Whether you moved, changed cars brands, had a bad experience, or your preferred car dealership closed, there are many options for tending to your car maintenance and repair needs.

Based on annual surveys, we find consumers generally have a higher level of satisfaction with independent shops over car dealerships.  

If your car is under warranty, you will still need to go to a dealership for warranty repairs, but you won't need to go to the dealership for routine maintenance. Under federal law you have the right to have repairs performed anywhere you like without voiding the warranty.

But identifying a mechanic you can trust for your car takes a lot more than letting your fingers do the walking. You have to do a little old-fashioned sleuthing. There's no single clue to what makes a good repair shop, but here are some things you should look for.

Find a shop for your brand of car

Many garages specialize in certain makes. Those that focus on your type are more likely to have the latest training and equipment to fix your vehicle.

Ask your family and friends

Especially seek recommendations from those who have a vehicle similar to yours.

Search the Internet

Look for information about local mechanics on Angie's List, the Consumer Reports car repair estimator, and the Mechanics Files at Cartalk.com. Cartalk.com provides those services free, Angie's List requires a subscription, the car repair estimator is free for Consumer Reports' online subscribers.

Check for certification

Your mechanic and shop should be certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, or ASE.

Check the Better Business Bureau

Auto repair shops rank 12th on the bureau's list of common complaints. Go to www.bbb.org; the information you find might help you figure out which shops you should avoid.

Give the shop a tryout

Before your car needs a big repair, you might want to try out some local shops with smaller repairs or maintenance items, such as oil and filter changes.

Ask about warranties

What kind of guarantees does the shop give on repair work? Warranties can vary greatly among shops, so ask about them ahead of time. Use a common repair, such as brake work, as your guide.

Make sure the shop is convenient

Even the best shop might not be worth the effort if its hours conflict with your schedule or you have few transportation options after you drop off the car.

For more advice, see our maintenance guide. And use our Car Repair Estimator to find price ranges for work in your area from participating shops that meet a high level of customer satisfaction.

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