So where should I take my car for its routine maintenance?

Back home, I used to take the car to the dealership, since my dad always did that with his car (we both had Hondas - he bought both of 'em) and they were always courteous, professional, and, as far as we could tell, straight with us. They probably weren’t the cheapest deal in town, but still.

Anyway, I’ve since moved to WA state, and obviously don’t have such extensive experience with the dealerships up here. Should I risk it (is there even any real risk?) and go with the dealership, or should I try and find a local auto shop - maybe a Napa or something? - and have them take care of it? (And if the latter, exactly how do I go about finding a reputable mechanic?)

One other item of note - at my car’s last checkup, the mechanic noted some minor damage/wear to the CV boot, and made a note that it should be examined at my next 5k checkup/maintenance/oil change. If it does need to be changed, would I be better served at the dealership, or with a third-party auto-mechanic?

sigh Why can’t cars be as easy as computers to maintain (and upgrade)? :frowning:

I’ve always been wary of dealerships except for warranty work. They really gouge you on the labor time and costs. I’m also wary of auto parts stores … but that’s because I drive a rather old car.

In my hometown I knew who to go to for tires, front end, electrical, mechanical, etc. After finding one good shop, in conversation you ask "hey you know anyone who does good work on … " However when I moved across the country, I found myself without my connections, not knowing many people and driving a 15 year old corvette with a slightly modified engine … that was always going into one shop or another for something.

You’re new in town so people will understand the questions. To me finding a mechanic is right up there with finding a dentist or doctor. You ask folks where they go, how they like the place, etc. Since you drive a honda, a starting place is to ask other honda drivers. Keep your ears open, if you hear someone talking about car problems, ask them where they took the car.

Never fear, cars are quite like computers … once you get the right support person, all is good. Otherwise … keep rebooting. :smiley:

Pull it in to your garage, and do the routine stuff yourself. You will be amazed at the money you save and the things you will learn about you car, not to mention the feeling of accomplishment when you’re done.

But I could be wrong…

RealLife SoundBite: “Axl Rose? Who the hell is that fat, old queen?”

What follows is a combination of knowledge and opinion, both of which come from my doing auto repair professionally for nearly 30 years.

Dealerships generally do good work. They have factory training, factory tools, factory information, and top quality parts in-house. On the downside, they tend to have high prices (though not always the highest), and they often have a manner that puts many people off. Certainly some are better than others, but if you feel comfortable with a particular dealer, I have no reason to advise against using them.

I don’t care for the chain operations. They often have entry-level help, and I believe they train their people to sell rather than to develop good mechanical judgment. While they typically advertise very attractive prices, probably less than 5% of customers who go in for, say, a 79.95 brake job leave having only spent that much. Often their prices for the upsold services are pretty high. There are some good individual stores out there, but in general the best quality and the best value is not found at the chains.

Independent shops run the gamut from large to small, excellent to lousy. The very best of all types of shops are the top-notch independents. The very worst are the scum independents. The good ones tend to offer more personalized service than the dealerships and more competent service than the chains. For many people, developing a relationship with a high-quality independent shop yields the best overall value and the least hassle in servicing their cars.

How to find a good shop? Use a multi-pronged approach. The first thing is to check their reputation. Customers are the most obvious source. Just be aware that some people may be delighted with a shop that’s scamming them some, and some may deride a good shop that they simply didn’t click with. Another avenue is to check industry sources. Ask at parts stores that deal with the shops. See if you can find a tool wagon-vendor (Snap-On, Mac, etc.) on his route. Check with a specialty shop (e.g. auto electric). These people have an insider’s perspective, and usually know which are the good shops and which are best avoided.

Look for mechanics’ certification. This is through an organization called ASE (Auto Service Excellence). They provide written tests which, while not perfect, pretty well identify those who know what they’re talking about. Don’t just look for the logo, but go inside and look at each individual’s certificate. There are eight areas of testing in general auto repair, but a person who passes just one test can wear the patches and be called certified. And a shop with just one certified mechanic can display the ASE logo. Ideally, all personnel at the shop will be certified Master Technicians (passed all eight tests).

Look for training and seminar certificates. To be proficient on modern cars requires a fair amount of ongoing learning. While intentional fraud makes great TV exposes, it is actually rather rare–most problems with auto repair are rooted in lack of competence, and unwillingness to own up to it. A high level of expertise is a good thing.

Look for membership in trade associations. Different ones are strong in different parts of the country, but three I’m aware of are ASA (Auto Service Association) and ASP (Auto Service Professionals) for general repair, and ATRA (Automatic Transmission Rebuilders Association) for transmission repair. Belonging to an association usually indicates an interest in the reputation of one’s field and the welfare of one’s customers.

Use your “people skills,” along with the shop’s reputation, to asses their honesty and integrity. Most of us have a feel for when people are being straight with us. If you’re young and still developing these skills, have a more experienced friend or relative go along and counsel.

Satisfy yourself that there is a good rapport between you and whomever you’re dealing with (this might be a manager rather than a mechanic–that’s OK). If you ask a question, you should get an answer that is useful to you. It may take a few tries to effectively communicate, but they (and you) should be trying to make it work.

Don’t focus on price. We all want to be good consumers, and it’s great to get a bargain. But most of the time, you get what you pay for. Good service is supported by top-flight help, comprehensive information resources, study and training, and special equipment. These things cost money, which has to be reflected in a shop’s prices. I wouldn’t necessarily make a point of going to the most expensive shop in town, but I’d be downright scared to go to the cheapest one.

I’ve lost the link, but the website for the NPR Cartalk show has an online database. You can put in your zip code, and it will bring up a list of mechanics in your area that have been recommended by other users. You can also, of course, recommend your own. It’s a nifty little service. I’ve used it myself.

I think it might be Hmm. Nope, that’s not it. Well, google should get you there pretty easily.

Thank you very much, guys. Especially Gary for the in-depth, obviously well thought out reply, and Smeg for the site that I will now Google for.