What You Need to Know About Auto Repair (Before It’s Too Late)

On a cold January morning at Mills Auto Service, owner and head mechanic Larry Mills was talking with his service
manager, Dick Wakeman, about a customer’s bill. The customer needed some complex and costly repair work done,
including having the rear end disassembled and the carrier bearing replaced. Looking in the flat rate manual, they
found that the suggested labor charge for the job was $165, with the total bill to run nearly $275. Mills mulled it
over. “It’s too high,” he told Wakeman. “I can do the labor for about $70. That’s fair.”

After the work was done, the customer got a bill of $179, about $100 less than he would have paid if the flat rate
had been used. “We’re not giving stuff away,” says Mills. “We just; try to give a guy a fair shake. We use the flat
rate books, but sometimes they’re way out of line, and we’re not going to take any money we didn’t earn.”

Meanwhile, across town, Larry Santella, manager of the AAMCO Transmission Center at 528 S. Bucknet, was being
arrested by county deputies on a felony theft charge. A customer had paid $334 for a transmission overhaul, and
complained to the consumer affairs department of the city when he became suspicious that the work had not been
completed. The transmission was examined by auto repair experts in consumer affairs, and they agreed that the
transmission had not been repaired. The District Attorney’s office brought charges of theft over $200, a third
degree felony. If convicted, Santella could face a sentence of 2 to 10 years in prison, and a fine of up to

Most of us have had experiences with auto repair that lie somewhere in between the extremes represented by Larry
Mills and Larry Santella. Auto repair is usually painful and costly, but there are ways to ease the pain and lower
the cost.

How to Find a Good Mechanic

If you live in Dallas, you need a car. Dallas is a city of ever-growing suburbs and outlying developments, connected
by a growing maze of freeways. To be without a car in Dallas is to be choked and constricted, dependent on
inadequate bus service, restrictively expensive taxi service, or the kindness of friends.

We need cars, so we pay dearly to get them and keep them running. There are 820,000 passenger vehicles registered in
Dallas County, with billions of dollars being spent to buy and maintain them. Auto accountants at Runzheimer and Co.
estimate that in 1977 it will take $2,239 a year to own, operate and maintain a 4-cylinder subcompact, and $3,324
per year for a medium-size 8-cylinder car, based on an average of 14,000 miles driven per year. Experts estimate
that $500 or more is spent each year by the average motorist to maintain and repair his car.

If you own a car, you’re going to need a mechanic. We all know the feeling: You climb into your faithful auto, eager
to point it down the road and feel that reassuring surge of power. But eventually, inevitably, something goes wrong.
You need a mechanic and the thought fills you with dread. Who do I take it to? How much will it cost? How do I know
it will be fixed right? All those questions leap into your mind, along with the pains, inconvenience, uncertainty –
and anger.

A few of us have found a good mechanic – a man who does good work at reasonable prices – and have promptly enshrined
him warmly next to our hearts and checkbooks. But for most of us, a broken car means another shot in the dark at
trying to find someone to entrust the car to, another gamble with time and money.

“It’s a lot like going to a dentist or a doctor,” says Jim McMillan, proprietor of Automotive Consumer Services.
“You know it’s going to hurt some, and you want to go to someone you can trust to do the work right and keep the
pain to a minimum. There are competent and honest mechanics in Dallas, but for every good one there are probably 10
who shouldn’t be trusted with your car. The problem is finding the good ones.”

Why It’s So Hard to Find a Good Mechanic

The auto repair industry is complex, with its own peculiar quirks and problems. One is a shortage of mechanics. This
may surprise those who have noticed the seeming over-abundance of service stations, garages, and repair shops in
Dallas. The city’s consumer affairs department has registered over 1,700 auto repair shops, many employing several
mechanics. But the fact is that cars need maintenance and repairs frequently, and the proper diagnosis and repair of
a car’s problems is often a time-consuming job, one that can’t be rushed if it’s to be done right. Experts estimate
that we need one mechanic for every 80 cars on the road to provide adequate care and maintenance. Right now, the
national average is about one mechanic for every 130 cars. One veteran Dallas mechanic puts it another way. “Hell,
the good shops in town are kept busy all day long, and if you could weed out the lousy and the dishonest ones, the
rest of us would probably have a line of cars around the block when we opened up every morning. A good mechanic can
always find work.”

