[As published in TODAY, 16 Nov 2013. By LEOW Ju-Len]
Singapore — Most women in the United Kingdom would like James Bond star Daniel Craig to be their mechanic, according to a survey taken earlier this year. In reality, your car is more likely to be worked on by a greasy mechanic, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be in good hands.
But whether he’s dressed in a tuxedo with a shaken martini in his hand or wears overalls, how can you tell if a mechanic is likely to know what he’s doing?
Let these eight simple suggestions steer you in the right direction:
Let your fingers do the talking
“Where most people start is to go on the Internet,” said John Lee, a shareholder of VAG Singapore, a workshop that specialises in Audis and Volkswagens. “Usually there are recommendations on forums.”
While you start your search, be aware that, if your car is still under warranty, you’re obliged to have it serviced and repaired at your authorised distributor.
Check out the crowd
Action speaks louder than ads. “Shops that are good are always busy,” said John. “They may not be overflowing, but they always have jobs to do. If you see mechanics twiddling their thumbs, that’s a bad sign.”
Also, look at the cars being worked on. Does that claimed BMW specialist have nothing but Japanese cars in the shop instead?
Word of mouth is useful
Talk to customers there, especially if it’s your first visit. Ask about the service they’ve received, whether they find the charges reasonable and so on.
Look for a ‘doctor’
Talking to the workshop manager or supervisor is essential, and see if the shop has a systematic way of fixing things. “Mechanics are pretty much like doctors for cars, so tell them your symptoms,” said John.
“A good one substantiates his suspicions by checking, either electronically or by hoisting the car up to have a look. They should ask you questions, too.”
If you’re asked when your last oil change was, you should have an answer — just as you ought to know when your last hepatitis jab was.
Ask to see the problem
Modern cars with engine computers store a record of faults and can list a failed component, through the right diagnostic tool. These faults can be printed, so ask to see for yourself if the car insists it wants a new temperature sensor.
Other mechanical problems are visible when a car is on a hoist. A leaky shock absorber or frayed fan belt, for instance, are things that should be pointed out to you by a mechanic who thinks they need changing.
Get a written quotation
The more organised workshops provide quotations for a job, either written down or by email.
It’s important to know how much something will cost before you agree to it, to prevent an unscrupulous mechanic from doing work you didn’t commission and then holding your car ransom later — a classic trick.
Never let a mechanic start work on your car without your say-so. If your car is already in bits, you have no leverage.
When in doubt, ask
John recommends getting a second opinion if you have doubts about whether a job is necessary or how much it should cost. “A good place to get a second opinion would be the agent, or just step out of the workshop and Google it,” he said. “Make yourself feel comfortable and don’t feel obliged.”
Many workshops don’t charge for diagnosis, so getting a first opinion should be free. “That’s one way mechanics are different from doctors,” said John.
If the mechanic recommends something that seems optional, one good question to ask is: “What happens if I don’t have it done?” That lets you decide if you really should have that water pump changed along with the timing belt.
Ask for your old parts back
Workshops are happy to sell old parts for scrap, but they should be equally willing to return them to the customer. This lets you see if your parts were really changed and is a good way to gauge if quality replacements were used.
OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) parts can be just as good as factory originals, but the point is to see if you got what you asked for. An honest mechanic should tell you upfront if the workshop uses genuine parts or third-party items, and you’ll be able to see for yourself by asking to see the packaging.