Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Great and the Good -- how I tell the difference

They say the best way to find a good auto mechanic is by asking your friends for a recommendation. That's the method I used to find my mechanic Rich. He always tried to save me money, explaining when I could repair just one part of a system instead of replacing the whole system. And fixing just what I asked him to fix. So he's not one of those mechanics who will take the car in for a tire rotation and send you away with a $400 repair bill because of "finding" all kinds of additional problems. Rich takes it as a personal offense if he discovers that I've brought my car somewhere else for service. And he is located near my place of work, so he would drive me to and from work on the days that I brought my car into his shop for service.

This week I found out the hard way that Rich has retired, and he sold his business to a new guy who calls himself Sab. I brought my car into Sab anyway, since I may as well give him a chance to prove himself worthy in my eyes. I brought the car on Friday morning, reporting that the transmission seemed to be racing. Also it needed an oil change and a brake bulb replaced. I had bought the bulb already and gave it to him. An employee drove me to my work from the repair shop, just as Rich had always done. Nice! They called me after a while, said the transmission had no problems, and since they had completed the rest of the work, I could pick up my car now. "But wait," I said, "the transmission has been slipping every day for three years." If you're telling me there are "no problems" with it, then I KNOW you didn't test drive it. "Please test drive it and call me back. Maybe the problem isn't the transmission, but SOMETHING is wrong with my car. I know it's not running right -- find it and fix it."

A little while longer, they called back and said I could come pick it up. The shop sent a person to pick me up at work and bring me to the repair shop (again, nice!). My bill was $30 for the oil change and $10 for the bulb installation. Right THEN I knew I would not be coming back. Because you've already failed to find my car's most noticeable problem (the slipping transmission) and you've NOT identified the mystery problem that brought me here in the first place, and on top of all that, you're CHARGING me to install a bulb that I've supplied you with? Rich would never have charged for that! Not when I was already there as a paying customer! But I just kept it inside, quietly and privately deciding that this shop was nothing special. Cuz it's not like they've cheated me or anything -- they're not a BAD business. They're just not especially great. I paid the $40 total and drove back to finish my workday.

At work, they called again and said the mechanic had left a pair of pliers in my trunk, and asked if I could please bring the tool back. It didn't matter when, just any convenient time today; they were very apologetic. My decision to avoid this repair shop was confirmed again now on two counts: First, a great mechanic doesn't lose his tools, and Second, a great guy like Rich would have driven to ME in a situation like this; he wouldn't have asked me to come to HIM. So again, I kept these opinions to myself and just politely dropped off the pliers at the end of my day.

From the time I first picked up the car, exactly ten miles elapsed on my odometer when -- lo and behold -- the exhaust fell off my car and onto the street. Egads! I KNEW there had been something wrong! I had been driving around for three days with the exhaust pipes just barely holding on. And I had mistaken that sputtering sound for a transmission problem. But still, even with such an advanced state of deterioration, Sab's shop couldn't detect the problem at all. Wow.

I called for a tow, and got a Punjabi driver to come get me. He was a really fun guy to talk to, and he said he considered me as part of his family since I had the same last name as his. We drove about a half an hour to the shop near my house that fixed my exhaust LAST year. Sigh. It's broken again now, and I'm back to square one, in need of a great recommendation. They'd better fix it under warranty.
Time to start asking around.


  1. Car mechanics are tough. You can also always try the Car Talk site that has mechanic files with recommendations.

  2. @-J
    I tried your suggestion, but found it very difficult to wade through open each of the reviews to find the ones that were good. They have lots of info, it's just badly designed I think. So I remembered to try Angie's List instead since it is easier to navigate. Unfortunately there's very few car places near me with any reviews at all on there. So I copied & pasted this review onto Angie's List so it will be there to tell others about my Sab's experience.