Regular readers may have noticed that this is not a do-it-yourself advice column. It has been an attempt to smooth the way for you to get your car fixed by professionals. There is very little on modern cars that can be fixed by normal people. It takes abnormal people, like mechanics, who didn't listen when their mothers told them they should learn to type in high school.
Everybody, including me, is nervous about getting work done on a car by strangers. We know there is an inherent opportunity for fraud or incompetence, and we worry that we might be victimized by an unscrupulous operator. Even professional mechanics, if out of town, will get the feeling that their car's breakdown is leading to an emotional breakdown. A good working knowledge of mechanics helps one separate a factual diagnosis from B. S., but lacking the correct tools and test equipment, said mechanic has to trust someone else to bail him out, and get his family back on the road for their vacation. Sometimes a mechanic's spouse or friend calls from another city with a plea for help, because their car broke down. Unable to help because of time or distance restraints, the mechanic has to give advice on how to get it fixed by someone else. His method of choosing a place is the same as if he were the one who had the breakdown. His method of choosing is worthy of consideration. No, it's not a coin toss.
If a mechanic personally knows an operator in that town, he will recommend that operator. That operator, if unable to handle the problem, will recommend another place. These places can be trusted because of the personal connections involved. Nobody wants to disappoint a friend. If he doesn't know anyone in the business there, his options are the same as yours. Tight sphincter, sweaty palms, palpitations. The only place you can be sure knows how to fix the problem is the new car dealership for that model. However, you can expect to need another mortgage to pay the bill. The independent shops would charge less, but might be incompetent and/or dishonest, resulting in repeated breakdowns and/or overcharging.
You want a shop that is competent and honest. How can you tell? Forget Yellow Pages, or Google listings. The size of the ad only reflects how much the shop spends on advertising, not their competence. You need a word of mouth recommendation, from someone who knows. Try an auto parts store. Explain what you know about your problem to the clerk there, and see if he can recommend someone. Don't buy any parts from him, you want a repair shop. He deals with all of the local independent shops daily. He won't send you to a fly-by-night or shade tree guy. He will know who handles your kind of problem the best, and you can probably trust his opinion, because he knows you can come back and give him hell if you get ripped off.
That, of course is the secret to getting a recommendation from anybody. It's why "word of mouth" is so powerful. We only recommend people whom we believe will not disappoint our friends. Of course, if you simply stop someone on the street and ask for a mechanic, that person knows you can't find him again, so he might send you to his cousin Guido, who works from his house whenever he's laid off. Good luck with that. You'll regret it.
So for a synopsis: If you have lots of money and little time, go to a new car dealer. If you have little money and lots of time, try the high school vo-tech program. If you are somewhere in the middle, reread the above.