For the fast few years, whenever there’s a job I either don’t have the time or skills (or desire) to attend to myself, I’ve been using a local independent mechanic. The guy was separately recommended by two people who don’t know each other. Actually their recommendations came a couple years apart from each other.
For the past couple months, my truck occasionally has been kicking on the ABS at very low speeds in dry conditions. It’s a common GMT-800 problem, and it was fixed once before under warranty. Eight years and 70k miles or so later, it started happening again. I was also intermittently hearing a slight grinding noise from my left front (I thought maybe the bearing, in its sealed hub, was going bad). I knew from experience and research that I might need one or both new ABS sensors, possibly one or both new front hubs ... or maybe just the mating surface between the sensor and the hub needed to have the rust cleaned off. If that surfaces gets rusty, it lifts the sensor far enough away from the reluctor wheel that it won’t read properly at low speeds.
Now, I know the fixes and it’s all stuff I can do. What I don’t have are the skills to diagnose exactly what the problem(s) is/are, or the scan tool to do that. I didn’t want to just start throwing parts at it either, like your average GART (Google Auto Repair Technician). Also, since I no longer have a backup vehicle, I don’t have time to have my truck torn apart for days while I work on it in my minuscule spare time. So, off to Rich it went.
I dropped it off Tuesday afternoon, told Rich the symptoms and to call me when it was done. Then I tossed the girls in the double stroller with snacks and water, and we walked the bit over a mile home. Side note: my two year old was completely fascinated by the car lift. You could just see in her eyes, “Why is that car in the AIR?”
Shortly after lunch, I got a call that the truck was done. Now, if Rich had told me the truck needed two new front hubs, and oh by the way your brake pads are nearly done and the rotors are too thin to cut, so maybe we should replace those while it’s apart (the front brakes were last done 5-6 years and over 50k miles ago), I would’ve said yes and never thought twice about it.
Instead, when I asked what I owed, “Uhh, $70 bucks,” was the reply. I put the girls back in the stroller with snacks and waters, and headed to the shop. Rich used his scan tool to figure out that the left front ABS sensor wasn’t reading, cleaned the rust out on the mating surface so it could read again, and cleaned and greased the caliper slides (the noise was my caliper just barely sticking). Then he greased my front end (I suspected my grease gun wasn’t working ... I was right), and rotated my tires because the inside shoulders of my fronts are wearing thin (a trip to the alignment shop is planned for the next week or two, as I had noticed that) ... all for $70.
So, how do you know if a mechanic is honest? Well, word of mouth is a big one. I also say watch their parking lot. If there are never any cars there, then people must not be happy with them and never go back. If there are tons of cars there, but they’re the same cars that just sit endlessly, that’s probably not a good sign either. But if the lot is full of a constantly rotating cast of vehicles, that’s a shop with plenty of business and no need to gouge. I also think if every time you take a vehicle to the shop, it’s the worst case scenario that shop is possibly pumping you for work ... or maybe you just drive an old German car. To me, there should be a balance. Sometimes things will be worse than you imagined, but sometimes they’ll be better.
Anybody in the western suburbs of Chicago, I highly recommend Patterson’s Pitstop in Villa Park. It’s a three bay shop with two lifts and one employee plus the owner, it’s always busy on word of mouth business. Rich fixes what needs fixing and nothing else, and charges a very fair price. If you call, chances are it’ll go to voicemail, and the message tells you to call Rich’s cellphone and gives the number. Rich wears a bluetooth earpiece so he can answer calls while he works on cars. His business hours are until at least six, or whenever he’s done for the day. I once dropped my truck off at 8:30 at night, and he was still there.