How to Talk to Your Auto Mechanic


Communication is crucial when you talk to a mechanic, though it can be a frustrating situation. You don’t speak the technical language of cars, so you might not be able to explain what’s wrong.

A lot depends on how you approach the situation. Having a car repaired is a “high-involvement” purchase. There’s a lot at stake when you take your car to see your mechanic. There’s the investment of time and money, not to mention the emotional involvement if the transaction goes sour. So we’ll help you out with that and tell you how to talk to your auto mechanic to avoid the root cause of poor communication.

Myths Drive Poor Communication When You Talk to a Mechanic

There is a pervasive notion that your auto mechanic is out to cheat you or that they won’t fix your car in the proper amount of time. For sure, there are some less-than-honest repair shops, but there are also competent, professional outfits that truly want to fix cars correctly.

Many problems at your auto mechanic often arise when they have to act on poor, inadequate information. Let’s look at three common situations that are likely to make you have a bad experience when you visit your auto mechanic that could have been avoided if you knew how to talk to your auto mechanic.

You Don’t Give the Repair Shop Enough Information

The nicest people can do this. They seem to have been trained from a young age to not divulge too much information about their car to their mechanic. It’s as if they believe the more you tell your mechanic, the more things he or she will find wrong with the car and then drive the repair bill up. That myth breeds misunderstandings, overlooked items and missed issues.

The more you can tell your auto mechanic the better they can zero-in on what the car really needs. Otherwise, if you’re very tight-lipped about describing the problem, mechanics can become very leery about working on it. They don’t like having to redo things either. It’s frustrating and costly.

Know how to talk to your auto mechanic: tell your auto mechanic when the problem started. Was it after you ran over something? After your spouse tried to work on it? After you took it to another shop for some work?

Describe the conditions when the car is operating poorly. Is the problem worse when it’s cold, or does it happen only the car has been running for while?

If the car is making noises, try to describe the sound. Don’t be embarrassed, your auto mechanic has heard people trying to mimic all sorts of car noises. Also, be sure to identify where the noise is coming from.

And if there’s something you know is wrong with your car that don’t want fixed at that moment for whatever reason, be sure to tell your auto mechanic. They will give you a quote for the most obvious problem they found, and they may fix the wrong thing.

Are you planning to sell or trade your car in soon? Tell your auto mechanic all that information so they can prioritize the repairs they recommend. Safety items should get addressed first, repairs second, maintenance procedures third. Remember that.

You Don’t Want to Pay for Diagnostic Time

Tell that to your doctor or dentist and see what happens. If they have a sense of humor they will ask what tooth they should pull or what body part they should operate on.

OK, so your car is not as complex as a human body, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple. It doesn’t require a college education to fix cars, although it certainly helps.

You want your auto mechanic to take the right amount of time to sort out what is wrong with your car. It is a lot more economical to have a car accurately diagnosed and precisely repaired than wasting money on general, rushed or guessed diagnostics and being afraid of how to talk to your auto mechanic.

Typically, an hour or two, including research time, would cover most common types of car problems that occur. But many issues require more in-depth testing, research and time to figure out. Big problems can mask small problems. It is not always obvious.

If paying for diagnostic time bothers you, try this. Ask for a plan of action and cost. How much time do they want for diagnostics? Which tests will they run? Will they call you and give you a report as they progress, typically after each round or two of successive tests. Be reasonable.

You Think You Have to Tell Them Exactly What You Want Fixed

The nicest people make this mistake. Back in the day when somebody asked for a tune up, it was considered regular maintenance and would often correct many problems. Nowadays technicians can be very wary of that simple request.

A tune up on a modern vehicle can be expensive, and often will not fix many problems. Don’t request the wrong repair, even if your car is due for the tune up or other scheduled maintenance.

It’s better to simply describe what the car is doing. Let them figure out why it is doing that. Don’t ask to have specific parts replaced. That is a common mistake. You might be asking for the wrong repair, one that won’t fix your complaint.

Maintenance items can be expensive, but they usually won’t fix problems your car might be having. It’s better to be descriptive, not directive.

Here’s What the Best Customers Do


Here’s the best tip for how to talk to your auto mechanic. Keep notes. Written, not mental. Better yet, write a few paragraphs describing your car’s issues. Print a copy, bring it to your appointment, and make sure the person working on your car gets it. Better yet, ask to meet that person. Open a line of communication.

Lastly, give them time to do their job correctly. One day service means this: Whatever time you drop your car off, by appointment, is the time the following day you can expect to pick it up.