auto

How to pick an independent auto mechanic

Tara Baukus MelloCar owners are keeping their cars longer than ever, and many are looking to save money on car repairs by using an independent auto mechanic. Among those planning to purchase a used car this year, 34 percent of car owners plan to get their repairs and maintenance performed by an independent mechanic, according to a recent study by AutoMD.com, a free online auto repair resource.

A good independent mechanic can save you money on car repairs and be more convenient than a dealer, but finding one can be a challenge. Here's how to ensure you and your independent mechanic are together for the long haul.

Do your due diligence. Asking friends or business colleagues for recommendations for a repair shop is a great place to start, but don't simply take those at face value. You are looking for a shop that will take care of what's likely your second most expensive possession and the thing you rely on multiple times a day to get you where you need to go.

Once you get recommendations, visit the garages in person and check out the facilities. Observe the cars in the shop to see if they are the same make as yours, and make a mental note of how many bays there are and how many people are working in the garage. Then talk to the shop owner or manager and ask about common wait times for typical regular maintenance jobs.

Also ask how familiar the mechanic's team is with servicing your brand of car. While many maintenance and repair jobs are similar from one car to another, there are many issues that can come up that require unique tools or different steps outside of the norm. If you drive a less popular brand, you may find your independent mechanic is lacking some key knowledge that can cause the repair to take longer or even cause the repair itself to be a challenge.

Be willing to wait. Because independent mechanics usually have smaller shops and therefore smaller staffs than dealerships, it's likely you'll have to wait longer for your appointment. There's also a greater likelihood of downtime -- where your car is sitting not being repaired. This may be because the mechanic has a longer wait time for parts or because he or she may be squeezing in someone else with an urgent problem. While you'll usually pay less for your repair than you would at a dealership, you may be without your wheels for a longer period.

Understand the limitations. Even if the independent auto mechanic you choose is very familiar with servicing your brand of car, he or she still may have limitations compared to the dealership that specializes in your brand. Diagnosing electronic issues or computer problems are potential issues. Many independent mechanics only have generic diagnostic equipment, which will only give them basics about error codes. Independent mechanics are also not authorized to handle recalls. A good independent mechanic will refer you to a dealer when necessary and will feel secure in knowing you'll return to his or her business for other repairs and maintenance.

Despite these limitations, many car owners use independent mechanics with positive results, not to mention extra cash in their pocket from spending less on their car repairs.

Ask the adviser

If you have a car question, email it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories.
 

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