Reliability of Car Mechanics?

One of the first things I always worry about when I’m looking for a car mechanic is whether that person will rip me off or not. There are a lot of other services that I pay for where I’m not nearly so worried about whether I’ll be ripped off or not.

Are mechanics any more or less reliable than any other service (as a group. Of course there are honest individuals and dishonest ones in any business)? Do mechanics just get a bad rap?

Is it because most people (myself included) don’t really know all that much about their cars or how to fix them?

I think that as a general rule, most mechanics are honest. However, even the best ones make mistakes once in awhile. Of course there are those mechanics that will tell people that their framus nut is loose or you need new muffler bearings and it will cost $1200.00 to fix. And there are people that would believe them, unfortunately.

The best way to find a good mechanic is word of mouth. Ask around.

Generally, the cleaner their shop is, the more reliable they are. Look at the floor, it should be clean. I noticed the best guys always keep a clean floor & shop. After that, try the national store chains.

What I did to find a good mechanic is, I went to the local place around here. My mom is friends with the guy’s wife, and he knows who I am, and that I know alot about cars. I told him I was going to be up in Kansas City, and asked if he knew a good mechanic in the midtown area. He recommended a place, and that’s where I went.

Ask around. Go to the local tire shop, and ask who they recomend. Then go there and ask what exhaust shop they recommend. Then go to the exhaust shop and ask what mechanic they recommend.

You can do it all over the phone. Call the exhaust shop, tell them they were highly recommended to you, and you figure if they’re so good, they’ll know what mechanics are good. If you call enough places, you’ll quickly get an idea who’s good and who to avoid.

Or, you can have someone you know who’s good with cars call up and describe a problem to a shop and see what they recommend and what they quote, and if it lines up with what the person would do themselves.


For the love of God, DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT go to a national mechanic chain! NOT unless it’s a dealership!

A national chain does NOT hire someone based on their experience, expertise, or quality.

DO NOT go to them, I’m begging you.

Handy, you should be ashamed of yourself.


If you want to be safe, go to the dealership. I think that mechanics, as a rule, are more dishonest than other professions, as the OP stated, because we don’t know what’s wrong with the car. I’ve had a mechanic put in a new alternator, when that was not the problem, but he said it was. So what do I know? I’m not a mechanic. (Apparently, he wasn’t much of one either.) I could list a lot of wrong info different mechanics have given me. Sometimes they’re purposefully deceiving you, and other times they are just wrong or don’t know the particulars of your particular type of car.

I always bring my car to a dealership now. I may pay a little more, but they know my car and will do it right the first time. I’ve never had to bring it back, but if I ever did have to, they’d fix it without charge, I’m sure.

I agree with Homer - word of mouth like that is normally the best possible way to stack the odds in your favor.

Re: national chains, like Car-X, Midas, etc. - I have had very bad experiences with them, including one case of outright vandalism to a CV boot, which we were forced to fix ourselves.

Details - I had crawled under the car and checked the CV boots before we went in, just to see if it was something we might ask them about doing (yes I could do them myself, but didn’t have the time). They were in perfect condition, hardly even a single crack or discoloration.

After my sister’s brake job, the sad looking manager comes out and says “Oh no, your CV boots are bad. They have to be replaced.”

Sure enough, they WERE bad - as they had been both cleanly cut with a knife.

I’ll spare you all the rest of my anecdote. You can imagine what happened.

Quoth barbitu8:

How is this different from any other profession? Most folks also don’t know much about law, or medicine, or home wiring, either… That’s why we hire professionals in the first place. Does this make lawyers, doctors, and electricians dihonest? Well, OK, maybe lawyers, but what’s to stop a doctor from telling you that your framus gland is acting up? Or an electrician saying that your framus switches aren’t up to code? I don’t think that there’s any a priori reason to assume that mechanics are more dishonest than anyone else.

This is my take: small car repair shops are like any small business, especially home contractors. One thing is that there is a lot of incompetent people out there and there are also a lot of dishonest people. Sometimes both things go together, sometimes they don’t. In any case they will screw you. It is very difficult to know and the best way is by references. I have seen some very incompetent and dishonest repair shops.

I take my car to the Nissan dealer and they are more expensive but boy, are they worth it! A totally professional and competent and efficient crew and no fear of them selling me repairs I don’t need. Worth it every penny for me.

