Dear Tom and Ray:
For the past 11 years I have lived overseas, and I will be returning to the states in about 18 months. My trusted mechanics have all been run out of business, the country or both, and now I return home to retire, a stranger in a strange land, so to speak. How would you guys go about determining who runs a good shop? I know nothing about cars and am at the mercy of the mechanic, except in rare instances. How would one go about identifying an honest, skilled mechanic? -- Morgan
TOM: Word of mouth is really the best way to find someone good. And since "word of mouth" has now moved to the Internet, in the form of things like Craig's List, the Internet should be useful, too.
RAY: A few years ago, we started a referral place on our Web site where people could recommend great mechanics to each other. And it's worked very well.
TOM: It's called the Mechan-X-Files. You put in your ZIP code, specify how many miles from that ZIP code you're willing to go, and it spits out a list of nearby shops that have been recommended by other readers of our column and listeners to our radio show.
RAY: You get customer ratings on a bunch of issues like honesty, price, how they treat female car owners, and how they respond when they make mistakes. Then you can read specific comments by their customers.
TOM: So try the Mechan-X-Files, Morgan. It's at the top left corner of our home page, www.cartalk.com. And if others out there have a mechanic they really love, tell us about him or her at the Mechan-X-Files.