Our Ratings Tables reveal that there are many top-notch auto repair shops in the Bay Area. Many of the listed businesses 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: Dozens of other shops were rated “superior” for the overall quality of their work by fewer than 60 percent of their surveyed customers.

Our undercover shoppers also turned up dramatic shop-to-shop price differences. For example, to replace the water pump for a 2014 Ford Escape, they found prices ranging from $320 to $1,244 among Bay Area shops. Hourly labor rates range from $90 to $265. 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 ones. 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, use some care in dealing with it. Give the shop a detailed description of your car’s problems. If possible, speak with the technician who will work on your car. Insist the shop provide an estimate before doing any repairs. Pay by credit card—you can dispute the charges if things go wrong. If the car is still not right when you get it back, immediately inform the shop in writing.