Find a mechanic
Check they are qualified
Make sure the mechanic you deal with is well established. Check if they are a member of a trade association, eg Motor Trade Association (MTA) or Vehicle Services Foundation (VSF). This may give you a free and independent dispute resolution process to resolve problems or extra warranties if the work is not done properly. Also check references from previous clients.
Find an MTA member near you(external link) — MTA
Word of mouth
Ask friends and whanau to recommend a garage they trust. Online reviews can also be helpful. Bear in mind people tend to write about really bad or really good experiences. So you may not always get a balanced view.
Ask people if their mechanic:
- checks before doing work on the car
- explains what work needs to be done and why
- gives options, eg to use a second hand or a new part
- explains the pros and cons of each approach
- says how urgently work needs to be done, eg if a repair must be done now, can wait a couple of months, or is something to keep an eye on
- offers a courtesy car if they need to keep your car for more than a day.
Compare hourly rates
Check the garage's hourly rate and ask who will work on your car. A garage with only experienced mechanics may charge more by the hour. But they may complete work quicker than ones who are training apprentices. Check apprentices will be supervised.
Some garages find it harder to fix European cars than New Zealand and Japanese models. If you drive a European car, look for a garage that specialises in, or has plenty of experience, fixing European vehicles. They will be able to source parts more easily than other garages. They are also more likely to have the right tools to do the repairs.
Build a relationship
Once you find someone you trust, it's worth sticking with them — as long as they continue to give you good customer service. Using the same garage means they know your car and will have notes on services, warrants and repairs. This can make it easier to detect faults early, before they become a more expensive to fix.
Find someone you trust — look for an established mechanic and ask others who they use.
For routine checks, eg Warrant of Fitness (WOF) and service, most garages ask you to book. Let the garage know if you urgently need your car back when you make the booking. Or book it in for a time when you don't need it. They generally prefer you to drop your car off in the morning.
Remember, garages are busy. Your service or warrant will be scheduled around other jobs. If you ask the mechanic to look at something else, “while they’re at it”, don’t be surprised if they ask you to bring back your car another time to investigate the other problem.
Warrant of fitness
Before issuing a warrant, your mechanic has to be happy the following are safe:
- tyre condition
- windscreen and other glass
- windscreen washers and wipers
- safety belts
- airbags — if fitted
- steering and suspension
- exhaust — for emissions, leaks and noise
- fuel systems — for leaks
- vehicle structure — for rust and other structural damage in certain spots
How often you need a warrant
- Older cars — those registered before 2000 — need a warrant of fitness issued every six months.
- Vehicles registered after 2000 need a warrant once a year.
- New cars don’t need a warrant until three years after they are first registered. After that they need to be inspected annually.
Warrant of Fitness(external link) — NZTA
A warrant of fitness is a safety check. It may not show problems with other areas, eg engine, gearbox or clutch.
Servicing your car regularly helps identify problems early on. It will make your car last longer and saves money by stopping small jobs becoming serious. For example, replacing your brake pads is a minor job. But if left, it can lead to disc rotor damage — a much more expensive fix.
It is a good idea to have a service done at the same time as your WOF to spot any other problems.
How much you pay and what level of service you need depends on the make and model of your car. If your car has not been serviced for a while, it is a good idea to get a thorough check.
A basic service includes:
- oil and oil filter change
- fluid check
A more complete service — which costs more — may involve checking your:
- drive belt
- spark plugs
- fuel filter
After a service, your garage should flag:
- urgent fixes, eg a safety issue
- what needs fixing soon
- what to keep an eye on.
If you decide to change garages, give your service and warrant papers to the new garage.
Your vehicle handbook will outline the service schedule. If you don’t have a handbook, your mechanic will likely recommend a service every six months or 10,000km.
Avoid surprises. Ask the garage for a summary of the repairs they intend to do and the estimated cost. Get it in writing, if you can. Let them know they must not do any extra work without your approval.
Be aware, the garage may need to keep your car for longer than the number of labour hours on your estimate or quote. It's best take your car in when you don't urgently need it back.
After a service or WOF
If your mechanic says you need repairs, ask:
- Which are most urgent?
- What will happen if I don’t have them done?
- How long will it take?
- How much will it cost?
- Can I drive my car in the meantime?
- Is my car worth repairing?