Clark Howard’s #1 Tip on Car Mechanics

Money expert Clark Howard says the key to maintaining your vehicle is to have a mechanic you can trust. Otherwise, you could find yourself out of a lot of time and money when your car needs a repair.

Here’s Clark’s #1 Tip on Choosing a Car Mechanic

Here’s the most important thing Clark wants you to know about choosing a car mechanic:

“With any brand, I want you to have a relationship with a mechanic for routine maintenance — not when something goes wrong and you’re looking for a shotgun marriage with some shop. I want you to find that shop, that mechanic, you can trust ahead of time.

Clark says developing this relationship in advance can help you avoid problems. Here are some of the problems you might face if your car needs work and you don’t have a trusted mechanic available.

Service Writers

At many car dealerships, you’ll be introduced to a “service writer” when you bring your vehicle in for repair. Clark says you might expect these folks to be interested in finding out what’s wrong with your vehicle so they can fix it, but that’s not often the case.

“What they’re all trained to do is not to write the symptoms that you’re having but to write a remedy that you sign your name to,” he says.

Anonymous Mechanics

When you go to the repair shop at a traditional car dealership, you typically don’t get to talk to the mechanic who will actually be working on your vehicle. “You don’t even know who the mechanic‘s going to be,” Clark says.

Ideally, you'll want a mechanic with an ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certification, which means they have completed rigorous training and education on the fundamentals of auto repair and maintenance.

At most auto repair shops, “You don’t know if that mechanic was last in their class or first in their class learning to be a mechanic,” Clark says.

Having Your Car Held Hostage

“In virtually every state, there’s what’s known as ‘mechanic lien laws,’” Clark says. These laws basically stipulate:

  1. What the mechanic is authorized to do.
  2. What the cost of the service is going to be.

Clark says some customers fail to put a dollar limit on their service tickets, which can bite them in the wallet.

“If you have not restricted on a service ticket what they are authorized to do … they can run up a bill to whatever dollar amount they want,” Clark says. “And then they are allowed, under state law, to hold your vehicle hostage until you pay whatever sum they dreamt up.”

Final Thoughts

It’s important to have a good and longstanding relationship with a mechanic for major issues as well as small ones.

“I want you to make sure,” Clark says, “that you have a relationship, if you can, with a routine mechanic, and that he or she knows you and knows your vehicle.”

If you foster that relationship now, “then when the chips are down and your vehicle needs a major repair, you’ve got that person there for you,” he adds.

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