Helpful advice for choosing the right mechanic

Published on Thu, Mar 27, 2014 by Nathan Dalla Santa

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Studies from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) show vehicles that receive regular maintenance and service retain more of their value, get better gasoline mileage and pollute less than cars that are neglected. But today’s computer-loaded systems leave many former do-it-yourselfers hesitant to do much weekend tinkering. What’s a conscientious vehicle owner to do?

The nonprofit ASE was founded in 1972 with the idea that finding a competent auto repair professional should not be difficult. It developed a series of national certification exams covering all major automotive repair and service specialties. That way, auto technicians could prove their competence to their employers and customers.

It makes sense to protect automotive investments through regular maintenance and service performed by qualified professionals, and ASE’s certification program takes much of the guesswork out of finding a competent technician. Years ago, any shade-tree mechanic would do. After all, cars were simpler and less complex. But with today’s high-tech vehicles, the margin for error is small because mistakes are more costly.

ASE exams are developed and regularly updated by representatives from the service and repair industry, vocational educators, working technicians and ASE’s own in-house technical specialists. The exams stress real-world diagnostic and repair problems, not theory.

Mechanics who pass at least one exam and fulfill the hands-on work experience requirement earn the title of “ASE-Certified Automobile Technician,” while those who pass all eight automotive exams earn “Master Auto Technician” status. There are also tests for parts specialists, collision repair technicians, automotive service consultants and segments of the repair industry. However, ASE certification is not a lifelong designation; technicians must recertify every five years in order to stay abreast of constantly changing technologies.

Ferndale mechanic Pete Harksell, owner of Pete’s Auto Repair, is the region’s NAPA ASE-certified technician of the year for 2014, and he has some suggestions for folks looking for a skilled and reliable auto mechanic.

First, Harksell suggests people look for shops that are members of an auto association, such as the ASE or American Automobile Association. Second, it’s OK to judge a book by its cover.

“Appearance is important,” Harksell said. “It can be an indicator of how they run their shop and there are plenty of mechanics out there who don’t work in clean shops.”

In addition to cleanliness, keep an eye out for certifications on the wall, such as ASE certifications.

Finally, when looking for an auto shop, the best way to find a good shop is word-of-mouth, Harksell said. When people have a good experience, they share that information; so ask around.

Other things people can do to find a quality shop include shopping for a repair facility before a problem arises, arranging for alternate transportation to avoid shopping based solely on location, and looking for kind, courteous staff.