Our Ratings Tables will help you select a top-quality, reasonably-priced auto repair shop. Once you find one, follow good business practices in dealing with it, especially on your first visit.

Communication Counts

The better your communication with a mechanic, the more likely you’ll get your car fixed and avoid unnecessary repairs. Even mediocre mechanics can fix most cars if they know exactly what’s wrong.

Distinguish between what you know and what you think you know. If you know what needs to be repaired, tell the shop. But if you don’t know, simply describe the symptoms. If you mention a specific repair—say, fixing the water pump—the shop may check or even replace it, and then go on to fix what is actually wrong (possibly worn-out alternator bearings).

Describe symptoms. Note changes in the way the car sounds and drives since the problem started. Describe how long you’ve had the issue and when it happens: in hot or cold weather, when the engine is hot or cold, at high or low speeds. If the problem is hard to describe, ask the shop to have someone take a drive with you.

Write it down. Make a list of the problems you want to check or fix, and leave the list with or email it to the shop.

Go to the shop when it is less busy. You’ll get closer attention if you visit between mid-morning and mid-afternoon.

Talk with the mechanic who will work on your car. Service write-up personnel at dealerships and large shops often know very little about car repair. Discussing symptoms directly with the technician who will work on your car will improve the likelihood that you will get good work.

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Get a Written Estimate and Work Order

The shop should provide a work order spelling out the cost and the work you have authorized.

If you know what repairs are needed, ask for a price and have the shop write that and a description of the needed work on the work order.

If you don’t know what is needed, write on the work order: “Shop will provide customer a written estimate. The charge for the estimate will be $_____. No other charges will be incurred without customer’s authorization following the estimate.”

Also, write this at the bottom of the work order: “Keep replaced parts for customer’s inspection.” Even if you can’t tell an alternator from a tailpipe, the shop doesn’t know it—and can’t be sure you won’t show the parts to someone who does.
If all the work you need is covered under a warranty, don’t bother with an estimate or detailed work order but write: “Only warranty repairs are authorized” on the work order.

If you ask your shop to check on a problem and give you a call, don’t automatically approve any major repair at any price the shop suggests. To maintain the flexibility to go to a second shop, take your car in for repairs—whenever possible—before a problem becomes so severe that it can’t be driven.

Review Completed Work

The shop invoice should include: its name and address; your name; your car’s license number and mileage; the labor charge; name, number, and price of each part replaced; and whether parts are new or rebuilt. The invoice should indicate the shop’s warranty and be signed and dated by the mechanic. Keep your invoice to use if you’re unhappy with your repairs.

If you find the car was not fixed correctly, take it back right away, or send the shop an email citing the problem and your intention to bring the car back to have it corrected. Do not rely on the service writer’s verbal promise that you can bring in the car any time for a free adjustment. You may find later that the writer can’t remember the pledge and believes the problem is new and caused by something that happened after the car left the shop.

Be Persistent

Despite your precautions, you and your shop may still have disagreements. If so, you have several forms of recourse.

The first step: Speak to the service manager or owner. If you don’t get results, complain to the Consumer Protection Division of the Illinois Office of the Attorney General, manufacturers’ zone offices, and the Better Business Bureau.

If you paid by credit card, and you tried to work out the problem with the shop but it wouldn’t make things right, dispute the repair charges with your credit card company.

If none of these efforts provide satisfaction, go to small claims court.

Your Rights

Illinois has a “lemon law” that provides relief for new-car buyers who have had repeated problems.

Cost Estimates: All shops in Illinois must provide a written estimate if the work is expected to cost $100 or more—either an itemized one breaking down costs for parts and labor or a non-itemized one with the total price. A shop may charge a fee for the estimate.

Cost Exceeding the Estimate: For itemized estimates, shops cannot charge more than 10 percent above their estimates without customer approval; for non-itemized estimates, shops cannot charge more than their estimates.

Time Estimates: Shops are required to give an estimated completion date for repairs.

Invoices: Shops must provide a written invoice that includes a description of the work performed, a list of parts supplied and their prices, labor charges, and the vehicle’s odometer readings when it entered the shop and when the repair order was prepared.