We hear it all the time: "Where can I find a good car mechanic?" In the past, word of mouth was probably the best way to find an auto repair shop that would do the job right and charge a fair price. But now, a good mechanic might be only a few mouse clicks or touchscreen taps away.
Crowdsourced review sites have greatly simplified the search. Here are a few tips on how to work these sites to find a good car mechanic in your area. Keep in mind that this isn't an exact science. Sometimes a highly rated shop might disappoint, but at least you can tilt the odds in your favor.
Yelp.com describes itself as a site that "connects people with great businesses," whether that's a hot new restaurant or a top-notch dentist. And, luckily for car owners, it also has auto repair reviews. The site is free and has a mobile version, plus apps for Android and Apple mobile devices.
We've had good experiences with Yelp recommendations as we looked for a mechanic to work on Edmunds' long-term 1996 Lexus ES 300, which is the subject of our Debt-Free Car Project. With our new long-term vehicles, we tend to use dealerships exclusively. But because containing costs is important for the Lexus project, we've used Yelp four times to locate independent mechanics. Of the four, we would go back to three of them. We've found Yelp to be the most useful site, thanks to its review volume and convenience.
Here are a few tips to help you narrow down your mechanic search. Type "auto repair" into the search field and enter your ZIP code. You can filter the results based on distance, most reviewed and highest rated. The goal should be to find a place that strikes a balance between a good rating and a substantial number of reviews. For example, a place may have a glowing review, but if it's the only review, that customer's experience might not be the same as yours. Or worse, it could be a misleading review from an employee or business owner.
Yelp has an algorithm that helps it spot misleading reviews, but sometimes they can slip by undetected. That's why it is important not to put too much stock in one review. Instead, see what patterns emerge after you've read numerous reviews. Look for reviews that are specific and give plenty of details about the users' experiences.
Sometimes, the owner of an establishment will reply to a review. This response can either be a thank you to someone for a good review or a defense or apology if the review was a negative one. Either way, we consider a thoughtful reply a good sign — particularly in response to a negative review. It shows that the business cares about its reputation.
Angie's List prides itself on having a thorough vetting process for its reviews, which cover everything from automotive listings to home repair and even wedding planning. In a search we did for our area, Angie's List provided a number of repair shops nearby, but we found the volume of reviews lacking when compared to Yelp. For example, one repair shop we used for the Lexus had just one review on Angie's List, and it was from 2008. The same shop had 22 reviews on Yelp, with the most recent one being less than a month old.
The small number of reviews on Angie's List can be both a good and a bad thing. On one hand, the chance of a falsified review drops considerably, since the site requires a paid membership to access the site and post a review. But at the same time, it is hard to get a feel for a shop that has very little feedback.
Google's enormous database will yield the greatest number of search results, but they may require some extra filtering to be useful. Type "auto repair near (your ZIP code)" into the search field. Ignore the sponsored ads at the top of the page. The repair shops will appear about halfway down the page, with their address to the right of their listing. Google has its own review and scoring system. Approach these as you would Yelp reviews.
Edmunds Dealership Directory
We have dealer locator for those in search of a dealership service facility. The Edmunds moderators closely monitor the reviews for misleading postings.
Yellowpages.com and Citysearch.com are two other sources. The reviews on these sites are spotty in terms of quantity, and we haven't had the chance to use them that much. Still, the sites can be useful for those who want to research a shop thoroughly.
Enthusiast message boards dedicated to a particular car make and model often have forum threads where members discuss their local dealerships or independent repair shops. Forum members chime in and give their experiences or recommendations. Apply the same filtering that you use with Yelp reviews: Look for patterns of excellence or disappointment.
A Final Tip
Despite how far crowdsourced reviews have come, an old-fashioned word-of-mouth recommendation from someone you trust can often be the most effective tool. Ask your friends and family who takes care of their cars and you may just find your new mechanic.
To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.