are essentially a liaison between the technician and the customer, and should make this process smooth rather than uncomfortable.

Common practice at the service center will be to offer a multi-point inspection, known as an "MPI," no matter why the vehicle was brought in. These MPI reports will have red, yellow and green categories for each of the areas checked indicating if they are in need of repair, getting close to needing repair or in good operating condition.

Finding a service center that explains MPI results fully and watches developments over time is one that can help extend the life of a vehicle and save money.

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