Female mechanic consulting with customer

Five Questions To Ask Your Mechanic

When most people bring their car into the garage, they hand over the keys to their mechanic and slink off to wait for the bad news.

But experts say you can save a lot of time and money by having an open, honest conversation with your mechanic before the bolts start to fly.

“Many customers believe that the more they talk, the more [a repair] will cost,” says Michael Peth, an administrator at Ohio Technical College, which specializes in auto repair. “The inverse is actually true. Many times a seemingly insignificant statement from the customer can be a true gem to the technician.”

A good garage will take pains to keep customers in the loop, says Peth. But what if the lines of communication are a little frayed? Well, here are some questions you can ask to get the conversation going.

1. Are you licensed?

Many states have government agencies that regulate garages. Before your mechanic starts fiddling around with your engine, ask them if their license is up to date and if their record is clean. Still have doubts? Some states, like California, let you check out a garage’s license online.

2. How can I help?

Unless the problem is obvious—like steam billowing from your radiator—your mechanic is going to rely on your description of the issue to figure out what’s wrong. So, take a mental note of exactly when and under what driving conditions the problem crops up, says Tim Bowden from California’s state Bureau of Automotive Repair. Bonus points for writing the symptoms down.

3. What’s the damage going to be?

Before your mechanic picks up a wrench, make sure you agree on how much the repair will cost and how long it will take. That might seem obvious, but faced with the prospect of being carless (How am I going to pick up the kids from soccer today?!) many people forget to iron out those details.

4. What can we prioritize?

If a mechanic hands you an estimate the length of your arm, the key is to not panic. Go over every item in detail and determine which repairs can wait and which need to be done right away to keep your car from stalling on the highway.

5. Do you need a little more time?

Most people assume that any mechanic worth his or her salt will immediately know what’s wrong with a car. But automobiles are complicated pieces of machinery, and pinpointing the issue can be like finding a needle in a haystack.

“We want to fix the problem and get you back on the road,” says Mary Ellen Hills, who owns a San Mateo, Calif., garage specializing in Jaguars. “But sometimes it stumps us, too.” The takeaway: Be flexible and give your mechanic the time they need to fix the problem.

Having a good car mechanic is important, but there are certain things you should be able to take care of yourself. Read our Car Maintenance 101 article to learn more.

By Andrew Raven

Get GEICO Auto insurance.

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  1. Dawn Scott says,

    Good points for clients to mind, indeed! Most mechanics know how debilitating it can be, when your vehicle isn’t up to par, and that time is of the essence. As a mechanic, myself, there is one sure way to save $ on shop time, so here’s a tip worth keeping: Clean your vehicle BEFORE it goes to the shop! One of my biggest pet peeves is when clients bring their vehicle to the shop and it is full of garbage and such. Whatever your lifestyle, is NONE of my business, UNLESS I have to sit in it, navigate around it or worst of all, smell it… THEN it bothers me. Please, clear rubbish from the driving area, for the sake of your mechanic, who may have to lay upside down, with shoulders on the floor and their head shoved up under the dash, to fix whatever is ailing your chariot. I often clean a car’s exterior when I am finished working on it, and will do so as a bonus for being a great client, but if I have to move crap around inside a vehicle just to be able to sit in it, then I will charge for that time, because I am NOBODY’s detailer for free and forget about my cleaning the outside, altogether, too!

  2. Judith Ritter says,

    My car recently had a strong plastic burning smell from the engine–car is automatic transmission, Honda Accord 2019, serviced regularly, 10,800 miles, I finally pulled over,had it towed to dealer, tow truck driver smelled it, too, service found NOTHING wrong with it, could not duplicate smell. Said nothing was wrong. Now I am nervous about driving it. I wonder if they checked wiring!! We are victims here of what they tell us. I DEFINITELY did not imagine it. Confirmed by tow truck driver, too, as he smelled it when he arrived to tow the car. I told the service tech everything I could think of, including about the tow truck driver. Who knows what will happen now.

  3. Shelia Thompson says,

    Thanks. The info was very helpful. Newer cars that are computerized can be scary when they don’t act correctly and you tend to really worry .

  4. jeanine keen says,

    Thank you so much for this information. Everything from wiper blade replacement to replacing filters, cleaning head lights and more!

  5. eddie says,

    my 2007 toyota camry [ 6 cylinder] always splatter tram-mission oil out from the engine transmission valf when i drive more than 100 mph.
    please advise what the problems is

  6. rey rodriguez says,

    I am a mechanic and at my shop, while it’s not an automotive shop, we do not want to rip off the customer. We want to build a lasting relationship. I can tell you for sure if you talk honestly and know the conditions under which the failure occurs it save ALOT of troubleshooting time and saves the customer lots of money! If I have no info i have to try and cause the failure myself and it can take time. At $115 per hour it adds up quickly. Definately give your mechanic all the details you can.

  7. Marrguerite Gastanaga says,

    Great article. . I always have oil changes ad scheduled. Also I have my tires rotated at the same time. I only have Michelin tires, on my Jetty. And I carry an extended warranty.

  8. Michael Pfaff says,

    I know this sounds harsh but don’t ever think your mechanic is your friend. After 30 years in the business I can count on one hand the honest mechanics i know. If they think you’re friends then they got you. Commission based shops are the worst! They only get paid if they repair your vehicle. Always get a second or third diagnosis to see if your mechanic is being truthful.

  9. Michael Pfaff says,

    I have been a technician for 30 years and have found that inflating your tires according to the door decal leads to premature wear. The outer tread in particular will wear faster then the center tread. I inflate my tires to 5psi over the maximum rating and get 40% longer tread life.
    Ride quality (hard ride) may be sacrificed but i can live with that if I’m not buying tires.

  10. Hailey Renee says,

    I would agree that getting your car maintenance by a licensed professional is very important. I am glad to know that understanding what to ask your mechanic can help you save money and also find a trusted mechanic. Thank you for sharing your advice for auto repair and the importance getting your car regularly checked.

  11. Steven Harrison says,

    You mentioned something in your first tip that’s really valuable. Write down the symptoms. Actually this is good general advice. Writing down the details of an event can go a long way in helping you remember everything accurately.

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