We’re all afraid of the unknown when we take our cars in for repairs. After all, the range of possible outcomes is pretty wide. To your relief, a mechanic might cheerily tell you, “Yeah, they all do that. Don’t worry about it!” Or he might say what you dread the most: “Looks like your car is a goner.”
Unfortunately, you can’t control what’s right or wrong with your car. But before those parts and labor charges start accruing, you can and should have a detailed conversation with your mechanic. That way, you’ll both be on the same page going forward, even if the car’s got other ideas.
With this in mind, here are the 5 tough questions that everyone should ask a mechanic before he picks up a wrench.
It doesn’t matter whether you drive a busted old jalopy or a late-model sports car: a mechanic who knows your car like an old friend will likely save you a lot of time, money, and headaches. Of course, if you take your car to the dealership for service, this shouldn’t be an issue—but unless the car’s still under warranty, why would you do that? Independent mechanics charge a fraction of dealership prices, and since their reputations truly depend on the quality and value of their work, the best “indies” are as good as car technicians get. Just make sure you choose one who specializes in cars like yours.
It may sound condescending—if you’re on good terms with each other, we suggest coming up with a friendlier version—but these guys have a lot on their plate. Sometimes the finer details are forgotten, and they don’t always write things down, in which case it’s extra-important that you ask this question – for both your sakes.
In fact, if you’ve got time, consider writing out a brief, explicit list of the symptoms you’re worried about. You can give your mechanic a copy and go through it item-by-item when you hand over the keys. It’ll make his job easier, and it also gives you a checklist to ask him about when the car’s ready to be picked up.
If it’s your first time working with a mechanic, don’t forget to ask this one. You might think we stole it from Captain Obvious, but trust us: after-the-fact sticker shock is a common malady in automotive repair. Sometimes people don’t realize how high rates can go. Don’t feel bad about getting this element established early on.
Troubleshooting usually takes time, and many mechanics are understandably unwilling to work for free. Our advice is simply to confirm the diagnostic fee up front to avoid any surprise after the work has been completed. The mechanic should be able to estimate the time involved and give you a quote. If he refuses to do so, he’s basically asking for a blank check, so consider taking your business elsewhere. Indeed, it’s generally illegal for mechanics to withhold an estimate, even for diagnosis, so that would be a major red flag.
These may not be the exact words you’ll use, but they get at a very important aspect of the car-repair process. You’ll want to make sure that the mechanic you’re dealing with is a good match for you and your car ownership style. For example, what makes some mechanics great is their obsessive attention to detail, but does that mean they’ll tell you to replace five worn parts when only one really matters? Conversely, some mechanics are legendary for their low prices, but does that mean they care more about keeping costs down than doing right by your ride? It’s hard to know without actually having the mechanic do some work for you, but we still recommend having a little heart-to-heart before you sign off on that first repair estimate.