- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2001

I had an interesting experience a couple of weeks ago. A fellow instructor asked if I could recommend a shop to perform some auto air conditioning work for a friend. She was looking for a reputable shop with a convenient location to work.

I am familiar with the area, and plenty of shops are there. At first, it sounded like a pretty simple request. Then I started racking my brain: What shop in that area would I trust to service my car's A/C system?

Both of the shops I would have recommended are no longer candidates.

One has fallen victim to a problem that has been spreading throughout the repair industry. Because of the lack of qualified mechanics, many shop owners are faced with hiring "tackle box technicians" to stay in business. I have seen the quality of the shop decline over the past couple of years in its struggle to stay alive.

The other shop, unable to find enough competent mechanics to offer adequate service to its customers and unwilling to impart less, closed.

My reply was that I couldn't recommend a shop in that area.

Unfortunately, that's not an isolated incident. I have been involved in several situations that have convinced me that getting a vehicle repaired correctly, at any price, is becoming difficult.

While the consumer who frequents the cut-rate shops and chains is certainly going to become a victim of slipshod mechanics, even the motorist who spends the extra time and money seeking a reputable repair facility is on the brink of experiencing problems. Even some well-respected shops aren't always what they were or seem.

It is here that a shop's affiliations with consumer-oriented organizations really count.

About 10 years ago, after a long service relationship with a dealership resulted in an ill-fated cross-country trip, my mother decided it was time to find another shop.

Faced with the dilemma of finding a new car doctor, Mom engaged in some consumer education. She finally located an independent full-service repair shop that boasted Automotive Service Association membership and being an AAA-approved National Automotive Parts Association AutoCare center.

These credentials spell quality and integrity.

ASA of Georgia is part of the national organization (www.asashop.org). Among the organization's many attributes, it requires members to adhere to a code of ethics as well as provides an online shop finder for consumers.

NAPA a unit of Atlanta-based Genuine Parts Co. has a long history of supplying quality replacement parts to the aftermarket repair industry. NAPA also produces an excellent series of self-study training videos and books for mechanics and is a strong supporter of Automotive Service Excellence certification.

NAPA AutoCare centers have taken the concept a step further, using not selling NAPA parts in their car-care facilities and providing a nationwide warranty covering parts and labor.

At napaonline.com click on Tips, Repair and Safety.

AAA has been a household word for about as long as Americans have been driving automobiles. AAA screens each repair facility for fair pricing, reliability, honesty, training of staff and cleanliness. Shops are reinspected annually, and they have a facility evaluation feedback system. AAA members enjoy some extra pluses (www.aaasouth.com).

Had the shop my mother chose not had these credentials, she could have been in real expensive trouble.

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