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TIPS FOR FINDING A GREAT MECHANIC

When your car needs repair, a good mechanic is a godsend. A bad one can be a nightmare.
By Amy Zimmer |

THESE DAYS, A TUNE-UP IS NOT A tune-Up; it might be a simple changing of spark plugs. This distorted jargon, along with the difficulty of finding a patient mechanic to explain it all to you, often leaves what’s under your automobile’s hood a mystery. And women are the most likely candidates for being scammed by mechanics who don’t want you to know the differences between a carburetor and an alternator.

There is an answer, though. Classes are available in Dallas to help women feel more familiar with their cars. A “Basic Auto Care Fort Women” course is offered at FunEd, which teaches a “do-it-yourself* approach to handling basic car problems, as well as how to change oil and rotate tires. The three-hour class costs only $25.

Steve Litherland, operations manager of Woodward Automotive and Ross Avenue Ignition, offers a free class on the third Saturday of each month. The two-to three-hour class includes a talk on how to find a garage, what to look for in a mechanic, and information on auto maintenance. Then the class goes out to the shop, where the students’ own cars are used to demonstrate answers to their questions. Participants see for themselves what the mechanic sees. “We’ve had whole retirement centers come out,” says Litherland. “Cars have changed and we explain to them why.”

Whether you know a lot or a little about cars, these tips, contributed by mechanics at local garages, will help you make sure that what you pay for is what you get.

SEEK REFERRALS: Reputation is everything. Only deal with people who’ve been in the business awhile and have been recommended. After getting referrals from friends and family, call the Better Business Bureau or AAA to double-check your referrals.

STICK WITH IT: Find someone you trust and be a repeat customer. Mechanics should keep a log of your visits and remind you when you need service. After two or three visits to the garage, you should feel more like a friend than a customer.

COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR MECHANIC: “Women feel cut short when dealing with mechanics, but it’s really a lack of communication on the part of the guy,” says Lither-land. Make sure the mechanic explains things to you in layman *s terms. If you don’t understand what is being done to your car, ask a lot of questions.

Make sure you are given options and aren’t pushed into things you don’t really understand or need at the time. According to Ken Presswood, service director of David McDavid Pontiac/Bui-ck/GMC/Suzuki, “You need to ask lots of questions like ’Are you installing new or old parts, is the warranty covered nationwide, is there a lifetime warranty, are both parts and labor guaranteed?’”

APPEARANCE IS EVERYTHING: A clean shop and clean mechanic often say a lot about the quality of the work done there. Look at the cars at the shop compared to yours, ’if you see nicer cars being worked on more than street junkers, it indicates more qualified technicians,” says Gordie Neuert, shop owner and foreman of Dallas Precision Imports.

NOT ALL PARTS ARE EQUAL: Let the mechanic physically show you what’s wrong. He should let you touch and see the old part and what’s wrong with it compared to the new part. Insist on quality parts; you get what you pay for.

FIRSTHAND KNOWLEDGE: Get rid of the middleman. When the mechanic communicates directly with you, things go smoother and you are happier with the decisions-because they are yours. “They can let you look under the hood with them and actually put a finger on the problem,” says Neuert. The mechanic can answer your questions in minutes without the “let me ask him and get back to you in a day” wait of a middleman.

TRUST ME: “In this day and age it’s hard to find someone you trust,” says Ed Waltman, service manager of University Shell Center. Pay to have the work done on the car checked by another garage if you have concerns. A second opinion is always okay. You can’t stand over someone’s shoulder in the garage, so use your referrals and communicate with the mechanic to establish this trust.

STAND BY YOUR ESTIMATE: When a price is quoted to you, make sure the garage sticks by it and does not charge you more. Get copies of everything you sign. After the initial diagnosis, call around and get additional estimates to make sure you are getting a fair price.

SATISFACTION GUARANTEED: Verify that the mechanic did all he said he was going to do. “All fluid levels should be checked, including the battery water- fluids, tires, and an oil change,” says Waltman. When you take your car in, have them look under the hood to check and see if anything else is wrong. (You need to ask them to check; most won’t do it automatically.)

THE NUTS AND BOLTS OF IT ALL: Read your owner’s manual, but take it with a grain of salt. “The manual is meant for perfect driving conditions, and Dallas-like Detroit or anywhere else-does not have perfect driving conditions,” says Litherland. He recommends that you get the oil and transmission fluid checked every 3,000-5,000 miles, though “5,000 is a little long.”



WE ASKED DAVID “DEEPAK” Bhati of Forest Lane Exxon to discuss some of the most commonly misunderstood aspects of car repair. The following are his recommendations (and warnings) for the average car owner:

Brakes: “When you get your brakes checked by a brakes-only place, instead of replacing only the brake pads and turning the rotors as is needed in 90 percent of cases, they replace everything in the brake system: calipers, rotors, master cylinders, brake lines. So what could cost less than S100 sometimes ends up costing thousands. These places advertise a very low price, and then when you come in, they take a look at your brake system and tell you it’s in life-threatening condition, and you need to replace everything.”

Alignment: “Ninety percent of cars serviced for alignment only need to have the alignment reset. However, many service centers will convince the customer that everything under the front end system needs to be replaced: inner and outer tie rods, idler arm, center link, ball joints, struts. This could end up costing thousands, when all that’s needed is a $50 alignment.”

EMISSION: “Emission standards are getting tougher. However, 90 percent of engines that fail emissions tests are simply not wanned up, which makes the emission richer. Often people are not aware of this fact, and instead of telling them to warm up their cars, lots of service centers will tell customers they need a full tune-up, which may c3St them several hundred dollars.”

POWER FUSES: “’Most newer cars have an in-line fuse, 01 power fuse. When the fuse is blown, the car has no power and won’t start. Instead of telling customers to replace the fuse for a few dollars, some service centers will tell them they need to replace the alternator or the battery, creating costly unnecessary repairs.”

-Amy Zimmer

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