Car Talk: Tips for finding a reputable auto mechanic

DEAR CAR TALK: I take my two vehicles to a local car repair shop. They are "family owned" and have been in business a long time. They are endorsed by that famous automobile association.

Twice now, I have caught them trying to cheat me. Their attitude is very lackadaisical, not apologetic and very unconcerned that they got caught. No conscience whatsoever.

I am 69 years old and have heard my whole life about unscrupulous car repair practices.

I called the famous automobile association and found they mostly check the mechanics' credentials and how clean they are and so on. The BBB is worthless and will not disclose anything or do anything.

When a technician performs the same work (work that is recommended every 100K miles) at two consecutive oil changes, does he not think, "Gee, wasn't this just done a few thousand miles ago?"

Does anyone watch these service shops? Any way to tell the good guys from the bad guys?

Thank you.

— Anthony

DEAR ANTHONY: Stories like this are always painful for us to hear. We hate hearing that some other shop is ripping people off in a way we hadn't thought of yet!

Seriously, this has been a problem since the Model T. And it's not limited to auto repair. Whenever people require an "expert" to do something that they themselves don't understand, there's always an opportunity for unscrupulous people to take advantage. And it sounds like you found a less-than-honest family business.

I can assure you that there are plenty of honest mechanics out there. But you're right that you can't count on AAA or BBB (or CCC or DDD) to police the field for you. They're more interested in promoting shops than policing them.

Fortunately, thanks to the internet, consumers have more tools than ever to be alerted to sleazy operators. There are now plenty of sites that post reviews and ratings of businesses. Just go to a search engine and type in "reviews of [fill in name of shop]," and see what comes up.

And while you should be wary of a single loudmouth who complains about a business (because there are difficult or uneducated customers, just like there are unscrupulous businesses), a pattern of complaints should tip you off that this is a business to avoid.

We also have our own repair shop recommendation tool called the Mechanics Files ( We decided that rather than accept complaints, we'd only accept positive "recommendations" from our readers and listeners. In other words, we asked people, "if you have a repair shop that you've used for a long time and really like and trust, tell us about it and recommend it to others."

So, we now have a large database of highly recommended repair shops that have made our fans happy. You can search it by ZIP code and find yourself a new repair shop, Anthony. Then cross-check your selection with other review sites. Do your homework. Caveat emptor, vini vidi vici and all that.

And take a few minutes to leave some reviews of your current shop on Yelp or Google Reviews, to warn other potential victims about your experience there.

Online reviews aren't perfect. But they're far more useful than the AAA and BBB in selecting a repair shop, and consumers are lucky to have them.

DEAR CAR TALK: I own a 2009 VW Rabbit with 116,000 miles.

The headliner started to detach in the front and eventually in the back too. The cost of the repair at the dealership was astronomical. They recommended I take it to a specialty shop.

That shop did an excellent job for a very reasonable price. The professional told me this is a common problem in different cars, including expensive ones such as Toyota and Acura, and that the time for the headliner detachment was variable.

I have owned several Honda cars in the past that never had the problem.

Is the reason poor design? Poor quality of the materials? Is my local weather too cold or too hot?

Thank you very much for your opinion.

— Julio

DEAR JULIO: You're talking about the fabric that lines the roof of your car.

That fabric is actually glued onto a foam substrate. And sometimes, that glue fails. I think the guy at the specialty shop is right. It can happen on pretty much any car. The common denominator is that the car is old.

It could be due to substandard glue, the glue could have been poorly applied or extreme environmental conditions could have caused the glue to degrade.

The reason it's astronomically expensive at the dealership is that they won't re-glue your existing fabric. They'll replace the whole headliner, including the foam backing and frame. Not only is the part expensive, but in order to get the old one out and the new one in, they often have to remove the front or rear windshield.

My guess is that the specialty shop just sprayed some new glue on the back of the headliner and reattached it to the foam backing. You might want to ask if they have a "buy 10 headliner repairs get one free" card because it certainly could fail again at some point.

We'll hope the repair lasts. But if the headliner starts to sag again someday, I'd suggest you can take a ride to the Abe Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Ill. Then go to the museum store and buy four stovepipe hats. And have each of your passengers wear one when they're riding with you, Julio. That'll keep the headliner from sagging.

Ray Magliozzi dispenses advice about cars in Car Talk every Saturday. Email him by visiting:

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