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Information Connection: Selecting a mechanic

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Selecting the wrong mechanic can be disastrously expensive, and in fact most mechanics are a bad choice. This article explains how to find a mechanic who is a good choice.

(ARA) -- Whether your car is brand new or a long-time companion, at some point repair and servicing is required. Unfortunately, selecting a mechanic can be a stressful experience for many motorists. Will he do quality work? Will I be overcharged? How will I know if I'm getting what I've paid for? The following tips can ease the anxiety of selecting a good mechanic:

  • Ask your friends and family members for recommendations. If they've had a good experience with a mechanic, chances are you will too.
  • Start out with simple servicing. It's best to have an established relationship with a mechanic before you need a major repair job.
  • Check for certification and/or approval ratings from industry associations such as the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence and AAA.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions. A good mechanic will take the time to fully explain any procedures, using layman's terms that you can understand. If he doesn't, it's time to drive elsewhere.
  • Confirm that any servicing and repair estimates will be presented in writing and that repairs will not be made without your approval.
  • When work is completed, you should be given a detailed printout of the procedures, parts, and labor costs.
  • Final costs should come within close range of the estimate. You may want to ask a mechanic if he will guarantee that charges will not exceed the estimate by a specified percentage.
  • Be an informed consumer. Read your owner's manual and be familiar with the type of servicing your vehicle requires and when it is recommended.

Courtesy of Article Resource Association,



Being your own mechanic


I grew up in an era when "gear heads" with no formal training in auto mechanics could build an engine from spare parts (yes, I was one of those gear heads). There were "shade tree mechanics" and then there were gear heads. We gear heads bought the service manuals, had training from highly skilled mechanics/mentors, and often worked spare time doing tune-ups and repairs for other people.

Today, there's not much call for the extensive skill I developed in, say, working Holley carburetors. I could build a 1970s hot rod from nothing but parts, but today I take my car in for most of its servicing needs. Yet, there are many things I do that any reasonably mechanical person can do. You need only a few things:

  • Drop cord (also called a trouble light). Never work in poor light.
  • A few different screwdrivers.
  • A small ratchet set.

Here's a partial list:

  • Change the cabin air filter. Most cars have these, today. They are easy to change. You can probably find a Youtube video showing you how.
  • Change the engine air filter. In the old days, this was a snap to do. Today, it's a bit trickier on many models. But it's not particularly challenging. Just be careful and take note of whatever you disconnect. If you're unfamiliar with what goes where, literally take notes. On a pad of paper.
  • Change oil. Always use synthetic (not a blend, which gives you zero synthetic advantages while jacking up your cost). Always change the filter, too. If you have not changed oil before, find a qualified mechanic to teach you. Nothing ruins an engine faster than an oil change gone wrong.
  • Changing fuses and lamps. These just plug in. The "trick" is to learn how to read the numbers. It's really not so tricky.

And two that you can do with some training.

  • Checking fluids. You should check fluids frequently. My dad taught me to check every weekend, so naturally I check once a month. Learn the proper way to check oil, radiator, and power steering fluid. If you're one of those not fuel-conscious people who drives an energy-wasting automatic transmission, learn how to check the fluid level in that properly, too. Changing fluid and adjusting bands is easy to do, but you should not attempt this unless you learn the proper way.
  • Adjust belts. You need the proper tools to do this, and the training to understand how to test the tension correctly. It's not difficult, but people who think they know (but don't) can really mess things up.

    But you can test the belt tension on the "rule of thumb" principle and take the car in if you suspect they are loose. Generally, you want one inch of deflection in a belt under a given amount of lateral tension. In plain English, it means (with the engine off) you stick your finger behind the belt and pull until you feel a strong resistance. If the belt moves more than an inch, it is probably loose. Shorter belts are loose with less deflection.


  • Never use pliers on a nut or other hexagonal fastener. Use a socket or a wrench of the exact size needed.
  • Don't use a screwdriver as a scraper or a prybar. Yes, you can use a flatblade screwdriver in a very limited, almost no pressure applied prying situation. But if something won't come apart, it's better to take the car in before you break something.
  • Always use a fender cloth. An old towel will do.
  • Always have a container for any fasteners you remove. A small coffee can or similar will do. Otherwise, you're going to lose screws.


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