Considering the conditions under which many mechanics work, it’s not hard to understand why there’s a shortage. Many
mechanics earn modest wages and receive poor or negligible fringe benefits. In many cases, they work long hours
under bad conditions, and suffer from a poor public image and low social prestige. Many have difficulties in getting
good training and recognition for increasing their skills. Ed Calbridge, a mechanic at Heinley’8 Car Care Center,
offers his opinions on the mechanic’s plight. “I’ve heard of mechanics making from $150 to $750 a week,” says Ed,
“and I know that I have pretty much run that range myself at one time or another. But that’s deceptive, because
there are a lot more guys making that $150-$200 a week than there are at $600 a week and up. In order to make that
big money, you have to get with a good shop that has built a reputation and steady customers. Most mechanics are
paid a commission of 35 percent to 60 percent of the labor, and you need the customers to make the money.

“As far as working conditions are concerned,” Ed continues, “that depends on the owner and what he’s willing to put
into the business. Some places are pits to work in, some are great. You just have to keep looking until you find
what you want.”

While the mechanic has his problems making a decent living, you the customer have your problems deciding who’s a
decent mechanic. Most trades and professions have some system of training and licensing. If you fly a commercial
airline, you know the pilot has been thoroughly trained and tested. If you go to a doctor, you are reassured by
those diplomas on the wall. Even your barber has been tested and licensed by the State of Texas. But your mechanic?
The men doing expensive, complicated, even life-saving repairs on your car? Amazingly, there is no standard testing,
licensing, or regulating procedure for mechanics. Not by the federal government, the state, or the city. Other
countries such as Canada and West Germany have training and testing programs which involve long years of
apprenticeship and demonstration of skills before a man is certified as a mechanic. But, except for a few
exceptional programs in other states, it hasn’t happened in this country. And as strong as the auto manufacturers’
lobby is, it may not happen for some time.

Virtually the only test of a mechanic’s skills is a series of tests conducted by the National Institute for
Automotive Service Excellence, a non-profit group financed largely by auto manufacturers and parts suppliers. The
NIASE had the Educational Testing Service, the same people who developed the college entrance exams, create a series
of tests to measure a mechanic’s ability. The tests are offered in eight areas of mechanical competence, such as
“engine repair,” “automatic transmission,” “body repair,” or “painting and refinishing.” The mechanic takes each
test separately, paying a fee ($10 registration plus $7 per test) for each one, and is notified of the results. He
must also show that he has had the equivalent of two years’ working experience as a mechanic. He is awarded a
certificate and patch for each test he passes, and if he passes all eight he is certified as a General Automobile
Mechanic. Since the program started in 1972, about 100,000 mechanics nationwide have passed one or more of the
tests. But, the testing is strictly voluntary, not required anywhere for employment or registration.

The tests are regarded by some persons associated with the auto repair business in Dallas as inadequate measures of
a man’s true skills. “The NIASE tests do measure theoretical knowledge,” says Jim McMillan, “but they are just a
bunch of questions you answer on paper – there’s no testing of the actual hands-on performance of the mechanic.”
Dick Wakeman of Mills Auto agrees. “The tests aren’t fair to some men who are darn good mechanics. For example, I
know a mechanic I’d match against anybody, but he’s a Mexican with a sixth-grade education, and there’s no way he
could even begin to understand the questions they use on that test, even if it was translated into Spanish. But you
just give him a ’bench test,’ some way to actually use his hands, then watch him go.”

On the other hand, some repairmen gave the tests credit for at least testing theoretical knowledge. “If a guy
doesn’t even know what he’s looking at when he goes into your car, maybe he should keep his hands off it,” says one
garageman. There is also a feeling that a mechanic who takes the test is at least trying to prove his skills, and
willing to risk something to show that he’s good. “I’m proud to have taken the tests,” says Ed Calbridge. “The money
for these tests comes out of the mechanic’s pocket in most cases. Those mechanics willing to meet the expenses and
take the test are the ones interested in bettering themselves and their work.”

Imperfect us they are, the NIASE tests are, for now, the only available measure of a mechanic’s competency.

