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You’ll find many top-notch shops on our Ratings Tables. Many shops were rated “superior” for the overall quality of their work by 90 percent or more of their surveyed customers. Unfortunately, many car repair customers get steered in the wrong direction. Many other shops were rated less than “superior” for the overall quality of their work by more than half of their surveyed customers.

Our undercover shoppers also found dramatic shop-to-shop price differences. For example, to replace the water pump for a 2011 Chevrolet Impala, they found prices ranging from $337 to $858 among Chicago area shops. Hourly labor rates range from $52 to $177. The price comparison scores reported on our Ratings Tables show which shops on average had the lowest prices for several repairs in our survey.

Don’t assume that you have to pay more to get good work. In fact, we found low-priced shops were more likely to receive high ratings from their surveyed customers than high-priced shops. And don't assume that new-car dealerships offer better quality work than independent shops. Our surveys of area consumers consistently find that, on average, independent shops outperform dealerships on repair quality—and charge lower prices for it.

Whatever shop you choose, give it a detailed written description of your car’s symptoms, and if possible, speak with the repair technician who will work on your car. Either get a written estimate in advance, or write on the repair ticket that no work is to be done without your approval based on a written estimate. Finally, pay by credit card—you can dispute the charges if things go wrong and the shop isn’t responsive.