Check Your Dealership
While your vehicle is under warranty (or depending on the terms of your lease), you may be required to have it serviced at the dealership, and there are some good reasons for this. First off, the service may be free if you are still under warranty, and free is always nice. Secondly, a dealer is going to be able to address any recalls or specific issues to your vehicle reported by the manufacturer, usually also free of charge. Beyond this, dealerships make a good case for themselves by being specialists in your specific make of vehicle, and usually offering a higher level of customer service than a garage (and maybe a free coffee while you wait).
Ask a Friend
There’s no better way to find a good mechanic than to ask someone whose opinion you trust, so start by polling friends and family for their recommendations about local shops. Ideally you’d want to get a referral from someone with the same make of vehicle as you, but since most mechanics can capably repair most makes and models, this is not a necessity. If a close friend or relative has had a good experience (or better yet, years of good experiences) with a mechanic, it’s a solid bet you will get the same results with your vehicle.
Ask a Forum
If your friends and family can’t offer any good leads in your area, your next best bet is to look online. Online reviews on social media and search engines can offer some insight, but they can also be deceiving, so don’t base your decision solely on these. Instead, look for a forum or online community dedicated to your make of vehicle in your area and see what other owners have to say about their experiences. There will likely be other people who have been in your same situation, and threads dedicated to answering your question with recommendations.
Feel it Out
As important as it is to get a referral, the proof is going to be in the experience you have when you bring your vehicle into the shop yourself. If you are coming in with a specific issue, it should be a fairly straightforward process to get it fixed. However, if you’re experiencing a mysterious rattle or wobble with an unknown cause, describe it in as much detail as you can and gauge the response. Mechanics aren’t famous for having the best customer service skills, but being able to have a conversation about what’s potentially wrong with your vehicle is an important part of the process. Try to make sure your mechanic is able to communicate with you about the potential issue, and answer any questions you have. It’s also important to get an estimate up front if possible, and make sure they get your sign-off on the cost before doing any big repairs. When it comes to the question of fixing it now or fixing it later, try asking them what they would do in your situation.
While the most important consideration is always going to be whether or not the mechanic is able to perform the work required to repair your vehicle at a reasonable cost, it’s also important to deal with someone who is professional, courteous and honest. The only way to know is to get as much information as you can up front, then trust your gut.
Jeremy Freed is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. His writing about fashion, travel, food and design appears in Sharp, Harry and re:Porter magazines, among many others.