Perhaps the most significant flaw in the auto repair system – the one that cause the biggest headaches – is the way
in which mechanics are paid and customers are charged. Most shops use “flat-rate manuals” in setting prices for
specific jobs. The manuals are put out by auto manufacturers and independents, and estimate the time it should take
a mechanic to do a specific job on a certain model car. For example, if a shop looks in a manual and sees that it
allows 1.9 hours for the replacement of the oil pan gasket on your car, and the shop charges $12 an hour, your bill
is $22.80. The problem is, according to shop owners and mechanics, the manuals are often considerably inaccurate,
allowing far too much time for some jobs, and too little for others. A good repairman with years of experience can
estimate repair time himself on most jobs and uses the flat rates only as an occasional guide. But problems can
result from relying too heavily on the manual, as Ed Calbridge explains: “In some cases, a good mechanic can now
easily beat a flat-rate time by 50 percent or more on some jobs. If a water pump can be changed on some cars in 40
minutes, but the manual says an hour and a half, it’s not fair to charge for the longer time.” Nonetheless, many
shops, particularly dealers, abide by the flat rate manuals religiously, charging the full amount allocated, even if
the time was not spent by the clock.

Roy Prestigiacomo, owner of Dennis Road Automotive, has all nine of his mechanics on a straight salary. “(Jot to,”
says Roy. “If you don’t, they run the show. Fix ’em the way they want to.” Other owners disagree. One claimed, “If I
didn’t give these guys a percentage, I’ve got some that wouldn’t get up off their butts all day.”

So it comes down to a situation in which thousands represent themselves as qualified auto mechanics, but none of
them has to prove his competency or training, while all of them compete for your money – a system which leaves a
wide margin for the unscrupulous and the greedy. And you have to pick out the best on your own.

But Jim McMillan says mechanics don’t have it so easy either. “Being a repairman is darn hard for a lot of reasons,
but some of the big problems are created by the customers themselves. Everyone thinks that he knows something about
his car, and a lot of people are defensive, expecting the mechanic to do wrong before he even does anything.
Mechanics are put under a lot of pressure, and catch a lot of flak from impatient customers. A guy might spend all
day trying to repair some unusual problem, and think he’s got it, but the customer is back the next day with the
same problem, too angry to listen, just assuming the mechanic hasn’t done his best. It’s not fair sometimes. If you
want to get good car care, both the mechanic and the customer have to be fair and patient, and willing to work with
each other.”

Where to Go if You Need Help

There is no agency or organization in Dallas that will come right out and make firm recommendations on specific auto
repair shops. However, there are a few who provide general assistance.

The Better Business Bureau looks into written complaints against a business and tries informally to work out a
satisfactory settlement with the customer and the business firm. James Kolter, Director of the BBB, says that nearly
60 percent of the complaints received last year were eventually settled and closed. The BBB will not recommend
repair shops, but they keep a record of the responsiveness of shops to customer complaints and BBB inquiries, and
will summarize their information if you inquire about a particular shop. They also make available pamphlets and
brochures dealing with car repair tips and fraudulent practices to watch out for.

There are several trade organizations such as the Automotive Service Councils and the Independent Garageman’s
Association which have a code of ethics to which their members subscribe. They will give you the name of an
affiliated member in your area, but won’t make recommendations or provide information on non-members.

In June of 1974, the City of Dallas enacted a motor vehicle repair ordinance which offers consumers some protection
from unfair repair practices. The consumer affairs department handles complaints and violations of the ordinance,
but there is no provision for evaluating repair shops for competency or making suggestions to consumers as to where
to have their cars worked on. But the ordinance does give a consumer some legal rights in dealing with a mechanic,
and the person who is aware of the provisions of the ordinance can possibly save himself some grief.

One investigator with the consumer affairs department recalls an incident that occured several years ago as an
example of the flagrant abuse which eventually led to the passage of the repair ordinance. A man took his Chevy Vega
into a Dallas shop and was told he needed a rebuilt engine. He agreed to the work. When he picked the car up a few
days later, it ran just as badly as before. He complained to consumer affairs, who found that all that had been done
was to clean his old engine and grind off the serial numbers. Investigators were able to raise the numbers again
with acid, proving that the engine had not been replaced. In effect, the man had been charged over $500 to clean his
engine. The shop owner was taken to court. Initially a conviction was obtained, but was later lost on an appeal to a
higher court when the plaintiff failed to appear. What defense did the shop owner use? “He said,” according to the
investigator on the case, “that the mechanic had been using a grinder which accidentally slipped and ground off the
serial number. He said he didn’t know it was the same engine. He said he was innocent.”

The dir’2ctor of the consumer affairs office, Charles Vincent, says Dallas is the first city in the country to enact
a law requiring mandatory licensing and mandatory disclosure of financial liability. The effectiveness of the law,
Vincent says, has been “generally very encouraging, obviously having curbed many major abuses.” Several cities are
studying the Dallas law as a model, and Sen. Ron Clower of Garland has introduced a similar proposal into the Texas
state legislature.

