How to Talk to Your Mechanic and Get What You Want

Owning a vehicle comes with a whole new set of ABCs: alternators, brake pads and camshafts, to name a few. A non-motorhead, daunted by the jargon, can easily feel intimidated walking into a garage. But your vehicle is a big investment, so it’s important to talk about it openly and learn how to communicate with the mechanic in your life.

First of all, be pleasant and patient. Ask plenty of questions so that you appear engaged and you understand what’s going on. If you’re bringing your vehicle in because of a problem, make sure you’ve noted the circumstances under which that problem occurs. When the vehicle is moving or idling? Travelling above a certain speed? Turning? Braking? If you’re hearing a strange sound, prepare to describe it as clearly as possible.

Once the mechanic has looked at your vehicle, but before repairs occur, get a detailed explanation of what’s wrong. The shop should provide a list of the required repairs, a clear cost estimate and a timeline for completion.

“There are some examples when, unfortunately, you take a vehicle in for one problem, the mechanic discovers more damage and more parts are needed – that kind of thing. So it’s important to keep the lines of communication open,” says Randy Loyk, manager of technical services for AMA.

Also find out whether the repairs need to be completed right away. Are they immediately critical to the safe operation of the vehicle or could they be done down the road?

If you’re going in for regularly scheduled maintenance, the same communication guidelines apply, says Loyk. Ask for a list of the services to be completed, a cost estimate and schedule, and be clear that if the mechanic discovers any problems, he or she should contact you for a go-ahead before carrying out repairs.

While you’re chatting, ask when your next scheduled maintenance should be. “It’s really important, especially with newer vehicles, that drivers follow the maintenance schedule the manufacturer sets out,” says Loyk.

“There are certain things you have to maintain to prevent serious engine failure.” A good example is the timing belt, which manufacturers usually recommend changing every 90,000 to 110,000 kilometres. If you fail to do this, a belt could break –  costing you your engine.

Getting regular oil changes is another key part of the manufacturer’s schedule. This keeps contaminants from damaging the engine and promotes a good relationship with your garage. “Mechanics can often see wear and warning signs in advance of real trouble,” says Loyk. And that advance warning is a boon to budgeting for maintenance.

But don’t be naive about the price of owning a vehicle, says Loyk. “There are costs associated with properly maintaining a vehicle. You can’t just get in and drive and hope to spend nothing on it.”

Four Traits of a Top-notch Garage

  1. Years in business. The more the better. If the garage is doing things right, it will have a loyal customer base and positive word of mouth.
  2. Affiliation with an association. Look for an AMA Approved Auto Repair Service centre in your city.
    At these facilities, most parts and services have a one-year, 20,000-km warranty. A stamp of approval from the Better Business Bureau, the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council or the Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Plan also means the operation is trustworthy and gives the consumer an avenue to pursue complaints should something go wrong.
  3. Convenience. Is the shop close to home or work? Does it offer courtesy cars or shuttle service?
  4. Evidence of pride in the operation and good customer service. Telltale signs include cleanliness and amenities such as complimentary beverages and a comfortable waiting area.

For more auto resources and tips, visit AMA.

-by Paul Sinkewicz


Westworld is the award-winning magazine of the Alberta Motor Association. It offers a mix of travel features, auto trends and special member savings.