There's a term used in real estate marketing, curb appeal, that could also apply to your mechanic's place of business.
Curb appeal refers to the impact that a property has when the prospective buyers and their real estate agent roll up to the address in the agent’s Mercedes C-Class sedan.
What about signals that you might get from the physical plant and the personnel of an auto repair facility and what they might tell you about its competence? There's no way to know for sure that you have chosen the right place to have your vehicle repaired until you have experienced the service it provides. However, there are a few markers that might narrow your search:
Beware of the orphan car. There is no incentive for a car to sit on a lot in a state of partial repair. Since the customer doesn’t have the use of the vehicle and the business doesn’t get paid, you have to question why a car in this condition would be in view of the public. Whether it is the result of a lack of funding on the part of the car owner or the unavailability of parts, it casts doubt on the shop’s ability to resolve repairs in a timely fashion and reflects negatively on the housekeeping of the business.
Sneak a look at playing field. Repairing cars is a lot like passing legislation – the process isn’t pretty. But if you have the opportunity to take a look at the work area of the shop, please do. It should be orderly within limits; the employees are not pushing paper here so a certain amount of debris is a healthy thing. But mounds of discarded parts that create hazards are not good. Look for equipment (whether you understand its function doesn’t matter) and also collaboration among the various technicians.
Be critical of the drop-off interview. Was the service writer thorough? Was there a sincere effort to expose the problem with your car? To get to the root of your problem this employee should be asking where, what and when to identify all the conditions surrounding the failure. For example, if your are describing a fluid leak he needs to know the color of the fluid, where on the car or pavement you noticed it, if it appears when the car is at operating temperature or when cold and if you have noticed anything erratic about the operation of the vehicle.
Look for a groupie-free environment. Believe it or not, like the barbershop and the corner deli people like to hang out at garages. While this may provide someone to pick up lunch, for the most part it serves as a distraction to employees and tends to degrade the work product. How would you tell the non-employee – instead of grease, he is the one with a lot of time on his hands?