Also, the best mechanics have their home phone number in the phone book. Guess why? :slight_smile:

As for National chains, Homer, there are some excellent ones. They are still better then taking a guess getting ripped by some mechanic you don’t know. As you can visit any of the other chain branches to get things straightened out.

Our local Kmart sucks though. CostCo, Midas, & some others are okay.

I went to a dealership for a “skip” which they had preliminarily guessed was something that could be fixed with a “tune up.” I made an appointment, arrived on time, and after waiting 1.5 hrs., they sent a messenger to tell me I needed a new timing chain, sprockets, and all the accompanying parts that go along w/ it–about $600 (the good news was that they had all the parts in stock). I replied that I thought I’d had my timing chain replaced about 5 years ago. The messenger went back to the mechanic then reappeared to say the mechanic would try a new oxygen sensor instead–$40. Later that night, I found something hanging out from under my dash that hadn’t been there before, and a wind noise when travelling at 55 mph that had never been there before, but I’m too disgusted to ever go back there.

Nowadays, all they do is hook it to a computer for diagnosis, pick the most expensive possible solution, and replace the offending parts. I don’t think any of them actually know how to truly “fix” anything like they used to.

OK, there’s no a priori reason why mechanics are more dishonest. It’s just been my experience, and I’ve had plenty of experience with mechanics, as well as doctors. Doctors and lawyers are professional people and, at least lawyers, take an ethics course and must maintain a high standard of ethics, else they will be disbarred.

In all my dealings with mechaanics, I reiterate that the dealers are generally better. They want to establish a good rapport with their customers. After all, there is no better advertising than word of mouth. True, all mechanics need to do this, but most are too dumb to realize it, thinking a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Or a sucker out of a few bucks is worth more than contingent business. Moreover, dealers do have the parts and they know the car. A subsequent post related a bad experience with a dealer, but that’s the exception.

There IS a reason that mechanics are inherently dishonest.

In 1950, mechanics were very likely honest. If it was broken, the fix was obvious. You could see or hear the problem, pull it apart, fix it, and put it back together in a matter of hours.

Flash forward to the 1990s. Cars have OBDI or OBDII. You often cannot see what is wrong with it, nor hear it. You get a check engine light, and the car runs, handles, or acts like crap. You have NO idea what it is until you either jump the plug and read the flashes, or take it to a mechanic.

Because of this, it can be a fouled spark plug, and you’d never know. The mechanic can replace all your plugs, your wires, distributor (or coils, whatever), O2 sensors, and EGR system, and say that was the problem, and you’d likely never know the truth.

Cars are so ubiquitous, and so complex, that it is impossible for every single person who owns or drives one to know how to fix one. THIS is the enabling factor that causes many, many scam artists to turn to car repair. Even a good, knowledgeable mechanic can become easily tempted because of the cost of parts and possible money involved.


I just want to add that some mechanics are certified, which means that they, at least, have some knowledge of mechanics. However, there are many out there who are not, and they may know next to nothing. Dealers’ mechanics are certified. Better than a wild hope.

No offense to mechanics, but a lot of them I meet are illiterate. I find this out when I ask them to write down what they are saying.

I’ve had the most luck with small, local shops. My parents live in a fairly rural area and one of the mechanics near them is great. Usually I just go in for minor things like an oil change, but occasionally I’ve gone in for what I thought were big problems. I was always surprised when it turned out that the repair only cost about $5 to fix.

There’s another place I go to when I’m away at school, and it’s just as good. Even though it’s part of a national chain the people who work there have always been honest with me. They’ve brought me out to my car to show me exactly what was wrong and how they were going to fix it. The only downside is that they don’t take appointments, so sometimes I’m there for a few hours. However, one time they were so grateful that I waited so patiently (another student had come in and thrown a fit when her car wasn’t fixed in under an hour) that they did my entire repair for free! On top of that, they gave me a coupon for a free oil change.

I agree with everyone who said that word of mouth is the best way to find a mechanic. When I had to get electrical work done on my car last week I called around to several repair shops. All of them recommended one place in particular. Even though I had to go without my car for a weekend, the guy who owned the business did an extremely thorough check on my car. He fixed the broken fan harness wires, then went through the entire wiring system to see if there were any more problems that I didn’t know about (there weren’t any). I was expecting to pay about $300. The bill came to $40.

There are some excellent car mechanics out there. The trick is knowing where to find them. :slight_smile:

A friend of mine just took a job at a (Chrysler) dealership after working many years at an independent shop. According to him the standard procedure for fixing something at the dealership is to replace it. If that doesn’t fix the problem then replace the thing next to it, etc. until the problem goes away. So sure, the dealership may fix the problem on your first visit and maybe cost a little more but it could be because they’re just clueless.

