Every article you'll read about buying a used car on this site will always contain the admonition to have the car inspected by a trusted, professional independent mechanic. Of course, if you've never needed a mechanic before, or you've always had your cars serviced by a dealership, this might present a bit of a challenge.
After all, how can you tell if you've found a mechanic you can trust?
A good place to start is within your circle of friends. Chances are, somebody you know uses a mechanic they have a good relationship with. However, if they don't know of a good one, in many cases they can probably tell you who the bad ones are. Sometimes, you'll run into a situation where your friend has an outstanding mechanic, but they don't work on the kind of car you're considering. Ask that outstanding mechanic for a referral, good ones usually know who other good ones are too.
Another excellent resource is the Web. These days, wronged consumers have a ready platform from which they can broadcast their concerns to the world. Websites like Yelp.com are a ready source of consumer reviews of auto-repair facilities'”but take what you see with a grain of salt. Occasionally, a simple misunderstanding can result in an otherwise great mechanic's reputation being sullied. Also, a mechanic could conceivably go on the sites and give their shop glowing reviews. To counter that possibility, you'll want to look for a shop with more than a few reviews'”the vast majority of which are positive. Two things you definitely want to pay attention to are the presence of complaints saying the shop charged considerably more than was originally estimated and/or the problem that necessitated the repair resurfaced after the shop 'fixed' it.
Once you have a list of prospects that look good, it's time to seek background information. Check with the local Better Business Bureau, Consumer Protection Agency or and/or the local Attorney's General office for reports of any consumer complaints about the facilities on your list. You should also do a search on the mechanic's/auto repair shop's names in a search engine. In addition to their websites, you'll also find any specific complaints that have been lodged that the consumer review sites might have missed.
Once you're satisfied you have a good solid list, before booking any appointments, go by and look the places over. But before you speak with anyone, check the lot out around each shop first. If there are dust-coated derelict cars parked around the shop, that's not a good sign. Their presence indicates either the shop couldn't fix them, or they care very little about the appearance of the place.
Speaking of appearances, once you're inside, are you greeted professionally and courteously? Does the general vibe feel upbeat? Would you be comfortable waiting while they worked on your car? Is the place
clean, organized and professional looking, or is there a veneer of oil and grease all over a chaotic jumble of everything imaginable? Check the restroom, does it smell freshly disinfected, or freshly infected? Cleanliness counts big, there's a reason you can eat off the floor in winning racing garages. The cleaner and more organized the facility is, the more consideration the people working there give their jobs. You're looking for a sense of pride of place.
Cars are increasingly complicated devices, there's more to auto repair these days than just wrenching on them. This means education is more important than ever. Displaying recent accreditations from organizations like the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) and the Motorist Assurance Program (MAP) say the shop, at minimum, is staying current with the changes in technology.
When you finally talk to the mechanic or the service manager, you'll want to ask about their training and education policies, years of experience, and their warranties. Also ask about the age and types of diagnostic equipment they use. What you want is someone highly organized, well trained, with the most modern equipment, who will patiently and cheerfully answer your questions, in language you can easily understand.
While this might seem like a lot to do to find someone 'just' to inspect a used car you're thinking of buying, it is important to note that in many cases, this will also be the mechanic that will service that car should you decide to purchase it. By doing all you can to establish a level of trust before you buy, you'll set yourself up for a trusting and long-lasting relationship.