Separation from a dependable auto shop intensifies the trauma of moving. But don't despair.
By MARTY CLEAR
Published September 3, 2004
When you move to a new city, it's relatively easy to find a replacement for some of the stores and services you've left behind. It's a fairly straightforward process to choose a new supermarket, hardware store or dry cleaner.
Some things are a little harder. Finding a good doctor and dentist, or even a barber or hairdresser, can be trying.
Among the most traumatic experiences, for many people, is choosing a new mechanic.
Car owners can form real attachments to good mechanics. They entrust their mechanics with vital and costly possessions that in many cases affect their livelihood. Building a new relationship isn't always easy. Besides, the potential for being cheated - or at least for spending too much money - is very real.
"When I lose a good auto mechanic, it is like a death in the family," said Sue Komater, a Hyde Park massage therapist. "Only it's worse, because I have to go out and find another one. I cannot tell if I have been ripped off sometimes, and the paranoia is so painful. I dream about the perfect referral."
Local experts say there are straightforward steps that car owners can take before they settle on a new mechanic. Some of the steps may entail a bit of time and effort, but they'll pay off quickly, and could keep paying off for years into the future.
Perhaps the simplest is to ask your current mechanic to recommend a new one. If you're moving to a different part of the country, this one may not help.
But if you're just moving from South Tampa to Pasco County, there's a good chance your current mechanic knows someone up there.
Daniel McPeters, the service manager for Gillett's Auto Center on MacDill Avenue, said he goes a step further for his customers. He has formed relationships with mechanics in other cities around the state. He recommends those places to his customers when they move, or when their kids go away to college, and he hears back from those customers about how well the new mechanics treat them.
But even if your mechanic can't recommend someone, reliable advice is still easy to get.
"Talk to everyone you meet and ask them who they go to," McPeters said. "If there's a name that keeps coming up, give that one a try."
Once you've narrowed your choices, McPeters said, you can pick up some visual clues. Look for mechanics who seem to have a steady flow of business. But be wary if you see the same car on jack stands or a lift for an extended time - it may mean the shop lacks expertise in some repairs, or that it isn't too worried about timeliness.
McPeters recommends looking for certification from the Automobile Service Association, and asking to see ASA certification if it's not posted.
"You can really get in-depth and call the Better Business Bureau to see if there's a history of complaints," McPeters said. Or, he suggested, people can call toll-free, 1-800-435-7352, the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The people at consumer affairs, he said, can provide records of any licensed mechanic in the state. Customers can also lodge a complaint against unscrupulous mechanics by calling that number.
One of the keys to help ensure that you end up with a reputable mechanic, McPeters and other experts agree, is to do some homework before an emergency arises. Don't wait until your car is on a tow truck hook to start looking for a repair shop.
Fabian Romo, the co-owner of the Saaab Store on Gandy Boulevard, has a list of three basic steps consumers can take before deciding on a long-term mechanic.
The first is to visit the shop several times. Bring your car in for oil changes or other simple and inexpensive procedures to get to know the place and its people.
Second, make sure the shop returns your old parts, at least in your early visits. This is a matter of Florida law, but some shops will try to fast-talk their way around it. Don't be intimidated. There's no legitimate excuse for not returning the parts.
(There are times, though, when the shop can legitimately charge you extra if you want to keep the old parts. If they're replacing a broken part with a rebuilt part, they may have to pay a fee if they don't give their supplier your old part. They should show it to you for free, but they may charge you to take it home. And they should explain that up front.)
Thirdly, Romo advises that customers should be able to speak to the person who is actually going to work on the car. And that person should be able to explain, in layman's terms, what he's going to do and why.
Not surprisingly, Romo and McPeters said there's a real advantage to dealing with independent garages. You can talk to the owners; you know exactly where the buck stops.
And, not surprisingly, service managers at auto dealerships disagree. They said it's wisest to take your car to a dealership's service department.
"There's a misconception that dealerships are more expensive," said Lindsay Rogers, a service adviser for Nissan of Brandon. "But we're as cheap or cheaper than independent places. We have to be competitive in the market."
If your bill from a dealer turns out a little higher than what you're used to, Rogers said, it's because dealers use parts designed for your make and model of car.
"The oil filter we put in was specifically made for that car," he said. "It's not a generic part that happens to fit."
Dealerships also have the wherewithal to keep the latest tools and diagnostic equipment and software on hand. Their technicians are trained in specific makes and models of cars, and they can take advantage of technical support from the manufacturer if they come across problems they haven't dealt with before.