Avoid bad auto service, establish relationship early
“Before I started working on cars, I knew nothing about them, and I hated the way some mechanics talked to me,” Catherine Simpson says. “I didn’t like feeling powerless and not knowing if they were trying to rip me off or not. So I wanted to start a shop where people could feel comfortable and be treated with respect.” After working on cars and taking classes for several years, Simpson founded Catherine’s Auto Repair in October 2000. It has won the Super Service Award every year since 2006.
What are some things people should know about auto service shops?
Simpson: "A lot of people don't realize how most mechanics are paid, and I think that's really important. Most are paid a flat rate by the number of repair jobs they do.
"Or they get commission, a cut of the total parts and labor sold on the vehicle. Some get 'spiffs,' basically extra money for selling specific items, like a set of shocks, an air filter or a coolant flush. Employers generally pay this way because they believe it will motivate the employees to work harder and sell more.
"I think that approach encourages employees to focus on time and money rather than quality and customer service. Technicians could exaggerate the seriousness of a problem or the urgency of a repair, resorting to high-pressure sales pitches and scare tactics.
"As such, I pay my employees on an hourly or salary basis. That way, they aren't pushed to look for repairs that aren't needed or problems that aren't there.
"Look for a repair shop the same way you'd look for a doctor. Ask around and look at Angie's List. Look for shops that are AAA-approved and have at least one Automotive Service Excellence certified master technician on staff, meaning they passed all eight tests given for different areas of car repair.
"Once you find a good shop, go to it for everything. If you go to different places, you're probably setting yourself up for a negative experience. Going to the same place prevents certain services from being duplicated, and they can look at the repair history and see what was done when.
"Again, it's like a doctor, you want someone you have a relationship with, someone who knows you and will take care of you.
"There isn't really a standard tuneup anymore. That term originates from the days when you could 'tune' an engine by adjusting the carburetor, idle and timing. When people say they want a tuneup, I try to inquire further to find out what they mean.
"A common meaning for tuneups nowadays is replacing spark plugs. But spark plugs need to be replaced every 30,000 miles at the most, and with some of the newer platinum plugs, they are engineered to last between 60,000 and 100,000 miles.
"A lot of times, there are running problems with the car that the person thinks can be fixed with a spark plug replacement, but that's very rarely the case. That's why I try to get at what they are actually asking me for.
"As far as preventive maintenance, the easiest answer is to look at the owner's manual for when certain things should be done. Cars are so different nowadays, so it really varies from car to car."