Why I fired my mechanic and how I found a good new one

Consumerist asked its readers why they ditched their car repair shops. For me, that’s really easy. They didn’t do the work, and they were jerks. So I got rid of them and figured out how to find a good mechanic.

I’ll elaborate.
About three years ago, my wife’s check engine light would come on intermittently. It never stayed on for long, but it scared her, and one time when it happened, the car wouldn’t start afterward. We used to use two different garages. There’s one that’s just down the street from us, which we would use for inspections and general maintenance, and there’s a shop about three miles away that deals specifically with Hondas.

For some reason, the Honda place couldn’t get us in, so we took the car back to the other garage. I never really liked that place, because the employees always acted like they had something better to do than work on the cars I brought in. The mechanic pulled the code from the car’s computer and handed me a printout. Then he said he couldn’t get the car to do it again, so to take it to a Honda dealer and have them look at it.

I looked at the printout. The computer said it was a bad oxygen sensor. It looked to me like the car had done the diagnostic work for him.

So we took the car to the Honda place down the street. It’s closer than the dealer, though I’m not sure he’s really any cheaper. I handed him the printout from the other shop and gave him permission to fix whatever needed to be fixed.

He called me the next day and said he couldn’t find anything wrong. For lack of anything else to do, he changed the cabin air filter, and charged me a couple hundred dollars.

Things were fine for a week or two, then the check engine light came on again and the car died. Fortunately it was on our street when it died, so my wife was able to just walk home with the kids, but it was time to get this fixed right. I decided it was time to ditch both of those two shops, since they didn’t seem to like working on my cars and they weren’t getting it done. But how would I go about finding a good garage?

We have AAA memberships, so I decided to use it. Why not call AAA and see if they could recommend a mechanic near me?

So I went to their web site to find a phone number, and found a link right on the web site to garages they recommend. I clicked the link, punched in my zip code, and it found two garages for me. One was right across the street from the rude guy who told me to go to a Honda dealership, and within walking distance of my house, to boot. The other was a few miles away. I decided to take my chances with the guy who was within walking distance. If I could walk it, maybe the Honda could limp it, and if it couldn’t limp it, I’d be close enough to home that I’d have lots of options.

So I grabbed the cell phone and keys, walked to my wife’s car, and tried to see if I could get it started and get it to limp to the close garage. The car started, and the check engine light stayed on, but the car made it to the garage without giving me any trouble. I filled out the form, dropped the form and the key in his after-hours lockbox, and walked home.

The owner of the shop called me the next day. Wonder of wonders, the car had a bad oxygen sensor! So I picked up the car, paid him, and noticed the car started more smoothly and sounded a little bit different now. We both drive 2002 Honda Civics, and her car always started harder than mine did. It made me wonder if that oxygen sensor always had been a little bit wonky.

So now, any time we need anything done, I take both of our cars to this AAA-recommended shop. We’ve had both cars in that shop about three times now, but both cars have more than 175,000 miles on them so that’s to be expected. They’ve never fixed the same thing twice.

That’s how I find a good mechanic, and you should too.

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