Shop for a good mechanic before your car breaks down

Car trouble is a headache nobody wants to deal with.

When your vehicle needs attention, you want to leave your keys with a reputable company.

Angie's List found these tips for finding quality auto repair service.

• Find a good shop before you need one: Don't wait until your car is on the blocks to find a mechanic. Doing your homework and developing a long-term relationship with a mechanic/service shop will help you avoid being rushed into a last-minute decision. You'll also be first in line for emergency service and cost savings. While shopping around, take your car in for a small service – for example, an oil change, and see how they treat you.

• Check licensing & certification: State or local law may require that a shop be licensed or registered. ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certified mechanics must have two years of experience and pass an exam to become certified. It's important to know whether the technicians stay current with the latest repair advancements.

• Specialty service: A full-service auto repair shop may be able to handle most of your needs, but if you need a highly specialized service, do some research to find the right specialist. If you have a good and long-term relationship with a full-service shop, you'll likely find at least one good recommendation there.

• Diagnosis: Many auto service shops charge a diagnostic fee to determine what ails your vehicle. Some may reduce or forgive that fee if you have the work performed there. Always ask why a repair is needed.

• Get it in writing: Get a written estimate before authorizing repairs. Request that all replaced parts be returned and insist on a detailed invoice of work done, including an itemized description of parts and labor charges.

• Warranty work: Determine if your warranty requires you to use a specific dealership or shop. If you use another source, keep all receipts in case your warranty coverage is questioned.

• Get a second opinion: On expensive or complicated repairs, get a second estimate. If you decide to have the work performed elsewhere, be aware that you may have to pay another diagnostic charge.

• Before you leave the shop: After repairs are finished, get a complete repair order that describes the work done. Ask to see any old parts. Some states require mechanics to give you any parts they have removed from your car unless the warranty requires they be sent back to the manufacturer.

If you read nothing else in the manual that comes with your car, read the preventative maintenance schedule and follow it. Becoming familiar with your service schedule can help you recognize discrepancies between what your car needs and what a mechanic recommends.

Angie's List is the nation's leading provider of consumer reviews.

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