By David Pitt, AP Personal Finance Writer
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Cars on the road are older than they've ever been, sporting an average age of 11 years. And you can be sure that many aren't getting the care they need.
In a survey last summer by AAA, about a quarter of the drivers said they neglected maintenance and repairs in the prior 12 months to save money.
Older cars are no longer under warranty so owners are paying for more repairs out of their own pockets, said Art Shaw, CEO of RepairPal Inc. in Emeryville, Calif., which offers repair estimates and shop recommendations.
Maintenance costs are becoming much more important because they're a significant chunk of the average car owner's budget. It all adds up to underscore that finding a trustworthy mechanic should be a top priority.
"This is actually becoming a much bigger deal more quickly than people understand," Shaw said.
Whether it's replacing a headlight, a battery, or something more serious, asking the right questions before choosing a repair shop is essential.
There are some basic tips to follow to help ensure that the mechanic jacks up your car and not your bill.
— Get recommendations
Use your social network to get referrals from co-workers, friends and family. If you're active on Facebook or other websites you may get some good feedback about reliable and honest mechanics.
Once you have a list of shops check the Better Business Bureau database for any history of complaints.
Several websites offer lists of shops. At www.repairpal.com users can search by zip code and car model. The company also offers a smartphone app.
— Check for qualifications
It's important to look for and ask about whether a shop's mechanics carry any certifications. A few of the possibilities include:
AAA Approved Auto Repair: A program of AAA. About 8,000 approved shops are inspected and must pass standards set by the auto club. They must provide customers with written estimates, return replaced parts and offer a 12-month warranty.
ASA: Automotive Service Association: Its members agree to adhere to a code of ethics including fair prices, skilled technicians, and price estimates. It holds annual conventions focused on technical and management training.
ASE: A nonprofit group, National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence tests and certifies mechanics. They must pass an exam and have at least two years of experience. Retesting is required every five years to maintain certification. They display a blue and white ASE logo.
SAE: An international association of engineers and technical experts in the aerospace, automotive, and commercial vehicle industries which provides training, standards and technical publications.
Another issue to ask about is their equipment. Computerized diagnostic equipment and access to online repair systems — which provide the latest repair manuals and instructions — are basic tools of the trade these days.