Ed Meeks, investigative supervisor in the consumer affairs department, is in charge of the staff that evaluates
complaints on auto repair work. He offers figures which show the extent of the department’s usefulness: “In 1976, we
received about 13,000 complaints from consumers, nearly 28 percent dealing with suspected violations of the repair
ordinance, making it by far our leading complaint category.” When a complaint is received, the department determines
if it is actually a violation. “If it is a first violation without malicious intent, we usually issue; a ’notice of
violation.’ Repeated or malicious violations result in a ’citation,’ which means a court date if the defendant
pleads not guilty. Conviction of ordinance violation in court is a Class C misdemeanor, resulting in fines up to
$200. Repeated convictions can mean the owner’s license to operate a shop is revoked.”

Although there is no provision in the ordinance itself for recovery of the customer’s money, Meeks points out that
when faced with a violation, repair shops often voluntarily offer to refund the money or do the work again.
Approximately $25,500 of such “voluntary restitution” was recovered by the department last year.

You can help protect yourself by knowing the provisions of the auto repair ordinance. The basic points are:

●All repair and maintenance work on a motor vehicle is covered, except the addition of fluids (gas, oil, etc.).

●The repairman must give you an estimate of the cost of repairs and the time needed to complete them before any
work is done (unless thejob is $15 or less).

●You must also be given an itemized list of any charges you will have to pay if you decide not to have the repairs

●The final bill cannot exceed the estimate by more than 10 percent or $10, whichever is greater.

●When you pick up the vehicle, you are entitled to a written invoice which describes the work done, the parts used,
and the exact charge for each.

●You are entitled to have your old parts which were replaced returned to you.

●If a warranty is given, it must be in writing, and clearly explain the conditions and length of the guarantee.

Who Does What Best?

There are six basic types of repair shops, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.


Pros: Service stations are found easily, and are open when other repair shops are closed. They are usually
satisfactory for many simple jobs such as oil changes, lubrications, flat tires, tire rotations, and replacement of
wiper blades, headlights, filters, and shock absorbers. In a few rare cases, you may find a highly qualified
mechanic who has been there for years and built up a satisfied clientele. If you do, you may have found a goldmine,
a man capable of doing good work on a variety of complex jobs. One tip-off to this situation is a station that has
added additional bays to lease to the mechanic to handle the business he brings in. In this case, the quality of
service is equal to that found at a good independent shop. Rely on references from knowledgable friends.

Cons: Often the mechanic is an inexperienced youngster getting grass roots training or someone who couldn’t
cut it elsewhere. The qualifications of mechanics at service stations vary greatly, and you shouldn’t hesitate to
ask before entrusting your car for major work. Parts and labor charges run higher at service stations. They usually
lack the equipment and experience to handle major repair work.


Pros: In recent years, more chain operations like Sears, K-Mart, White’s, Montgomery Ward’s, and J.C. Penney
have expanded their auto services. They offer a good bargain on high volume parts prices, and can give good service
on the simple jobs that service stations also handle.

Cons: They are generally inadequate for any major repair work. Although they may be familiar with high volume
cars like Ford or Chevrolet, it’s not likely that they have experience with other types of cars and their problems.
They generally don’t pay enough to attract top mechanics.


Pros: Ideally, a franchise shop that specializes in doing only one type of job (brake, muffler, transmission)
should have the opportunity to become very good at what it does because it does it repeatedly. Parts should be
cheaper, and labor time less.

Cons: Too often, a franchise is bought by an investor with little or no experience in repairs. In return for
his franchise fee, he gets national advertising and a ready-made reputation with a stream of customers. The shops
are volume oriented and often have to do hasty jobs. There is little quality control by the parent company, and
there is a rapid turnover of mechanics. Often, “bait and switch” tactics are used to lure customers in: A job is
advertised at a very low price, or a free inspection is offered, but the customer rarely gets out without additional
repairs being forced upon him. At best, the quality of repairs varies tremendously at franchises, and you should get
a strong specific recommendation on a particular shop before going.


Pros: Dealers usually have the most modern and expensive tools and equipment. The mechanics are usually
trained, and have the chance to become very familiar with one line of cars and their workings. The mechanics get
bulletins and updates on repair techniques, and further service training on the job. If you have a fairly new car
with a strange problem, a dealership is usually the best place to go. They have the know-how and the equipment to
handle the most complex jobs.

