CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Choosing a mechanic: brand-name or generic

I’ve decided to find an independent mechanic instead of taking my cars to the dealership for service. I’ve gotten some good recommendations from friends, but I’m still trying to decide. One of the mechanics recommended specializes in Japanese-made vehicles. All of the other recommended local mechanics don’t specialize in a certain make. My family drives a Scion and a Subaru, so would it make sense to go to a mechanic that specializes in Toyota and Subaru? Or is there something else other than my friends’ recommendations that I should be looking at?

Really it’s all about word of mouth. If you got a good recommendation from the specialist, then I would give him a try. Don’t forget your not married to the shop, if you don’t like them or feel they are nit a good fit for you. Try another.

Most of your servicing needs will be routine and can be performed by virtually any competent mechanic. They all have had plenty of experience with Japanese-made cars. You can be confident going to any shop that has a fine reputation.

At an indy shop , all of your money goes to the shop and their expenses, overhead, maybe one or two office and bookkeeping etc.

BUT,
At any ‘‘brand name’’…I really don’t know what you mean by that…such as dealers. firestone, Goodyear, Midas, pepboys etc…much of your money goes to other people, like managers, besides Joe Mechanic, as well as to the franchise proper.

Even if a recomendation is for a great Joe Mechanic who just happens to work at a Firestone, see if he can do side work for less and not in the franchise shop.

You don’t need a specialist to work on your Scion or your Subie. Or any other of the common “foreign” makes, many of which are actually designed and made in the U.S. now.

The basics of the tecnology are pretty much all the same, and virtually all shops now subscribe to an online repair database that’ll give them all the specific details and specfications to properly repair your cars. I’ve attached for you some examples of the kind of documentation that shops have access to so you can see that they really have the data they need. These are just a few examples.

http://tijil.org/Scion_Docs/Scion_06_misc_docs/2007sciontc_ncf%20Folder/2azfeemi.pdf
http://tijil.org/Scion_Docs/05_tC_Shop_Manuals/Repair%20Info/Repair%20Manual/Emission%20Control/Emission%20Control%20System/onvein40.pdf
http://tijil.org/Scion_Docs/05_tC_Shop_Manuals/Repair%20Info/Repair%20Manual/Emission%20Control/Emission%20Control%20System/inspec40.pdf
http://tijil.org/Scion_Docs/05_tC_Shop_Manuals/Repair%20Info/Repair%20Manual/Emission%20Control/Ventilation%20Valve%20Sub-Assy/x040001.pdf

Sometimes, great mechanics are found in the strangest places. Forty five years ago, we had a Zayres discount store with an automotive department. There was an employee in this service department that was outstanding at diagnosing automotive problems. I used to do business with a Sunoco station that was owned by a colleague. He had a mechanic who was great. This mechanic had been an over the road salesman for Sun test equipment. He was doing very well, but kept being called back to town because his mother was quite ill. He finally took his retirement and then picked up this job for something to do. I also found a mechanic that had his garage out in the country. He had no sign up–everything was done word of mouth. He heated his house and garage with coal. He had a small dump truck that he would drive to the southern part of the state where there are strip mines. He would come back with enough fish and coal to last untl he had to make another trip. I saw him repair a Mazda with a rotary engine. He had never seen one before. He put a new clutch in a friend’s Saab where other shops had turned her down. This was back in the days where there were few front wheel drives. He admitted after he had replaced the clutch and run down a rough idle that even the Saab dealer in a large city couldn’t find that he had never heard of a Saab before.
I stumbled on a great independent shop about 18 years ago. I had had a starter replaced by Western Auto that would barely crank the engine when the car was hot. I took it back to Western Auto and they claimed that they couldn’t duplicate the condition. I was desperate to get the car repaired for my son who was returning to college. I took it into the shop. The proprietor came out and the engine would barely crank. He measured the current draw, and found it way too high. He then disconnected the ignition, turned the key and measured the current draw by the starter. The engine would still barely crank and the current draw was way high. He wrote the numbers down on his shop’s letterhead and told me to go back to Western Auto and show them the results. There was no charge. Western Auto changed the starter again and that cleared up the problem. I’ve been trading with this independent shop since that time.

Yeah, back in the 60’s, I always went to the guy that owned the DX station in town. Then in school it was the guy that owned the Mobil station, then another guy at a 66 station. Then the Goodyear dealer where the mechanic had been at the Olds garage. Goodyear always seemed to have qualified mechanics until the last five years or so when all I’ll let them do is put tires on. Now I go to either the dealer or a small independent that I have come to trust. It just really depends on who the owner is and the mechanics they hire-and the mechanics can tend to move around so you never know for sure who you will get when you have a problem.

@ken_green: The shops I’m considering are local, independent shops. One advertises as a specialist in Toyota, Honda, and Subaru. Knowing that Japanese-made cars are very common, I was just wondering if anyone felt that there was some advantage of going to a shop that specializes in those vehicles over just a general repair and service shop.

I think that Toyota and Subaru are so common that competent service should be available at a general repair and service shop.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, an old mechanic advised me to “stick with the Fords and Chevys because every mechanic has worked on one”. I had a friend back in the early 1980s who owned a Saab and needed a clutch replaced. She couldn’t find a shop that would touch it. As I said in an earlier post, I new the local genius who would tackle anything and did the repair for her. At any rate, I think Toyotas, Hondas, and Subaru have become the Fords, Chevys and Chryslers of the 1950s and 1960s as far as repair shops are concerned.

I have to stick up for my corporate Firestone shop, I’ve been going to them for over 8 yrs now since we moved to SC and my son has been taking his cars and trucks for over 14 yrs. It’s had several different mgrs with no change in tactics, no upselling, reliable work, decent prices and if something wasn’t fixed right they’ve fixed it at no charge.

“I have to stick up for my corporate Firestone shop…”

Any shop can be well run, honest, and knowledgeable. I use a nearby Jiffy Lube and have never had problems in the 12 years I’ve gone there. When I had my transmission fluid changed, I started asking questions. The manager jumped into the conversation and assured me that they only use Honda ATF-Z1 for cars like my Accord V6 auto. The Mr Tire near me has also been honest. they do my suspension repairs as well as all my tires. And with 4 cars (soon to be 5), they get a lot of business from me.