In an ideal world, it would be easy to find a mechanic that you completely trust to leave your vehicle with whenever it was in need of any service. In the less-than-ideal world we live in, however, bad experiences and horror stories have cast a great deal of shade across the profession. Gallup polling shows that only about 25% of the American public has a high level of trust in auto mechanics -- a much better rating than Congress, but there's still lots of room for improvement.
A big part of the lack of trust is the layman's inability to verify that service has been properly performed. Typically, the mechanic takes the car out of sight somewhere, does arcane things to it, then returns it to you. Unless they fixed some sort of obvious damage, it's hard to immediately tell what kind of a job they did. This is especially true when it comes to routine car maintenance -- things like changing fluids and filters.
Fortunately, there are simple checks you can make on your own to verify that these services were indeed performed as promised. In today's post we'll share some for the most common types of service provided.
The fluid level is easily checked with the transmission dipstick, which is usually located near the engine dipstick. While you're doing this, have a white paper towel or sheet of printer or notebook paper handy. Drip a bit of fluid onto it to check the color. New transmission fluid should be a red color and be free of debris. If the fluid was not actually changed it will be brown or black, have debris in it and may also have a mild burnt smell to it.
First, check the oil pan to be sure that it was re-installed properly and that you weren't shorted any plugs. The worst of mechanics will sometimes lose track of plugs while changing the oil and then simply not put the missing ones back in!
Like transmission fluid, fresh oil will be clear, and used oil will be dark and have debris in it. Fresh oil is more of an amber color, however. Be aware that this doesn't hold true if you have a diesel vehicle, however -- diesel causes new oil to blacken almost instantly. New oil in a diesel system should still be free of debris, however, and you can rub a little bit between your fingers to see if it feels gritty.
Fortunately, filters are fairly simple, as they should have dates printed on them. Just be aware that air filters will get dirty again fairly quickly, since it's their job to filter out dirt.
Since replacement parts are harder to get at, it can be tricky to verify that the mechanic didn't use a generic lower-quality part to do the job. If you want to ensure only OEM parts were used, the best thing to do is to get that in writing in the service contract you sign off on before repairs begin. The mechanic is unlikely to violate this due to the level of liability they could be facing in the event of a parts failure that leads to an accident.
Keeping An Eye On Your Vehicle
Most quality mechanics will allow you stay near the vehicle while it's being serviced should you so choose. If they try to prevent you due to "insurance reasons" or "liability", that's a big red flag, as there's almost no reason why an insurance company would insist that they prevent you from seeing them work.
Ideally, you'll want to find a mechanic that uses a bay call system if you want to stay on the premises while your vehicle is being serviced. In these systems there is a supervisor on duty that oversees all of the operations, and mechanics in each bay are required to notify them when they start each individual portion of the service.
Keep an eye on the blog for more helpful tips, and be sure to contact us if you'd like to learn more about AAA's services!