Cons: Dealerships really take the rap. Several years ago, the Gallup Poll asked people to pick the “least
honest and trustworthy” from seven occupations: new car dealers, bankers, undertakers, service station managers,
plumbers, supermarket managers, and druggists. New car dealers left the pack far behind, getting 57 percent of the
“least trustworthy” votes. Everyone is on commission at most dealerships, and this includes the service writer who
writes your work order, and whose income rises if he can sell you additional repairs. Dealers pay mechanics well and
aren’t reimbursed adequately for warranty work, so they charge high prices for work on non-warranty jobs. Parts are
drawn from their parts counter and are also high-priced. The flat-rate book is used like a bible, often to the
customer’s disadvantage. You usually won’t talk to the mechanic who will work on your car, so it’s hard to develop a
personal working relationship. Dealers have a high-volume business and often have to rush jobs. The mechanics are
often overworked, and they tend to do sloppy work.


Pros: A true diagnostic center uses a dynamometer to simulate actual driving conditions and a battery of
sophisticated electronic equipment to evaluate all aspects of a car’s condition. The end result is a computer
printout that indicates what repair work is most needed. A true diagnostic center will not offer repairs itself,
selling only its ability to analyze your car.

Cons: Going to a “diagnostic center” which also does repair work is like stopping at Antonio’s Restaurant and
asking the owner if you look hungry, and if he knows where you could find a good Italian meal. And there is no
business in Dallas which offers diagnostic services which does not also offer repair work.


Pros: The independent shop sells only one thing – its ability to repair cars. They don’t pump gas or push new
cars. They usually don’t advertise, and depend on word-of-mouth referrals for business. They have to be good to stay
in business. Independents pay well enough to lure top mechanics away from dealerships, and can afford the best tools
and equipment, once they get established. The owner is often a man with years of What Makes a Good Auto Repair

There are some basic guidelines which will help you distinguish the good shops from the bad.

●A clean, neat, well-organized shop. Mechanics point out that there is a relationship between the physical
appearance of a shop and the quality of the work it produces. Clean and neat shops are more likely to do good
precise work, sloppy and dirty shops are likely to do sloppy work. Some dirt and grease is, of course, inevitable,
but excessive filth complaint process patiently and properly. Following these suggestions will save you time and
increase the chances of your getting the situation remedied.

1. First, assume that the problem is anhonest mistake. Don’t storm into theshop ranting and raving. Calmly
andpolitely explain the problem to the manwho fixed the car. Give him a chance tocorrect any mistake.

2. If the mechanic doesn’t help you, explain the problem to the service manager.

3. If the service manager is not helpful,take your complaint to the owner, backing up your story with copies of
yourreceipts, work orders, etc. If you aredealing with an independent shop, thebuck stops with the owner, and if
hedoesn’t come through, you will have togo to outside agencies.

4. If you are dealing with a dealership,service station, or franchise, you can goabove the owner if you want to.
Thenext man in the chain of command isusually called the “district service manager or representative,” the link
between the owner and the parent company. Once you get to this level, it’s bestto have your complaint in writing,
although you can certainly telephone too.If the district representative doesn’t solve the problem, you can write
directly to the customer relations department of the parent company. It’s usually pointless to write to the
president or director of a national firm, as the complaint will be routed to the customer relations office anyway.

5. Always work through the chain ofcommand step-by-step, giving each mana chance to satisfy you before movingon.
Jumping over someone’s headcreates ill will, and may hurt you downthe line when it’s pointed out you didn’tfollow
your complaint through properchannels.

6. If the business itself doesn’t handlethe problem to your satisfaction, youwill have to turn elsewhere for
help.Department of Consumer Affairs -City of Dallas. The department investigates suspected violations of the
city’sauto repair ordinance. They can takepunitive measures against guilty mechanics, but can’t order them to
refundyour money or repair your car properly.However, the results of a consumer affairs investigation could
strengthenyour complaint as it moves throughother channels. Call 744-1133.

Better Business Bureau. The BBB handles written complaints on auto repair problems, attempts to work the
complaint out informally with the firm and the customer, and claims that about 60 percent of the valid complaints
are eventually settled to the customer’s satisfaction. It also provides information on a business’s record of
resolving customer complaints. 747-8891.

State Attorney General’s Office. This office receives complaints on auto repair work and contacts the shop in
an attempt to mediate a satisfactory agreement. If the complaint is not resolved informally, they must refer you to
a private attorney or the District Attorney’s Office. Contrary to popular belief, the What Makes a Good Auto
Repair Shop

There are some basic guidelines which will help you distinguish the good shops from the bad.

