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Ask These Six Questions Before Deciding on an Auto Repair Shop

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Six Questions You Should Ask Before Choosing an Auto Repair Shop
A 1965 Austin Healey 3000 MKIII having its wire wheels restored at a classic car restoration workshop on April 13, 2016, in Warwick, England (Martyn Goddard/Corbis via Getty Images)

 

If you just paid seven figures at auction last year for a classic auto, and you’re now stumped as to where to bring it to get serviced, it’s OK. Lots of people just like you—with way less expensive rides—run into the same issue on a yearly basis. But the folks over at Bethesda, Maryland–based Car Car Council, a nonprofit organization that educates consumers on automotive-related issues, have some answers (or questions, actually).

We know how you feel about your car. Many of us feel the same way. Hell, Brian Wilson and Neil Young both wrote love songs about their rides. (“Don’t Worry Baby” and “Long May You Run,” respectively — indeed, the Beach Boys were all about autos, as anyone who’s sung along to “409” knows well.) Finding the right auto-body shop to care for your pride-and-joy is a tremendous burden for any car-owner. So here are the six questions the Car Care Council says you should always ask before picking your next pit crew:

(1) Are the Employees of the Auto-Body Shop ASE Certified?
Since 1972, nonprofit ASE (or the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence) has tested and certified auto repairers to upgrade the type of service you, the customer, receives. (Nearly 300,000 men and women are certified.) What this says about the repair shop is that their mechanics mean business—and they’re not going to open up the hood of your ’57 Chevy and cook two eggs over easy and some bacon on its still-running engine.

(2) Is the Shop and Customer Waiting Room Clean?
Go ahead and get that chuckle out of the way. One time, we had to get service done on our car (may she rest in peace), and the waiting area of the place we took her to had leather massage chairs, a flatscreen TV, and endless coffee and tea. Of course, those items were all there to lessen the shock of what the repair bill would be, but it also proved a point: an organized, clean, engaging waiting area is the sign of a well-run business. If the chairs are spattered with oil, a mangy dog is gnawing at the front desk’s leg, and there are flies everywhere, why expect the service to be any more stellar than the ambiance?

(3) How Are Customers Greeted and Treated at the Shop? 
Auto repair shops can easily be vetted for their customer service via phone. Is the guy on the other line interested in what you’re telling him? Did he respond with informed answers when you mentioned what was wrong with your car? Was he friendly and respectful throughout the entire conversation, or did he just try to rush you off the phone? All of this will reflect in the work the shop eventually does on your prized possession. (Of course, you can also back this all up by reading reviews of the place online, too.)

(4) Did You Get a Written Estimate? 
Look, every auto repair shop will do it differently; we recently got an estimate over the phone from a local place, and the actual total ended up being in the ballpark of the quote. But if you’re getting a one-of-a-kind, $1 million vintage supercar repaired, you’re going to want to get an estimate in writing. What exactly is being done to the car? How much are parts and labor? And if the work isn’t satisfactory, can you bring it back and expect to have it completed ASAP? You want to make sure the team—yes, the team—that’s working on fixing that supercar isn’t going to go way over-budget. Or at the very least, knows how much you’re willing to spend to get your Lamborghini disconnected from the wall it hit.

(5) Does the Shop Offer a Warranty?
We sort of dropped a hint about this in the previous blurb. According to the Car Care Council, “Most auto repair businesses offer a warranty on parts and labor and the warranty is usually in writing or posted in the waiting area.” That means if you bring in the car on Jan. 23 and the repair shop says they’ll get the work done in three weeks, you can hold them to that. This should also cover the parts and labor part, too. For example, if you hear something rattling under the hood on the drive home, you should be able to make a follow-up visit quickly and get whatever’s rattling sorted out without an additional charge. Note: Many new cars come with a warranty, but you can opt to get an extended one. (Obviously, this doesn’t factor in if you buy a car at auction or from another collector.)

(6) Does the Shop Have a List of References That It’s Willing to Give You?
The internet has made it a hell of a lot easier to figure out which repair shops are going to give you the best service, but you’d be surprised at how difficult it is to find legitimate reviews of repair shops online. (We were once pointed to a supposed online Bible for auto repair reviews, only to realize that it hadn’t been updated since the ’90s!) Beyond trying to figure out whether the Yelp reviews are from well-informed sources, you can ask auto repair shops to provide you with references or testimonials from other customers. For higher-end automobiles, we’d suggest searching fan forums online, or contacting the companies directly. If they don’t repair vintage versions of their cars, they’ll certainly know the best-known mechanics in the world who do.

For additional pointers on picking the right auto repair shop, watch the video below.

—Will Levith for RealClearLife