4 Things To Look For In An Auto Repair Shop

If you're angry, tired or frustrated in the aftermath of an automotive collision or breakdown, you could be forgiven for simply handing the troubled vehicle off to the nearest mechanic -- but you'll get better results by employing a little extra care in the selection process. Here are four requirements you should insist on in your search for the right auto repair shop.

1. Certifications

Today's cars are sophisticated machines loaded with advanced technology, so you can't leave a modern vehicle to the tender mercies of a stereotypical neighborhood mechanic or untrained enthusiast. Always choose an auto repair shop that can show you documented proof of its workers' professional certifications or associations. These may include:

  • ASE  - An ASE certification from the National Institute for American Service Excellence is the current gold standard for general automotive repair workers in the U.S. Applicants must have at least two years of direct experience working on vehicles before they can apply, although they may be able to substitute training for experience to some degree. They must also pass a set of exams before receiving their official certification diploma, shoulder patch and I.D. card. Look for the telltale blue ASE insignia.
  • ASA - American Service Association membership means that the participating shop has committed to the highest levels of professional behavior and work quality, including a detailed Code of Ethics. The fact that the average ASA shop has 24 years of experience under its belt is another reason to seek out participating garages.
  • ACRA - If you're specifically looking for excellence in auto body repair, find a shop that belongs to the ACRA, or America's Collision Repair Association. It's one more indicator of the specialized service and knowledge that helps ensure great work. 

2. High-Quality Parts

Ask prospective auto shop what kind of replacement parts they use in their work. OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) parts are generally the highest-quality solution, since they're engineered to meet the exact tolerances and specifications of the parts you're replacing. Critical under-the-hood components should either be new or remanufactured to like-new condition. Beware any shop that uses salvage parts, unless those parts are for non-critical components and the rest of vehicle is comparably old. 

Auto body parts may be less critical for everyday operation, but that doesn't mean you should disregard the quality of these parts. If the measurements and tolerances don't line up just so, you could find yourself with leaky body panels or a door that doesn't open or close properly. Even the weight makes a difference, since lightweight materials can be more vulnerable to damage. Look for a shop that uses parts approved by the CAPA (Certified Automotive Parts Association).

3. In-Shop Adjusting

If possible, choose an auto repair or RV repair shop that does its own adjusting, with the permission of your insurance provider. While you can certainly allow the insurance company's adjuster to evaluate the damage to your vehicle, this process can take some time to arrange and implement. An in-shop adjustment can provide everyone concerned with the necessary information to proceed with the repairs as quickly as possible.

An in-shop adjustment may have another fringe benefit -- a more accurate estimate that covers more work. Insurance companies tend to prefer covering the smallest amount of repair work possible, while auto repair shops are more interested in getting the job done right. Auto shops also make more money by being thorough, so you may end up with a more comprehensive fix for your (out-of-pocket) money.

4. Reputation for Excellence

Last but not least, you need to make sure the auto repair shop you select comes with sterling recommendations. Start with the professional reporting organizations such as the Better business Bureau to view any official ratings or complaint reports. You can also get a pretty good idea of the shop's work quality, pricing habits, and customer service practices by reading customer reviews on Yelp and other online review sites.

The most reliable and detailed information, however, will come from loved ones, colleagues, and neighbors who can give you detailed accounts of their own dealings with the shop. If possible, ask to see the vehicle in question and take a close-up look at the work yourself. There's no substitute for first-hand evidence when you need to determine an auto shop's skill level.

Certifications, top-quality parts, in-shop adjustment, and glowing reports from happy customers -- put these four items on your list of prerequisites, and you're bound to get a better auto repair experience. Start shopping around today, and don't stop until you find that ideal garage!

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