TTAC Commentator sastexan writes:
Hi Sajeev, I have to find a new mechanic – my former mechanic is permanently disabled (bad shoulder – he can’t even hold a gallon jug of milk with his right arm) and his old shop is just not responsive – or as competent as I demand. So, with great heartburn, I have to find a new shop for those repairs I am either unable or unwilling to perform myself: which is most since I do not have a garage or even a driveway, much less a lift or even jack stands as the street in front of our house is pretty well sloped.
The cars in question are my resto-mod 3.0L Contour SVT, my wife’s Camry and probably my mother in law’s Millenia S (with the weird miller cycle engine). I can tackle basic repairs with my car, but sometimes it’s just easier to have someone else do it.
How should one go about finding a new mechanic / shop? What questions do you ask to determine competence? I proved a long time ago that I knew more than my local Ford dealers (including causing service advisers to get fired due to my complaining about their ignorance – including yelling at one standing underneath my car on a lift arguing about the rear sway bars), but I am not opposed to company shops if I know the mechanics are competent and the rates reasonable.
When it comes to modified cars outside the parameters of a factory catalog (Toyota TRD, Lexus F-Sport, Ford Motorsport, BMW + DINAN, etc) run like hell from dealerships. Not that they can’t do them right, it’s not their core competency. And that eats into their profit margin. I already know the details of the 3.0L swap in a 2.5L Contour, so I can imagine the headaches involved for the uninitiated. Neither party wants to take risks, it hurts quality and the department’s reputation.
The other two cars mentioned can go anywhere, but once you find a “big block” Contour worthy mechanic, those guys deserve the easy money generated from working on a normal car. So let’s take a look at some of my tips for finding a good mechanic. It involves getting off the computer and doing an actual site inspection. With this criteria:
- Technology: WiFi in the waiting room wouldn’t hurt, but that expense isn’t necessary. What is mandatory is a decent computer with access to an “online service manual” service like ALLDATA or similar.
- Labor Rate: shop on price, don’t be afraid to pay a hefty rate for a premium service and hassle-free dealings if the problem isn’t fixed the first time. Especially if you own an import brand and are looking for a specialist garage that caters to your car’s specific needs.
- Self-purchased parts: this is huge, especially for the super-unique Contour. If they bat an eye, that is a bad sign. Shops can easily mark up the cost on a part: it’s an easy way to make a huge profit on a single repair. If they don’t want high quality, brand name parts procured by the vehicle owner, ask why. I’ve never heard a good reason, something that didn’t sound like a cover up for the aforementioned truth. Not that I expect you to buy your own parts on a regular basis, but there will be times you need to. So it’s best to learn how they do business right now.
- Facility condition: how organized is the place? I couldn’t care less if the shop floor is clean enough to eat from, but are tools and parts in their right place? Do you hear upbeat music playing, selected by the mechanics (Tejano tunes are commonplace ’round these parts) themselves? Is the lobby zooty enough to make you wonder how much the overhead is at this joint? The place doesn’t have to be great for you, it just needs to be great for the staff and owners.
Off to you, Best and Brightest!
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