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 2021 CarMD® Vehicle Health Index™, depending on where you live, the average cost of a visit to an auto repair shop is anywhere from $342 to $411.

Finding the right repair facility for the job is critical to avoid excessive or needless costs. The consumer 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 require all of their technicians to be certified in at least one area of expertise.


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 manufacture’s original equipment parts and systems, specifically designed to fit the vehicles and operate under proven, tested parameters.

Dealership technicians are specialists that 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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Department Store Chains

Some of the largest department stores have automotive repair wings. Such department store brands include Walmart and Sears.

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. Vehicle owners can’t beat the coupon specials 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. Consumers 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 department store outlets, but are likely to take on more specialized areas of auto repair. A few examples include Pep Boys, Meineke and Midas.

In the past decade or so, the chain stores have lowered their prices on labor and parts to compete directly with the department store outlets. They also 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.

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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 over-sell 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 application 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 insure 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 out-building, represent the common neighborhood repair facility for a lot of vehicles 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, body work, painting and chassis straightening. However, sometimes repair costs can fluctuate, dependent 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 labors 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 2022

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