●A clean, neat, well-organized shop. Mechanics point out that there is a relationship between the physical
appearance of a shop and the quality of the work it produces. Clean and neat shops are more likely to do good
precise work, sloppy and dirty shops are likely to do sloppy work. Some dirt and grease is, of course, inevitable,
but excessive filth What Makes a Good Auto Repair Shop

There are some basic guidelines which will help you distinguish the good shops from the bad.

●A clean, neat, well-organized shop. Mechanics point out that there is a relationship between the physical
appearance of a shop and the quality of the work it produces. Clean and neat shops are more likely to do good
precise work, sloppy and dirty shops are likely to do sloppy work. Some dirt and grease is, of course, inevitable,
but excessive filth listen to both you and the repairman you have filed against, and ask questions if he wants to.
He then issues a ruling, and can order the repairman to pay you up to $150 in damages. You will have an opportunity
to present documents supporting your case, and ask the defendant questions. You can present witnesses. Remember, the
court cannot order the defendant to do anything other than pay damages. There is an excellent booklet put out by the
State Junior Bar of Texas called “How to Sue in Small Claims Court,” available at public libraries free of charge.
To reach Small Claims Court, call 749-8491.

8. If all else fails, you might consider a drastic action such as that taken by Eddie Campas in 1971. Eddie
was the proud owner of a 1970 Lincoln Continental Mark III, until he found that the repairs he needed seemed
completely beyond the abilities of the Ford Motor Company. Frustrated by the failure to get it fixed despite his
constant efforts, Eddie finally drove it to the assembly plant in California, doused it with gasoline, and created a
towering inferno – a bonfire to ineptness. If, like Eddie, you resort to such strong measures, you may have to hoof
it for a while, and maybe do some explaining to a judge.

What Makes a Good Auto Repair Shop

There are some basic guidelines which will help you distinguish the good shops from the bad.

●A clean, neat, well-organized shop. Mechanics point out that there is a relationship between the physical
appearance of a shop and the quality of the work it produces. Clean and neat shops are more likely to do good
precise work, sloppy and dirty shops are likely to do sloppy work. Some dirt and grease is, of course, inevitable,
but excessive filth and a jumble of dirty and unorganized tools is a bad sign.

Certification and training of mechanics. Many shops will display the credentials of their mechanics. Ask
about NI-ASE certifications or other endorsements of proficiency. A good shop should welcome the opportunity to brag
on its mechanics.●Personalized service. Can you meet and talk with the owner or the man in charge? Can you
discuss your problem with the guy who will actually do the work on your car? If you are looking for a place to take
your car on a regular basis, you want a shop that’s interested in your becoming a satisfied, repeat customer.

●Open disclosure of operating procedure. Is the shop willing to give you written estimates, work orders, and
guarantees? Will they tell you the hourly rate they charge, and whether they use the flat-rate manual on all jobs?
If not, you have to question why they are so secretive.

●Recommendations and referrals. Good shops build a sizable word-of-mouth following. Recommendations from
friends and associates are valuable, but try to get specific information if possible. Ask your friend what type of
work he’s had done, how long ago it was done, and the name of the mechanic who did it. Even within a shop the
quality can vary from job to job, and from one mechanic to the next. The more specifics you can get, the better your
chances of finding the man to do your work.

Highway Breakdowns: What to Do

You are never more vulnerable to being taken on auto repair work as when you have a breakdown far from home on the
highway. Here are some guidelines that can help you make the best of a bad situation.

●Beware the tow truck that appears quickly and mysteriously to aid you. Some tow truckers cruise the highways or
monitor police emergency calls, and receive kickbacks from the repair shops they tow disabled cars to. Never sign an
agreement offered by a tow truck which gives a repairman exclusive rights to work on your car. Ask the driver if he
will tow you to the nearest town or phone, and then to whatever shop you request. If he balks at this, let him drive
on. It’s worth the inconvenience of waiting for a reputable tow truck to be called.

●Call the nearest AAA, Better Business Bureau, or auto club office to see if they have a list of approved tow truck
services. Once in town, see if they recommend specific repair shops.

●If you need major work that can’t be put off until you get home, you have to be cautious. The mechanic knows that
you are far from home, anxious to get back, and won’t be around to raise hell if the repairs don’t hold up. Try not
to seem overanxious. If local consumer organizations don’t make recommendations, you have to be creative to get a
line on a good shop. Call someone who has to have repair work done frequently, such as a taxi company or a used car
lot. Explain your problem, and ask where they get their work done.

