Driving in Houston requires a combination of a good navigation app, a dash cam and daily prayer that the potholes on Westheimer will not send your car to a repair shop.
Hope as much as you want, but you’ll eventually have to take in your car for a necessary repair. With so many to choose from around here, how do you decide on a facility that is fast, affordable and reliable?
“Most of them are straight up, honest and they want to fix up the car,” said Tony Molla, vice president of industry relations at the Automotive Service Association. “The only reason they’re in business and successful is because they want to take care of customers.”
Experts from the Automotive Service Association, National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence and AAA Texas weighed in on how to get the best bang for your buck when your car is banged up.
Look for industry certifications
Here are three confusing acronyms for you: ASA, AAA and ASE. The first two, the Automotive Service Association and American Automobile Association, are stamps of approval on the business and its practices. For a facility to qualify under AAA’s standards, the shops must have technicians certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.
ASE requires technicians to have two years of hands-on experience and pass several exams to qualify for their seal, said Trish Serratore, ASE’s senior vice president of communications. It’s an extra benchmark that can help consumers understand where their mechanics trained, plus ensure that the facility hires people who must re-certify their knowledge according to industry standards every few years.
“You don’t want to go to a daycare center that doesn’t have the appropriate people there,” Serratore said.
You don’t need to go to a dealership to find a certified technician, nor do you need to visit a dealership to find a mechanic who can work on your specific car. (However, you should go to the dealer if you have a current warranty and your maintenance costs are still covered.)
When it comes to selecting the right auto repair facility for your vehicle, you can’t go wrong by asking family, friends and co-workers who they use for repairs. As usual, sites like Yelp, the Better Business Bureau and Angie’s List can provide glimpses of common themes in the quality of work, but you’ll be better off using an industry list.
There are 58 ASA-approved independent repair shops and 185 AAA-approved shops in the Houston metropolitan area. AAA also offers a car repair cost calculator, which you can use to approximate if a facility is quoting you too much for a fix.
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Take your car in on an off-day
Repair facilities tend to see more traction on Mondays and Fridays thanks to an influx of drivers looking to get their cars in before heading to or leaving work, said Brian Liberman, manager of AAA Texas’s approved auto repair program.
“If it broke down on the highway because of your transmission, you have no choice,” Liberman said. “If it’s something mechanical and you can drive in at a later date, you might want to call ahead and see which day is better.”
With many facilities not open on weekends and operating only during business hours on weekdays, you may have to adjust your schedule to get your sputtering SUV into the shop before everyone else does.
Start with a small repair
You don’t want your first experience with a repair shop to be one that could cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
Put a repair facility to the test with a smaller job like an oil change. A good shop will also do a check-up and see if there are other repairs that need to be made to the vehicle, Molla said.
“It’s important to feel comfortable at the service desk that the individual talking to you explains what needs to be done in terms you can understand,” he said.
The quick visit will also help you gauge if it’s the kind of place you where can wait for a quick repair. Some might offer complimentary beverages, WiFi and comfortable armchairs. A few shops may help you set up rental cars or hail a rideshare if needed, but that’s more likely if you’re taking your car into a collision center and the repairs may take longer.
Ask about the warranty
A good shop will stand by their work far into the future.
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AAA-approved shops need to offer a two-year/24,000-mile minimum warranty, and may offer up to a three-year/36,000-mile warranty, Liberman said. Every place should be able to offer a guarantee about their repair.
And speaking of warranties, you might be reluctant about taking your car to an independent shop for fixes if it means voiding the warranty. But as long as you’re doing something necessary on the vehicle, like a tire rotation, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
“Seventy percent of vehicles out there under warranty have their normal maintenance done at independent repair shops and it will not void your warranty,” Molla said. “Good repair shops will tell you if they find something during maintenance that would be covered under the warranty, and you should absolutely go back to the dealer for that.”
In general, experts recommend asking a lot of questions about their processes, estimated timelines and costs to ensure that you’re getting the best deal.
“Chances are if you don’t understand, you’re always going to have an uneasy feeling that you were taken advantage of,” Molla said.