First we need a car to work on. I chose a '87 mazda Rx7 for several reasons. One the weird engine that most mechanics will admit that they know very little about. Next, it's a sports car, and an import. It will make it easier to narrow down the steps.
How's that? Auto repair is a frightening area. I was recently out of town and had to do the same research. I started with the local mini mart for a good tow truck driver. He then towed me to a good shop, that didn't specialize in my Mazda. I knew the labor guide hours and the parts prices. He was right on track. The labor charge per hour is important but just as important is how much time it will take. Make sure you know if they are going to charge but the book (flat rate) or by the amount of time they are on the car, both has its benefits.
I work in an auto repair shop. I deal with mostly women that have been ripped off, so I review their repair orders to see what has been done, before we start a job. I also hear lots of horror stories. Some times the very people that you turn to (such as the BBB, which is run by businesses and the dues they pay) are not always what it appears. There are a lot of shops that are honest and just want to do a good job.
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