Your Mechanic, Your Doctor

Only a professional need understand everything there is to know about a car. A doctor knows your body better than you and a doctor specialist know things like your back, gall bladder, or ear, nose, and throat better than your normal family physician. (Automotive has their specialists as well and I will get into that with a later post.)

As a patient/car repair customer you need a doctor/mechanic you can trust. A person, a human being with whom you have face-to-face contact, not the entire building. As a previous employee for dealerships, when it comes to mechanics, I can tell you there are a variety of skill levels enclosed in one building. This could be said of any independent shop as well. (Independent v. Dealer will be another topic I intend to look into at a later date.) Therefore, pick one mechanic out of the group/one doctor out of the clinic who will work on your car/person exclusively, even for simple check-ups/oil changes. There is confidence in knowing the person going under your hood.

Service advisors are the go-betweeners-slash-technical-jargon-translators of the industry, and most customers will normally deal with them. However, the service advisor should know everything about his automotive technician and can introduce you to the technician as well. (There will be times when you need to talk to the technician directly or even ride along with the technician to single-out that one rattle, clunk, or bump which concerns you.) Once you find your mechanic (I alternate between the terms mechanic and technician here, although, down the road, in another post, there is a difference. For this post, I mean all who have their hands in your engine.) you have the customer privilege to request he/she is the sole individual working on your vehicle for this visit and every visit.

How do you find a mechanic/automotive technician with whom you would feel comfortable caring for your vehicle, competently and at a fair price? I would push aside that question and instead offer, what should you learn about your mechanic, your doctor?

I would consider his education, years of experience, and it’s not any easier choosing a doctor. Sometimes, you will have to switch because you are not satisfied, but there are always options. When I refer to education, the service advisor can answer along the lines of three kinds so to speak:

Your mechanic could be ASE-certified, (a Master being tested in all car systems, while others could have only passed tests for certain systems such as air conditioning or power steering.) which stands for Automotive Service Excellence. It is like the MCAT for physicians, but ASE-certification is not a requirement to be practicing automotive on your car; it is optional but once being passed will verify the detailed knowledge base of your mechanic.

Your mechanic could have years of class-based training from a vehicle manufacturer, e.g., Honda-certified, Ford-certified, etc… This sort of training is ongoing and starts with the basics of how to perform an oil change on Honda’s (or whichever manufacturer’s) to all-intensive diagnosis on the most complex of electrical systems. It helps to inquire to what degree/level your mechanic has achieved.

Your mechanic could have attended an automotive technical school/college. He/she receives a degree after passing classes that offer instruction and hands-on experience on the general systems which every vehicle possesses. They graduate having a well-rounded knowledge of your vehicle’s system but does not guarantee they will be sharp on the specifics. With college education, you could inquire about GPA.

As best as I could from about a decade in the field, I have broken down possible education options for technicians. Perhaps a fourth, that could not be measured by degrees or certificates, is learning on the job, being trained by senior technicians. This could also fall under years of experience. How many years has your mechanic been working on vehicles? If the number goes too high, you might have a conservative mechanic on your hands and may not be as up-to-date on today’s technology, but he has still seen a lot, and if you own an older vehicle, this may suit you well. The years of experience; I will not advise you as to a target number. What makes you feel comfortable? How many years did it take you to become an expert at your profession? However, a more focused question you could consider is how often does your mechanic work on your make of vehicle?

This is a very important question especially when struggling with detailed diagnosis of an intermittent issue on your vehicle. If your mechanic has not seen many of your type of vehicle (or on a regular basis like a few of your make and model* per week, let’s say, so you know your mechanic is consistent instead of having him/her say he has worked on … Chevy Malibu’s for ten years now) he may not recognize a common condition and misdiagnose your issue, throwing parts at your vehicle until the problem goes away. (This latter point–throwing parts at your car–is the industry’s crutch, and you usually end up paying for the medical supplies as they stumble through your repair.)

There are so many directions with which I can keep this post going but being my first, I feel obliged to get something out there.

I will close with this:

Automotive repair is an enormous industry. You can have your pick of the best. The best will make sure you feel comfortable about what needs to get done to get your car back to where you want it to be. If your mechanic, or service advisor, can’t dumb it down (simplify the details) they don’t know the vehicle’s system as well as they should, or they need help in their explanatory talents.

This is about competence.

When it comes to cost; this is for another post, which is germinating mentally as I write this. I daresay smoothing the truth will not make it any more popular or trend well.

*Make is the manufacturer of your vehicle such as Chrysler, Volkswagen, or GMC whereas model is the next detail such as Sebring, Passat, or Sierra respectively. Warning this next part is a little more technical: Furthermore, there are levels of class for each model (certain letters like LX, XL, or Special Edition) that follow the model, and it is best not to guess what you have. Call the dealership (probably the parts department would be best) with your VIN (Vehicle Identification Number which can be found on your title, registration; even your insurance card which you normally keep in the car; as well as on the driver’s door and at the lower right hand corner of the windshield when you are standing in front of the vehicle.) and they will provide you with the class level.

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