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Finding the right Auto Repair Shop

Gary, a friend of mine living in California, was dissatisfied with the service he was getting from various auto repairs shops in his area. Having worked in the automotive repair industry, I decided to offer some advice. (While I refer to the statutes enforced by the California Bureau of Auto Repair, the rules governing fair and honest business practices pretty much apply wherever you go. If unhappy with your repair shop, you can always file your complaint with your state's Attorney General office. While they may not be as aggressive as the regulatory agency in California, I guarantee you they keep a record of all business complaints, and may very well assist you in getting satisfaction.)

My respone to Gary:

I am sorry to hear of your difficulties with the various auto repair facilities you've been dealing with. Having worked in the industry, I can offer some advice from my career, and my experience with auto repair shops, since retiring from Firestone.

In California, they can't lay a hand on your car without your authorization.  If they don't give you an invoice--walk away.  Also, what ever parts are replaced on your car, the old ones must be returned to you for your inspection. Also, it's always a good idea to see exactly what it is being recommended, and going back to the shop and finding out why. Any additional repairs must have your expressed authorization.

If none of these three things happen, then you do not have to pay the bill. That is the law in the state of California.  If you have a complaint, and the repair shop doesn't fix your car to your complete satisfaction, you should call the California Bureau of Automotive Repair (a.k.a. BAR), located in Sacramento. The sales invoice the shop provides you is, in fact, a legal contract between two parties.

(note: this is true in no matter what state you may live in.)

Let me give you some personal advice: don't be cheap; never shop for price; if the shop is reputable, they generally will charge more money. That said, the work they perform--while expensive--is worth the price in the long run. If you should find a shop that does good work, reward them with your continual support; chances are they need it.  The overhead in most auto repair shops is high, and the dishonest shops will do anything to make more money.

There are no "deals" out there. If the price seems too good to be true, chances are, it is.  Low prices are designed to attract new business. For example, you take your car to a shop for a bargain-basement oil change; from my experience, they can't perform the low-priced oil change and still make money.  The idea is to draw you in with a low price, and then find something wrong with your car, and then will try to sell you a new set of shocks, or new brakes (both high-profit items), something, anything, for them to make money. Don't be taken in; always get a second opinion.

Finally, let me offer some age-old advice:"let the buyer beware". It's a tough business world out there, especially in auto repair shops; be "wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" (that's the advice Christ Jesus gave to his disciples, as he sent them out into the world; two thousand years later, it's still good advice).

Remember, you're the boss, you're the guy who pays the repair bill, and, by extension, keeps them in business.

Be suspicious of the smooth talker, the glad-hander with the ingratiating smile. You want a guy who is cold, anlytical, and deadly serious. Find that guy and take good care of him, because he'll never take advantage of you.

-- Rich



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