Tips on finding a quality auto shop

We believe that Tom Dwyer Automotive Services offers the highest quality automotive repair and maintenance in the Portland area, and that we offer advice and recommendations you can trust for your long-term vehicle needs.  The question is, if you find yourself moving to a new city or broken down somewhere in the great flyover areas of the country, how would you find a shop you can trust?  Here are some simple tips if you should ever find yourself having to find a substitute for Tom Dwyer Automotive…

Ask for referrals from friends or locals The best way to get the lowdown on a shop is to ask real people who have really used their service.  Nothing beats someone who can tell you what it’s like to talk with the people, whether they had their service done right, whether they had a gut feeling they were being deceived, or even if the bathrooms were clean.  The best thing is that you don’t just have to listen to them and then move on, you can ask questions until you get exactly the info you want.  And, you know how much you can trust the person giving you the advice.

Ask the senior counter person at the auto parts store We’re not talking about the highest level manager you can find, we mean the most senior counter person there- the one who actually knows the shops in town.  Auto parts stores deal with all the area’s repair shops at one time or another and they at least know the reputations of the ones they don’t deal with.  The experienced counter people have seen shops come and go, know how each one operates, and can direct you to the one that best suits your needs.  Do you have a newer vehicle you want to keep forever?  A beater you’re trying to limp along for another 3 months?  Maybe a one-of-a-kind gem that needs special attention?  Auto parts professionals will know where to send you.

Use internet reviews like Angie’s list or Yelp- If you can’t get the in-person recommendation you want, the intertubes are here to help.  There are referral sites of all kinds on the web, and two of our favorites are Angie’s List and Yelp.  Angie’s List is one of the largest review/recommendation sites, and has an excellent reputation for unbiased reviews on almost any product or service provider you can imagine.  The only drawback is that it is a paid membership site, so it will cost you to get their information.  Yelp is similar to Angie’s, but it’s free.  Both offer you the chance to read reviews or post your own on products or services you’ve used, and both offer 1-to-5 star ratings of each provider based on price, quality, and other factors.  Remember, whichever provider you choose, please consider writing and posting a review for them.  Remember, just as you’re interested in other people’s opinions to bolster your decision, other people care about your opinions.

Check BBB (Better Business Bureau) reports- The BBB has a reputation for unbiased advice that goes back decades.  With today’s sites like Angie’s List and Yelp, the BBB has become a little less important as a reference but it’s still very relevant.   It doesn’t have the reviews that Angie’s or Yelp has, but its advantages are that it scans databases of pending Government actions, lists any disputes pending with the BBB, and has a review of the company’s advertising.

Make sure a shop is organized, equipped, and well staffed– This is a thing best checked in-person.  An auto shop doesn’t have to look like a hospital surgical suite, but auto repair and maintenance are technical tasks that benefit from some degree of cleanliness and organization. Look for some balance that makes you feel confident.

The parking lot should not resemble a wrecking yard and you should see vehicles of similar year and condition to the vehicle you want serviced. The office can have some clutter, but avoid one with only one desk buried under tons of yellowing paper.  (While you’re at it, make sure there’s at least ONE computer and that the invoices are not hand written.  Today’s vehicles are overwhelmingly computer-driven, as are many of the techniques to determining functional problems and their solutions.  A shop can’t provide competent repair any longer without near-constant computer access.)  The shop itself is a working environment so you can count on seeing some tools and parts lying around, but make sure rusted hulks of dead cars or stacks of odd parts aren’t cluttering the work areas.  Finally, it’s difficult to imagine a quality shop anymore with only one person running everything.  Look for a shop with at least two or three office staff and several certified technicians.

Look for the shops certifications and credentials Certifications give you assurances that a shop and its personnel are qualified to provide the services they’re selling.  ASE Certifications (from the National Society of Automotive Service Excellence) are the gold standard in the industry for both shops and staff.  Technicians and Service Advisors both have to pass tests to be ASE Certified, and with extensive knowledge, experience, and more testing they can move on to the ASE Master Certified level.  A shop should have at least one Master Tech and the others as Certified Technicians..  The shop itself can also be certified– look for the “ASE Blue Seal of Excellence Facility” designation to be sure.  Only a select few shops qualify for this certification; in fact there are only 13 Blue Seal shops within 12 miles of Portland.

Make sure there is a great warranty No matter how good a shop is, things occasionally go wrong.  Make sure the shop has a comprehensive local warranty that will take care of you if things do go bad. I would expect a minimum of a 12 month / 12,000 mile warranty and many shops are moving to 18 /18 or 24 / 24 warranties. A national warranty program is also available to smaller shops; ask about it.

Begin with a small service to test the waters– Once you’ve found a shop you feel good about, if possible , try them out with small simple repairs or services before you trust them with expensive or complex ones.  An oil change or minor interval mileage service are jobs that could give you a look at their customer service style and attention to detail while giving you a taste of their repair process.  Look for good communication, solid estimates and completion times. Make sure they won’t perform any work without your informed consent. If after testing the waters you feel they’ve performed and treated you well, then you can go to them for the major interval service or timing belt job you’ve been putting off.

Remember, this is just a summary of methods and things to watch for.  These tips won’t guarantee that you find a shop that is 100% every time and you’ll be happy with, but the information might help you weed out some of  the places you wouldn’t want anything to do with.  Good luck on your hunt for a new trusted automotive professional!

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