How to Deal with Your Mechanic

DON’T be rude, demanding and arrogant. Developing a friendly business relationship with a repairman over a
period of time is the best insurance against being taken.

DO inquire about the shop’s credentials, experience, prices and charges, and guarantees, if you are doing
business there for the first time. If they really want your business, they’ll take time to talk to you.

DON’T be satisfied with talking only to the service writer or service representative.

DO try to talk to the man who will actually work on your car. If it’s not possible to determine who will
work on your car when you leave it, get a commitment for the mechanic to call you once he’s looked at the car. Get
his name. Good or bad, you want to know the man who actually worked on your car.

DON’T say “Just fix whatever’s wrong.”

DO be as specific as you can in describing the car’s problems. Instead of, “It’s making funny noises,” say,
“It makes a loud grinding noise between 35-45 mph, or when I accelerate rapidly.”

Get a written estimate of cost and the time needed for repairs to be completed, and a copy of the work order before
you leave. Ask that you be contacted about any other problems that come up while the car is being worked on.

DON’T pick up your car without going over the work order with the mechanic. Look at the bill to see exactly
what was done. Are the labor charges broken down for each job? Are all replacement parts noted? Does it indicate
whether they are new or used or rebuilt parts? Were your old parts saved? Are the conditions of any guarantees
spelled out?

DO complain immediately if you are charged for repairs you did not authorize. Complain to the owner or
manager, and if you don’t get satisfaction, refuse to pay and tell them you will take your complaint to the
appropriate agencies. Get your copies of the bills and receipts, and the names of the persons you dealt with.

DON’T go to repair shops early in the morning, or on Mondays or Tuesdays, if you can avoid it. Those are the
busiest times.

DO try to go in the afternoons on Thursdays and Fridays – when you’re more likely to get personal service.

What to Watch for

UNDER THE HOOD, an attendant can cut a belt, puncture a hose or even a tire. He may squirt fluid to create
the appearance of a leak, or leave you a quart low on oil by only partially pushing in the dip stick.

What to do. Get out of your car and watch while the attendant checks your car. There’s little he can do under
your watchful eye.

BALL JOINTS. A mechanic may put your car on the rack, and then shake the wheel to show you how it wobbles.
He’ll tell you that it’s dangerous, and you need to replace the ball joints.

What to do. Actually even good ball joints will allow the wheels to show a lot of play when the car is
suspended. Not just the car, but the suspension system itself must be supported in a certain way to examine the
condition of the front-end system. If someone other than a mechanic you know and trust tries the wobble routine, get
the car off the rack and drive it to your mechanic.

SHOCK ABSORBERS. These are easy to sell, and a mechanic may try to convince you that you need new ones by
pushing down on the car and watching it rock up and down, or, again, even by squirting oil on it to create the
illusion of a leak. (If the shocks really are leaking, they probably need replacing.)

What to do. Unless you notice problems while driving, such as severe swaying or bouncing, or front-end dip
when you brake, your shocks are probably good. If you notice these symptoms, go to a mechanic you trust.

TRANSMISSIONS. The Better Business Bureau has made a study of transmission repairs and estimates that new or
rebuilt transmissions were needed in only 5 percent of the cases of repair. Many simple problems can cause the
transmission to malfunction and can be corrected for a very reasonable charge. For example, in many cases the
transmission only needs new seals, a job which can be done for about $35 to $75 on most cars. Simple problems like a
worn out pressure fitting or a ruptured vacuum hose can cost only a few dollars to fix.

What to do. Always get two or three estimates from different shops before authorizing work. Many shops will
tell you they have to tear the transmission down completely before they can tell you the problem. In many cases,
this is not necessary. Try another shop. If you do agree to having it disassembled after every possible external
check has been made, get a written statement of the fee that will be charged to have it reassembled if you refuse
the repairs they suggest. If they won’t agree to the written fee agreement, drive away.

An Unofficial Guide to the

Best Repair Shops in Dallas

Recommending auto repairmen is as risky as the business itself.

