Using Angie’s List for Auto Service

Angies List Auto Service - Friendly Car Mechanic

Can you trust this guy?

One of my least favorite things to do in life is deal with my car.

Not because of the car itself.

Because of the people I have to deal with when it comes to buying or repairing cars.

Car salesmen and mechanics are two of the least trusted professions. I just have a hard time placing my full trust in them. It’s also possible that I have an unreasonable understanding of what it should cost to maintain a car past 100,000 miles.

So when our car’s maintenance light came on the other day, I prayed that it would just be an oil change needed.

My Recent Auto Service Experience

We have a 2002 Honda Accord. Love this car. I don’t really have a particular auto service center that I’m in love with though, so I decided to bring it to the dealership service center.

They have a reasonable price on oil changes and have a great area for me to work for the afternoon (free wifi, etc.). You see where my priorities are. 😉

I drive up, hand the keys to the service guy and ask him to give it an oil change and the ole’ 18 point inspection as well. I sit down for a nice afternoon of work and hope for the best with the car.

An hour later the service guy wants to talk. I see a fairly sizable list of things scribbled on his paperwork. “Oh no”, I think. Turns out the car need more than just the oil change. He reads off a list of expensive repairs. Here’s my abbreviated version:

  • Timing belt replacement – $815
  • Lower ball joint replacement – $350
  • Motor mount gasket crack – $180

So I tell the dealer service guy to give me a moment to think about it. I quickly hit up Google for the average cost of timing belt replacement in a Honda Accord. Yahoo! Answers has plenty of discussions (albeit most discussions are 3 or 4 years old) on this topic and prices range from $400 to $800.

Confused still, I call my brother-in-law who is a mechanic. He says that $815 is a bit high and he suggests going to another shop in town which happens to be the one shop I’ve had a disappointing experience with previously.

Frustrated, I table the decision for later and tell the dealer service guy to bring my car around. I’ll be taking my car home today and making a decision on the bigger repairs in the next few weeks.

Angie’s List to the Rescue…Sort Of

About that same time I run across a blog post from Ben of Money Smart Life. Ben’s just started using Angie’s List ( to find good local service providers. I seize upon Ben’s offer for a discounted membership to Angie’s List and sign up.

Angie’s List is fairly easy to navigate. I do some searching for “auto service” in my local area and I get several decent looking shops to choose from. The dealership service center I had just left actually has grade A reviews.

I decide to call two other shops and get their quote on the work:

  • Shop #1 tells me that they will call me back with a quote, but never do. They also tell me that you should never have to replace the lower ball joints on a Honda Accord.
  • Shop #2 tells me that timing belt replacements usually run $750, but that they would need to do the water pump as well.

At the same time I text one of my friends who also has a Honda Accord. He says he’s had the timing belt replaced on his and it cost him around $900 (which he said included some other stuff). This threw me for a bit of a curve because this friend has “a guy” that he goes to do all of his car repairs. I assumed the cost would have been significantly cheaper than the dealer.

So now I’m actually feeling pretty good about going back to the dealership for the repair. Mrs. PT mentions she has a coupon from the dealership in the town 10 miles away for $100 off timing belt and water pump replacement. I call them up and they say that the normal cost of the replacement is $850 and that they will honor the coupon, making the cost $750.

I like the idea of going to this dealership instead because of the whole lower ball joint thing. I check Angie’s List and they have a positive rating as well.

So, that’s where I’m at today. I’m at the Honda dealership service center typing this post and crossing my fingers for a quick and painless repair. Actually, the guy just came to visit with me and he tacked on another $350 for camshaft seal replacement. I have no way of knowing if this is necessary. I said yes, and I feel like a sucker. This is why I don’t like dealing with cars.

Using Angie’s List in Combination with Other Services

Anyway, if you’re going to pay for a service like Angie’s List, consider it a way to weed out the bad apples. They are not designed to help you find the absolute very best service provider. They are designed to show you a list of the very best candidates for you to choose from.

Additionally, they won’t help you determine what a fair price is for service. That’s a different decision and the best way to do that is to ask around (like I did with my friend) and consider using services like RepairPal and AutoMD (something I failed to do). By the way, the estimate for a timing belt and water pump replacement on RepairPal is $780. So it looks like I’m doing okay on price and I’m getting the quality that comes from a mechanic who works on these Accords everyday.

What about you? How do you find the best service and price for your auto repairs?

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About Philip Taylor, CPA

Philip Taylor, aka "PT", is a CPA, blogger, podcaster, husband, and father of three. PT is also the founder and CEO of the personal finance industry conference and trade show, FinCon. He created this website back in 2007 to share his advice on money, hold himself accountable (while paying off over $75k in debt), and to meet others passionate about moving toward financial independence. He uses Personal Capital to track his wealth. All the content on this blog is original and created or edited by PT.


  1. 1minutefinance says

    isnt angie’s list a combo of yellow pages and yelp put together? and super pages? I went on the site and some of the comments were not “real” to me. I read about your blog here too btw.

    Anyways, good and honest mechanics are hard to come by. So if you find a good one stick to them.

  2. Philip Taylor says

    Thanks for taking the time to share all of this, Kelly.

    I agree that there are plenty of solid mechanics out there. I just don’t know how to trust one over the other. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt. But at the end of the day, I’m still at their mercy.

    Transparency is part of the issue I think. In the example above, if the mechanic had shown me comps from other shops and part prices online from competitors and clearly stated labor rates then it would be better received.

    But they just spout out jargon and one big number. In my head it sounds like this:

    “It looks like you’re going to need a [blah, blah, blah] because your [blah, blah, blah] is [blah, blah, blah]. That’ll be $350.”

    I’m happy trading time for money if I can be assured I’m not being taken advantage of. I guess I need to get better at asking questions and being assured of what I’m paying for.

    Another part of the equation is my cheapness. I pretty much balk at the idea of spending more than the cost of an oil change to maintain my car. I know that’s not realistic, or fair to mechanics doing an honest job of trying to help me take care of my car.

    Good point about the look of the shop. I can think of one place in town that I’d never want to end up at just from the look of the place.

  3. Thanks for the tip Jen Lutz! I’ll check it out.

  4. I have been very unimpressed with Angie’s List. I haven’t found it to be reliable. And AAA’s list is worse than useless. Try the Car Talk website.

  5. Emily Guy Birken says

    I’m lucky enough to be married to a grease monkey who can repair pretty much anything on the car. The lack of a lift and a heated garage is the only thing that keeps him from being able to do everything for our cars. It’s a real blessing to have someone like this in my life, since I’m like you in feeling like mechanics are spouting gibberish at me. The other great thing is that he is the go to person among family and friends for questions like these. I have at least one friend who was saved from a potentially uber expensive problem because of J’s advice.

    If your brother-in-law is cool being used as a resource, he can probably help you suss out what’s real from what mechanics tell you.

  6. I do the repairs myself. You can order the factory service manuals through the dealer parts department or buy them online. I understand this isn’t practicle for everyone however. Maybe you can find a friend that is mechanically inclined that will do it for less.