Know a Good Mechanic?

A few things to look out for when picking a technician, in defense of the consumer.

If you do, it can really make your life seem peaceful and make the universe seem more balanced. If you don’t, then nothing but pain and despair result anytime there is a problem with your car. Why is it so hard to find a good mechanic? Why does it seem like so many automotive technicians are trying to rip you off? Why is the auto repair industry so messed up? Many reasons can be cited as to why things are the way they are in the auto repair industry.

The biggest problem in the auto repair industry is that most auto mechanics don’t really know what they are doing as often as they should. Many mechanics know something about most things, but they lack understanding of the fundamental operation of most vehicle systems. If the general public knew how truly clueless most technicians really are they would be 10 times more afraid then they already are, every time the check engine light comes on. Most technicians have no formal education so they not only lack all of the mechanical know how, but many of them lack the necessary skills to even properly document everything that they are doing to service and repair customer’s vehicles. Many mechanics with years of experience, but no formal education, are very good at what they do. But, you show me an old mechanic that made it good with no education, and I’ll show you a mechanic who took longer to get good at what they do then was necessary.

So why is it that shops will employ such uneducated individuals, and allow them to do things like fix the brakes on someone’s 3 ton land missile? Part of the fault lies with service managers who themselves may not know as much as they should. Many service managers have backgrounds in sales and customer service and know nothing about the automobile. Part of the blame lies with the general public. The reason that the consumer bears some of the blame is due to the fact that many people shop price when trying to figure out where to get their vehicle serviced, rather than shopping for quality of the work. You get what you pay for. Is there ever a time when this is not true?

Technicians that are very highly skilled, work quickly and efficiently, and without making mistakes, are the ones that make the most money. Shops that employ these kinds of technicians are almost guaranteed to charge more because they have to cover the extra cost of paying such a technician. The customer is going to pay this extra cost, but they are going to get a better product. That product is a car that is repaired right the first time, in a quick and convenient manner. How much is this peace of mind worth? If the public would demand more quality by not settling for the cheapest shop then they would get more quality.

Is there any way for the average consumer to know if the technicians that work at a particular shop are any good? One way is to seek out technicians that are certified through the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). A technician that is ASE certified has met the proper requirements for experience in the industry, and has taken the time and effort to pass any one of the many ASE exams. The typical automotive technician can become certified in 8 fundamental areas under ASE. These areas cover things such as braking systems, steering and suspension systems, engines, air conditioning, and engine performance. Once they obtain certification in the 8 areas they claim the title of Master Technician. Beyond that they may certify as an advanced level specialist in things such as engine performance or alternative fuel systems.

Being ASE certified does not guarantee that a technician will be perfect, but it does mean that they care enough to take the time to maintain some kind of standard in an industry that is completely void of any standards. When asking about ASE certification, make sure that their credentials are up to date since the certification must be renewed every 5 years. Any technician who values their certification will be happy to show it to any customer. All of the major auto manufacturers push for the technicians at their dealerships to become ASE certified. If the public would demand standards within the auto repair industry then more shops would demand that their technicians become certified. Since ASE certification is completely voluntary, it’s up to the public to push for it.

So why do automotive technician’s seem so dishonest so much of the time? Calling them dishonest is not really accurate. Some will make up a story to cover a misdiagnosis by telling you that the muffler bearing wore out because the transmission dongle was seized. Some are just very dishonest, but most of them are just very bad at communicating. If a technician fails to adequately communicate the condition of the customer’s vehicle, or the nature of the repair, then it leaves the customer to second guess what it is exactly that they are paying for. The technician must also follow through with good advice for the customer regarding any other possibilities for the future of the vehicle. Example: If the technician replaces a fuel filter while doing some routine maintenance, and finds it very plugged, they need to tell the customer that the possibility exists that the fuel pump could be damaged and may go bad in the next 4 to 8 weeks, or maybe not. If they don’t tell the customer this bit of information, the pump will fail, and the car will come back to the shop on a hook (tow truck) with the customer screaming that they just had there car in the shop, now it’s broken, and they want it fixed for free. If the customer knows about this possibility of failure up front, when the fuel pump fails, the customer will say to themselves that they knew this might happen and they will take the car back to the shop and happily pay for the prophetic mechanic to now replace the pump. If the pump never fails, then that's okay too.

A few more things to think about. A shop that is good shop is also a shop that is clean and tidy. No reason exists to justify any shop being a complete pig sty. This doesn’t mean that the paint on the walls must be fresh and everything must be shimmering white, but there is no excuse for a floor that is not swept or for tools that are scattered on the floor. If the technicians or shop managers don’t look after their own stuff then what makes you think that they will look after yours.

Finding a good technician is difficult. If you do find one then never let them get away. Considering how much we rely on our cars each day, a good mechanic can make life much easier.

The next post will be for the benefit of the mechanic things for you to consider on their behalf.

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