Other than your home, your automobile is likely to be the single largest purchase you will ever make. Finding a quality repair shop is an important step toward maximizing the life, reliability, driving pleasure and resale value of your vehicle while minimizing unnecessary expenses along the way.
In this, our first monthly column, we will offer some suggestions to help you find that ideal shop.
The increasing complexity of modern automobiles has led to a corresponding specialization among repair facilities. There is simply too much specialized knowledge and equipment needed for one shop to properly service and repair all makes of vehicles. Typically, shops specialize in domestic, Asian or European automobiles.
With this in mind, ask several friends, neighbors and co-workers who drive cars similar to yours for recommendations. Pay particular attention to those who have been long-term customers.
The California branch of the American Automobile Association (AAA) offers a list of approved repair facilities on their Web site (www.csaa.com). Approved shops are periodically inspected to ensure they meet AAA standards and are required to provide a limited warranty for at least 12 months or 12,000 miles, whichever comes first. AAA also mediates member complaints.
The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) operates a nationally recognized training and certification program for automotive technicians. The ASE Blue Seal of Excellence Program requires that at least 75 percent of a shop's technicians be ASE-certified. Additional information and listings of shops that have qualified for Blue Seal recognition can be found at www.ase.com.
The Automotive Service Councils of California (ASCCA) is an association of automotive service professionals dedicated to providing superior customer satisfaction. Member shops are required to adhere to a code of ethics, and their employees have the opportunity to attend in-depth training programs and monthly meetings. Listings of member shops are available at www.ascca.com.
Of course, the Better Business Bureau's Web site (www.bbb.org) can be used to obtain a reliability report for a particular shop, and to determine if the shop is a Better Business Bureau member.
Once you have identified a promising shop or two, call them on the phone. The service adviser should have reasonably good knowledge of the maintenance requirements of your car and should be willing to take the time to talk with you about any problems or concerns you may have with the vehicle.
When comparing prices, beware of exceptionally high or low prices, as this may be indicative of a shop that either does not know your make of car or is not interested in your business. It is also important, for a meaningful comparison, to ensure that the scope of the work estimated is the same.
After you have selected a shop and made an appointment, take a moment to look around while you are dropping off your car and the paperwork is being processed. The employees should seem polite and professional; the shop should appear clean and orderly.
Since it's your first visit, you should be asked about the car's service history and any maintenance services that may be due.
While at the shop, your car's maintenance book should be stamped and services noted. Over time, this book grows in value, as the car's service history is neatly summarized, avoiding the need to shuffle through a thick folder of receipts to determine when the last cooling system flush or spark plug change was performed.
Above all, any service professional recognizes that leaving your car at a repair shop is an act of trust.
Finally, the value of building a relationship with one shop cannot be overemphasized. It is, first of all, a more comfortable experience for both customer and shop personnel. Of equal importance, the shop will build a history of your car, ensuring that critical items such as timing-belt replacement intervals are not overlooked. When a problem does arise, a complete service and repair history can make diagnosis simpler and less expensive.
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