13 Tips for Finding an Honest Mechanic

When taking your car in for repair, many mechanics will count on your lack of automotive expertise, resulting in them charging more than they should. Don't be fooled next time, and check out these do's and don'ts for taking your car to the mechanic.



  • Very simply, ask around. For a week or two, ask everyone you meet or run into what shop in your area is the most trusted and inexpensive.


little girl in dirty clothes sitting on car holding mechanic tools

  • Look for shops that advertise certified technicians. This is not a guarantee , but will put the odds in your favor. I have found the website www.motorist.org to be helpful in finding a shop; and, also, look for the ASE shield.


  • If you're a woman, NEVER go to a shop alone! Try to find a man (preferably one with some automotive know-how) to go with you. The mechanic or estimator has no idea who he is, and will be on his/her guard. In my experience, very few men know much about cars either, but a woman alone is a prime target for a lot of double talk and billing. Even if you pick someone up off the street, you stand a better chance of getting a fair shake.


  • Always ask for a written estimate. Most states have laws that require a written and signed estimate before any work is done, including diagnostic work. If you don't have it when you leave your car, you don't have any legal means to fight back with if needed. If the shop refuses, find another shop -- period! Never ever sign a blank work order!


  • If parts need to be replaced, always ask for the old parts when the job is finished. Some rebuilt parts require that the shop return the old part to its supplier, but ask to see it anyway, before it is returned. This will help keep your mechanic on his/her toes.


  • If at all possible, ask the technician to take a ride with you so you're both on the same page as to what the problem is. The same applies to when you pick your car up. Make sure the problem is taken care of before you pay him/her.


  • Never ever, ever tell your mechanic specifically what you think is wrong or what you think needs to be done! At the average shop, if you walk in and say "I think it needs a tune-up," nine times out of 10 that's exactly what will get done, and nothing more. If you still have the same problem when you pick your car up, you're out the cost of a tune-up, because that's what you told him/her to do. A good and honest mechanic, when told it needs a tune-up, will instantly ask why so your car actually gets fixed, and to avoid problems when you return to get your car.


  • If your car has a problem that is there part of the time or a noise that comes and goes, it will be very difficult for the best mechanic to find. Try to pay attention to the times and circumstances surrounding these symptoms. Any clue you can provide will be very helpful to the mechanic trying to diagnose it.


  • When you get your estimate, do your best to ask around and find out if it's a fair price. There are too many variables to get exact figures, but if you are quoted $400 for front brakes, and the guy down the street tells you $150, something's wrong. Find out what they do that's different. You may be paying for extra parts you don't really need.


  • The average mechanic figures he/she knows a lot more about repairing cars than you do, and that may very well be true. However, anything you can do to shed doubt on that will make him/her less likely to take advantage of you.


  • Don't assume if a mechanic is referred by a friend that you will automatically get a fair shake. The general way of thinking in the average shop is: Get what you can while the opportunity is there. Very few shops are actually seeking a long-term relationship with their customers. With that in mind, until such a time, this referred mechanic should be held as accountable as someone you never saw before.


  • Remember: You are the boss. You are paying the bill. Be informed and don't be afraid to ask questions. If a mechanic can't take the time to explain things so you understand them, you're in the wrong shop.


  • Having said all that, when you find an honest mechanic -- and they are out there -- make sure they know you will remain faithful to them. Bring a box of donuts or bake some cookies. Even a card of appreciation is welcome to someone who is constantly considered the bad guy. If one of my regulars came in and needed a simple brake light, as an example, I would often only charge for the bulb if it only took a minute or two to replace. A good relationship works two ways. Do what you can to keep up your end.


Don't Let Your Mechanic Pick Your Pocket! book cover

George A. Moyer is a retired mechanic and shop owner who became tired of seeing people ripped off by less-than-honest mechanics, so he wrote "Don't Let Your Mechanic Pick Your Pocket," from which the above is excerpted -- the book is small enough to fit in your glove box and includes the most common automotive problems and what they mean plus lots of practical, helpful hints. Check out www.mechanicsscam.com.