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Expert Series: How to Choose a Good Mechanic

A good mechanic may be worth his or her weight in gold, but finding one can be daunting. Depending on the size of your community, you may know who the top mechanics are just by reputation. If you’re new to or living in a larger city, word of mouth remains your best bet: who do your neighbours, colleagues and acquaintances recommend?

There are steps you can take beyond that, though, to land your vehicle in the right bay. We caught up with Paul Piacampo, owner of Guelph Auto Tech, to ask him what kind of research we should be undertaking in our quest for the best.

The first stop he recommended was entirely new to us. The Ontario College of Trades has a list of all current members in the 22 designated, compulsory trades. We typed “Piacampo” into their Find a Member tool and there Paul was. He is indeed an automotive service technician, and his license is not due for renewal until Nov. 10, 2016.  If you want to check out any mechanic, before you sink too much time into anything else, make sure he or she has an up-to-date certification, using this website.

Assuming all is in order, what else can you find out online? Google the mechanic or garage name and you will uncover information immediately. You’re going to be looking for positive reviews, but bear in mind that a disgruntled consumer is far more likely to write an angry note than a happy customer is to bother with a thank-you. If you see several five-star reviews with a one-star that sticks out like a sore thumb, read it with a grain of salt.

Piacampo also notes that mechanics and businesses that belong to organizations such as the Better Business Bureau and/or the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) tend to be proud of their records and community-minded.

It might just be time to hop in your car and drive over to meet the mechanic you’ve settled on. Yes, you can pre-interview. Why not? You can whittle down a short list. He or she should be happy to show you the garage and the bay, as long as proper safety precautions are taken. Is it clean? Can you see pride of ownership? Does everything look well organized?

Ask some questions. If you take your vehicle there, will you be able to look at it while it’s up on the hoist? Piacampo thinks it’s a good sign if you can. He often also takes videos or pictures with his cell phone, to show his customers exactly what needs to be fixed.

“If they can see what failed or went wrong, that visual goes a long way,” he explains.

That led us to a key point: If the mechanic has to explain something, to either a man or a woman who is not overly familiar with cars, the mechanic needs to be able to explain things clearly. Piacampo uses comparisons to other things in life, to make his points clear. “If a mechanic won’t take the proper time to educate you, they probably won’t appreciate your business,” he warns. “They need to talk to you in a way you understand.”

Automotive technicians are constantly upgrading their skills and keeping up with technology through online courses. They also have to invest a significant amount of money in computerized diagnostic tools. Piacampo just spent $7,000 on a new scanning tool. What kind of technology does your potential mechanic have?

Above all, “Look for honesty,” Piacampo urges. “They have to be willing to admit that they don’t know everything, because nobody does. If they’re willing to admit that and use their resources to help you figure something out as quickly as possible, that goes a long way instead of just spitting out something that could be totally untrue.”

A good test question: Do they ever send their customers to dealerships? There are times when it is absolutely called for, Piacampo says, because either the mechanics don’t have the equipment – or the warranty will be nullified if work is done elsewhere.

So if you want to start up a relationship with a mechanic, do your homework, interview them, then consider having them change your oil and start up routine vehicle maintenance. Going to a one-stop shop that gets to know your vehicle now can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars down the road.