This is a question we are asked by customers who move out of the area, people who own cars we won’t work on, and people who found our website but don’t live near Art’s Automotive. We usually answer it 3 times per day, so I thought we might save some time by putting our advice in print.
Ask people you know
One of the best ways is to ask friends who own the same type of car. The most useful reviews will be the ones that are either very positive or negative. Obviously a garage that receives very positive review is a good place to try, whereas a garage that gets a negative review should be avoided. When a friend says something like, “they’re OK I guess”, it’s not very telling.
Ask a dealership parts department
Another good trick is to call the dealer’s Wholesale Parts Department and ask which independent shops buy a lot of parts from them. The idea being that a shop using OE parts is choosing quality over profit. Be sure to ask for the Wholesale Parts Department, not just parts. The wholesale parts department sells parts to independent shops, so they won’t mind steering you towards one of their best customers. This usually works unless the dealer is small, and the wholesale parts department is also the “back counter”, which supplies the dealer mechanics with parts. If this is the case, they may have mixed loyalties. It never hurts to try; the worst they can do is say they don’t want to tell you.
Bay Area Consumer Checkbook
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago Area, Delaware Valley Area, Puget Sound Area, or the Twin Cities Area, there is a publication called Consumer Checkbook which is like Consumer Reports (no adds, etc.) except they rate local service providers: roofers, dentists, plumbers, and mechanics to name a few. You can get a copy of the most recent issue which rates mechanics at the library, or you can subscribe to the magazine (which I would recommend – it’s very handy), or you can download an article from their website for a $15 per article fee. http://www.checkbook.org
Maybe the Tappet Brothers know?
On the Car Talk website there is a section called the Mechan-X Files, where visitor to the website can search a new mechanic or tell the world about their favorite mechanic. You can search these ratings by zip code and attributes you consider important in a mechanic. It’s a great resource, and it’s free.
http://cartalk.cars.com (goes to the main Car Talk webpage)
Good Mechanics in Berkeley, CA
Below is a list of local mechanics we like. We do not guarantee their work or your happiness with them. You’ll have to judge for yourself.
Berkeley Minicar / General Repair on Honda Only / (510) 841-1221
I almost didn’t add Minicar to the list because they are our direct competition. They’re 2 blocks down the street, and they work Honda and Toyota, and they’re a good shop. I can count on many of our competitors to shoot themselves in the foot by price gouging, providing bad service, or doing incompetent work. No such luck with Minicar. The have reasonable prices, good service, and know how to fix cars. I’ll just have to cross my fingers and hope you like us better.
Berkeley Radiator / Cooling system and AC work / (510) 845-3151
They’ve helped a number of our customers who needed emergency repairs when we were too busy to fix their car quick enough. We have not had a complaint yet. The guys at Berkeley Radiator are friendly and they have been honest with us in situations where they’ve lost a sale by doing so.
Fred’s Wrench House / General Repair and Smog Checks on most makes / (510) 521-7215
Fred’s a very nice guy. We’ve had a mountain of positive feedback. Fred also has a favorable rating the Bay Area Consumer Checkbook. We send a lot of people with cars we don’t service his way.
German Auto Sport / German Cars / (510) 525-6000
If you’re looking for a shop to take your BMW or Mercedes to, we’d recommend Chris over at German Auto Sport. Whenever I give this referral, the other person nearly always asks, “Are the prices reasonable?”. I have no idea. Everything German seems way too expensive to me, and I have no frame of reference. What I can say is that Chris knows what he’s doing, and in my experience you’re way better off paying “more” for someone who’s competent than paying “less” for someone who isn’t.
Berkeley Bob’s / Volvo / (510) 545-9371
If something’s fishy with your Swedish car (Get it! Swedish fish! Oh, OK. You’re right. Wasn’t funny.) Sean over at Berkeley Bob’s can fix it. He’s the only independent in the area with the prohibitively expensive Volvo scanner and software package, and he writes technical articles for Volvo’s magazine for mechanics, Volvo TechTips.
Good mechanics in other areas
Luscious Garage / TOYOTA and SUBARU
Luscious Garage is a wobbler. Not because I’m not sure if it’s a good shop. They’re great! I was just having trouble deciding whether to put them in with the local Berkeley shops or in the shops form other areas category. They’re on the other side of the bay in San Francisco. I know Carolyn and she’s a great mechanic. She’s one of the authors of the ASE L3 test, which is used world-wide to determine whether a technician is competent in hybrid repair. She also designed the popular shop management software ShopWare. If you’re in San Francisco or are willing to drive across the bridge, you can’t go wrong with Luscious Garage. They’re hybrid specialists and repair Toyota and Subaru cars.
Phil’s Auto Clinic in Hemet California / Most Cars
I know Phil and he’s a great mechanic, automotive instructor, and technical writer. He’s also one of the authors of the ASE L3 test. Where is Hemet? Well, if you were to draw a triangle between Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and San Diego, Hemet would be close to the center. Anyway, if you’re down south and looking for a good mechanic, Phil is a great choice.
Out West Garage in Petaluma California / Toyota, HONDA, SUBARU
I don’t know anybody at Out West Garage. However, one of our customer’s gave them a glowing review so I checked them out on Google — a perfect 5 star record! Yelp? 5 stars! That’s pretty impressive. I might start taking my car there if it wasn’t 45 miles away 🙂 They work on Toyota, Honda, and Subaru.