Called ‘What Auto Mechanics Don’t Want You To Know’ (available at Amazon:

But to save you the $11.65, the basic theme is this: Mechanics who advertise cheap ‘specials’ in newspapers/ flyer, do so to get you in the door. They lose money on the special repair, but more than make it up by telling you that the Franklin assembly is out of whack and other nonsense to get additional repair work out of you. Brake places are supposedly more disreputable than most. The author’s conclusion was this:

  1. Mechanics as a profession are no more dishonest than any other profession.

  2. However, the most dishonest places advertise disproportionately more because they have trouble keeping regular business.

  3. Mechanic shops hire the cheapest labor possible, usually looking for ‘parts changers’. If you get a better mechanic, he will expect to be paid more which has to get passed along to the customer in the long run for more expensive repairs. Customers, however, specifically pick places based on criteria #2 because they are cheapest, so shops rarely hire top-notch mechanics

  4. Cars have become increasingly complex and require greater education to be proficient at repairing them now. As a result, one would expect mechanics to get more education. Doing so, however, will lead to them expected more pay which prices them out of the market per criteria #3. Also, people who become auto mechanics don’t do so because they want to attend MORE school, so they are unlikely to be motivated to go regardless.

  5. If you want to find a good place, word of mouth is your best bet. Often, however, your friends might steer you wrong and lead you to a crooked place that just hasn’t screwed THEM yet, so the author recommends checking with an independent body such as your local AAA office to see which ones are AAA-certified. AAA will occasionally do spot checks on these companies bringing in cars that don’t need repair, or only a specific repair and see if the mechanic tries to tack on extra, unneeded repairs.

While the book doesn’t condemn national chain stores, they all but hint they are crooked, sighting numerous cases against Goodyear, Brake Depot, and Midas shops. Big O Tires has also gotten nailed several times. Of course, these rarely make it to the news because the shop pays the fine and settles with the Bureau of Automotive Repair and fires the poor mechanic who was unlucky enough to get caught doing what is nothing more than unwritten company policy.

In addition to “word of mouth”, I think another good piece of advice around larger metro areas where they exist, is to find an independent that specializes in your brand of car. I’ve been happy with getting my Saab worked on at a place called “The Saab Factory” that does nothing else. I used to have a Honda that I took to a good shop called “Made in Japan” which did nothing but Honda’s.

Don’t EVER go to chain lube joint if you can avoid it… oil changes have a pretty low profit margin, and most likely the guy/gal will try to push extraneous services, like a fancy-schmancy window wash, to pad out the bill. Most dealers (well, GM at least), have a quick lube nowdays, and generally won’t try to pull a fast one on you for minor repairs and maintenece.

What gets my goat, however, is the fact that some people seem to get so worked up about the aforemetioned bill-padding when they’re perfectly willing to excuse the same kind of behavior from their lawyers, accountants, etc (“um, yeah, that’ll be 24 hours at $200 per hour, rounded up to the nearest 24 hours, pay the secretary on your way out”). The charicterization of mechanics as “illiterate” yokels raises the question: do you need an MBA or a vocational school certificate to be a licensed scumbag?

My suggestions for avoiding rip offs:

  1. Learn how to change your own oil. It’s not that tough, and it DOES lend a certain swagger to one’s step.

  2. Never underestimate the junkyard. I had a side mirror knocked off a few months ago. To get a brand spanking new mirror would have cost an estimated $189 in parts and labor, not counting getting the thing painted to match my car, as they generally only make replacement mirror housings in flat black. Instead, I spent a saturday calling around to the junyards, and eventually located a U-Pull-It place that had my model and color. I borrowed the Haynes manual from the library, found that I would only be wrestling with something like 9 screws, and put the damn thing on myself. Total cost: $19 and change.

  3. If you MUST deal with a shyster, learn just enough about cars so that you can (a)congenially shoot the shit with the guy when you bring your car in (“I would put in the new PCV valve and check the master cylinders on the brakes myself, but I’m a bit strapped for time. The new Aztek is one ugly peice of shit, ain’t it?”) or (b) maintain an intimidating aura of hostile skepticism as he’s walking toward you from the service bay trying to decide whether to tell you that your gimballed transitional equilibrium sensor needs replacing or the upper piston manifold timing switch has a short.