But over a period of years, the best shops and mechanics build up a loyal following of customers, and a reputation
among those closely associated with the field of automotive repairs. The following list of recommended shops is
based on interviews with auto repairmen, mechanics, consumer officials, shop owners, trade organizations officials,
former-mechanics turned informers, customers, and others whose work brings them into contact with a number of
repairmen. Those shops that received the strongest recommendations from the variety of persons who participated are
listed here. They range from small, one-man operations to large luxury car dealerships, but they share one trait –
they have built a reputation in Dallas for providing better than average car service. But it must be remembered that
all mechanics make mistakes, and there is no guarantee of perfect repair service anywhere. If you have a problem
with one of these recommended shops, write D Magazine a letter outlining your specific problems – and we’ll look
into it.

NEW CAR DEALERS (repairs only)

Freeman Oldsmobile Mazda … Inwood at Lemmon

Doran Chevrolet … LBJ at Inwood

Sewell Village Cadillac 5460 Preston Road

Rodger Meier Cadillac … LBJ at Welch

Town North Porsche- Audi 307 N. Central Expressway

Friendly Chevrolet … Lemmon at Inwood

W.O. Bankston Lincoln Mercury 4747 LBJ Freeway

Lone Star Cadillac … 2311 Ross Avenue

Taylor Pontiac & Honda 128 S. Lancaster at Jefferson


John Brandt Automotive (Mercedes-Benz) 1333-C Inwood

Mills Auto Service … 4444 McKinney Avenue

Littlejohns Garage … 1023 S. Beckley

Ed Mayo’s Porsche … 3109 S. Pipeline, Euless

Brown Motor Works (BMW and Volvo) 806 N. Haskell

Fred’s Foreign Car Service 5111-A W. Lovers Lane

Al Kral Automotive … 2508 Berne

Wilson Garage … 204 W. Page

Arthur’s Mercedes-Benz Service … 2620 Live Oak

Harbuck’s Automotive … 2109 Flora

Randy’s Auto … 2701 N. Central Expressway

Stephens Garage … 4203 Lawnview

Green Automotive … 501 W. Arapho

Dennis Road Automotive … 11155 Dennis Road

RPM Motors … 4207 Oak Lawn

Park Cities Motors … 8215-A Preston Road


Hooten’s Automatic Transmissions 312 N. Greenville Ave.

stuard’s Transmission Service … 1111 S. Beckley Harper’s

Automatic Transmission Serv. 4707 E. Grand Ave. Wade

Automotive Transmissions … 624 Fort Worth Ave.

Cookson’s Transmission City …8913 S. Hwy. 67


Bob Stubbs’ Automatic Transmissions .10523 Harry Hines

Bill Sigsbee Transmissions …. Village Mobil Station

5400 Preston Road


Safety Brake Service …………305 N. Beckley

Jack’s Generator ……………..214 Harbin

Ben’s Garage …………….. 247 W. Davis

Oak Cliff Battery and Electric … 1023 N. Lancaster


Dallas Brake and Alignment 1530 N. Industrial Blvd.

Safety Brake Service … 305 N. Beckley

Andy’s Brake and Alignment … 343 W. Illinois

Dallas Frame and Alignment … 2514 Fabens

Starkey’s Service Center … 918 W. Davis


Like-Nu Auto Paint Works … 3033 E. Commerce

R&A Paint and Body Shop … 400 N. Bishop

Crump Custom [Enterprises . 3630 Marquis Drive (Garland)

Richardson Paint and Body Shop … 314 N. Texas

Hayes Garage (James Paint & Body) 1101S. Ewing

Pendley Paint and Body Shop … 2215 W. Clarnon

Lacy’s Paint and Body Shop …. 822 S. Peak

Ace Auto Service … 2815 Main

Roy Hance Automotive and Body Shop 4829 McKinney


A & B Muffler Shop … 1041 S. Zang and

103 E. Carpenter Fwy West

Ken’s Muffler Shop … N. Central at Fitzhugh

Bud and Ben’s Mufflers … 308 W. Illinois

Muffler Stop … 2602 N. Central Expressway


Dallas Carburetor Service … 1605 N. Beckley


Dunlap Swain (Lloyd Dillon) … 4826 Cole

Heinley’s Car Care Center

(Ed Calbridge and Med Cox) . . 114 W. Spring Valley Road

Riley’s Service Center (J.L. Riley) … 1300 W. Davis

Willow Creek Exxon

(Steve King) … 9701 N. Central Expressway

Starkey’s Service Center

(George Rodney) … 918 W. Davis

Jack Miars Shell (R.C. Boemer) … 14045 Coit Road

H.H. Skelton Exxon (Jim Price) . . 1170 Preston Road

Buck Douthit’s Mobil

(Jerry Campbell) … N. Central At Monticello


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