Here’s how to find hassle-free auto repair in the Twin Cities
When your car breaks down or performs poorly, that’s a major inconvenience – and can be a big expense. This is why it is so important to find a good repair shop.
Unfortunately, the Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook nonprofit finds plenty of repair shops that do a lousy job, impose long deadlines, sell unnecessary repairs, and give inaccurate estimates. But many almost always do top quality work quickly and at a fair price.
Checkbook reviews of 328 stores in the Twin Cities area include quality and price reviews. Checkbook’s ratings are based on over 14,000 ratings collected by surveying consumers in the region; a review of consumer agency complaint files; over 1,300 price checks by undercover Checkbook buyers; and other sources.
Until February 7, Checkbook is offering free access to its reviews of local auto repair shops to Star Tribune readers through Checkbook.org/StarTribune/AutoRepair.
Fortunately, there are many top quality auto repair shops in the area. Many stores were rated “superior” for overall quality by 90% or more of their customers surveyed. But there are also plenty of stores you’ll want to avoid: dozens of businesses reviewed by Checkbook have received such favorable ratings from less than 60% of their customers surveyed.
Area Stores Checkbook Ratings include a separate price rating, derived from quotes collected by its undercover buyers for several carefully constructed repair jobs. You want to be sure that a store is quoting fair prices before you bring your car in because, like with most repair jobs, it’s hard to buy the price until you know exactly what needs to be done.
Undercover Checkbook shoppers have seen dramatic price differences from store to store. For example, to replace the water pump on a 2014 Ford Escape, they found prices ranging from $ 270 to $ 649 in area stores. Hourly labor rates range from $ 80 to $ 190.
If you know what repairs you need, you can compare prices from store to store yourself by calling a handful of quotes. Stores may be able to tell you over the phone what is wrong and offer you a price. If so, get quotes from multiple stores.
When stores cannot determine what is wrong with your car based on your description, you will need to pick it up for a diagnosis and estimate. Then, with an estimate in hand – and assuming the diagnosis is correct – check with other stores to see if the store’s price is right. You don’t have to pay more for good service: Checkbook has found no relationship between the prices that stores charge and the quality of their work.
Many consumers believe that dealerships provide a better repair service because of access to proprietary knowledge, sophisticated diagnostic software, and high-tech tools not available at independent garages. This is not true. In fact, Checkbook found the opposite: On average, stores operated by non-dealers were much more likely to satisfy their customers than dealers – and offered lower prices. Non-dealers were rated âsuperiorâ overall by an average of 85% of their customers surveyed versus 69% for dealers. Prices at non-dealers were on average about 8% lower.
Resellers and non-resellers subscribe to the same databases that provide repair instructions, schematics, and news from manufacturers. While many car dealerships have stylish workstations, freelancers have the same tools and equipment.
Checkbook tip: If the work you need is not covered by a new car warranty, call an independent store.
In any store, communication is essential. The checkbook advises:
â¢ Give the store a detailed written description of your car’s symptoms. But distinguish between what you know and what you think you know. Don’t guess.
â¢ If possible, speak with the repair technician who will be working on your car. Service writing staff in department stores often know very little about auto repair.
â¢ Either get a written quote in advance or write on the repair ticket that no work should be done without your approval based on a written quote.
â¢ Obtain a written and dated invoice that details parts and labor charges, as well as vehicle mileage.
â¢ Pay by credit card – you can dispute the charge if things go wrong and the store is unresponsive.
â¢ If the car is still not in order when you collect it, immediately notify the store in writing.
Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help consumers get the best service and the lowest prices. It is supported by consumers and does not take any money from the service providers it reviews.