Choosing the Right Auto Repair Center

by Chris Stevenson
Choosing the Right Auto Repair Center photo

Choosing the right auto repair center for your particular car problem can be critical to avoiding excessive or needless costs. We explore how to find the right shop for the right job.

Auto repair is a multi-billion dollar industry, and every vehicle owner will contribute to it at some time or another. According to the latest CarMD® Vehicle Health Index™, the average cost of a visit to an auto shop for a “check engine light” repair is $403.

Finding the right repair facility for the job is critical to avoid excessive or needless costs. You should also seek out facilities that employ ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) technicians who have been thoroughly tested in the various repair areas. ASE certification is the benchmark for the most competent repair facilities and often requires all of their technicians to be certified in at least one area of expertise.

Depending on the size of the area where you live, you may have the following options for choosing the right auto repair center with an ASE-certified technician.


Dealerships such as Ford, Chrysler, Toyota and Mercedes Benz represent the premium, high-end auto repair facilities for the consumer. Dealerships carry and install only their manufacturer’s original equipment parts and systems, specifically designed to fit the vehicles and operate under proven tested parameters.

Dealership technicians are specialists who deal exclusively with one type of vehicle, representing all makes, years and models of that vehicle. For vehicle owners who are sticklers for precision, where cost is no object, dealerships are hard to beat for professional repair, usually carrying the best guarantees and warranties.

However, the flat-rate manual costs (allotted repair labor time) can run as much as twice as any other repair facility, along with very high parts costs. Dealerships excel in areas of difficult troubleshooting, like electrical and fuel injection malfunctions, as well as elusive, intermittent problems that involve very specific and sensitive systems.

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Retail Store Chains

Some retail stores, such as Walmart, still have automotive repair wings. These facilities usually concentrate on the most basic areas that involve light to medium repairs. Such areas would include brakes, tune-up, front end repair and alignment, exhaust work, air conditioning evacuation and recharge, radiator flush, air and fuel filter replacement, some fuel injection maintenance, tire repair-replacement, lube, oil, filter and transmission service. Typically, you can’t beat the specials offered by these facilities for oil changes, transmission service, tune-ups, or tire replacement and alignment packages.

Problems result when these shops pay their technicians on a bonus or commission system, where they are financially rewarded for selling extra services and parts to the consumer that might not be needed. You should avoid such bonus and commission systems when seeking these types of repair facilities. Ask the service manager beforehand to verify this.

Independent Chain Stores

The large independent chain repair stores function much like the retail store outlets but are likely to take on more specialized areas of auto repair. A few examples include Pep Boys, Meineke and Midas.

Chain stores have accessible and well-stocked auto parts departments. The independent chain stores can be the overall best choice for light and medium service and repair.

Quick-Stop Shops

Quick-stop shops, usually owned by large franchises and occupying smaller and limited repair shops, specialize in very light and fast repair areas. Their quick in-and-out service usually takes no more than an hour, and their prices can be the absolute lowest in the industry, which includes coupon specials.

The LOF, or lube, oil and filter, is the mainstay for most such shops. Since they specialize, they carry an adequate supply of parts for every make and model. Some quick-stop shops might include tune-ups and transmission service, which can be okay if the proper parts are used.

Since these shops employ light, general service technicians, few, if any, of them could be ASE certified. However, chances are the technicians are paid a flat hourly rate and will not try to oversell additional parts and services. Call ahead to verify this.

Tire Stores

The large franchise tire stores do a few things better than any other repair facility, including selling and replacing tires, repairing flats, tire rotation and balancing wheels. They are trained to know tire data and applications for any vehicle better than most other repair facilities.

Since they provide guarantees and warranties, nearly all of them are very proficient at front-end repair involving ball joint, tie rod, upper and lower control arm bushing, idler and pitman arm replacement. They carry the best high-tech alignment equipment to ensure that your new tires track and wear to their maximum performance levels.

Stick with tire, front-end repair, and alignment with these types of shops.

Privately Owned Shops

Privately owned repair facilities, which might consist of an out-of-service or gutted service station or a tin-roofed outbuilding, represent the common neighborhood repair facility for many vehicle owners. The owners of these shops can become quite intimate and friendly with their customers. Sometimes repairs and labor costs can even be open to negotiation, or deals can be struck in trade.

Many private shop owners are fearless and will handle just about any type of repair, including major engine overhaul, bodywork, painting and chassis straightening. However, sometimes repair costs can fluctuate, depending upon the whim of the owner. Solid guarantees and warranties might be non-existent, and certainly, the proficiency of the technicians can fall into question.

You’ll need to get accurate estimates, itemized parts and labor costs on a professional repair ticket. The key word here is “trust” and certainly your past experience with such a shop and owner.

Reviewed February 2024

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