CHICAGO-For a consumer, finding the right automotive service technician or service shop can be a lot like trying to decide on a family physician. In either case, sophisticated ``machinery'' calls for entrusting it to a ``specialist.''
In response to reports of alleged automotive service fraud, the Associated Press contacted consumer advocates and the Chicago-based Council of Better Business Bureaus for tips on how service shop patrons can avoid wasting money on unnecessary car repairs.
Though geared to consumers, shop owners and managers may find hints in the following advice to improve their dealings with longtime customers, as well as potential new ones:
Check with the local Better Business Bureau and city, county or state consumer affairs offices for complaints against a repair shop;
Seek advice from family, friends and colleagues about reputable repair shops;
Look for a clean shop with a waiting area that looks as if the operators care about their customers; and
Get a qualified mechanic-one with Automotive Service Excellence certification and any applicable state certification.
If, for example, a vehicle needs new brakes, the Council tells motorists to make sure the mechanic's ASE certification is for brake work-not air conditioning.
The Council also suggested consumers give the mechanic a verbal and written description of the car's symptoms-including the conditions under which the problem occurs. The description, it added, should be included in the work order.
If all a customer wants is an estimate, they should specify that, and should receive a written estimate. Some states, the Council said, have limits on how much a shop can charge over and above an estimate.
A service shop should make sure its customers leave a telephone number where they can be reached to discuss the work before the shop makes any repairs.
A customer unsure of whether his or her vehicle needs the additional work recommended by a technician should be urged to get a second opinion.
Customers should be allowed to see any parts that have been replaced as proof that the work actually was done. Some states, the Council noted, have laws requiring that consumers be offered the old parts.
And service shops should advise their customers to maintain a regular maintenance regimen that includes an oil and filter change every 3,000 miles, regular tire rotation and other services recommended in the owner's manual.
Following these basic guidelines not only helps keep the lines of communication open between customer and service shop, the Council said, but also helps a shop develop and maintain that level of trust so necessary to a successful business.