Don't wait until your car is on the blocks to find a mechanic. Doing your homework and developing a long term relationship with a service shop will help you avoid being rushed into a last minute decision.
"The best thing a consumer can do is to develop a good relationship with their mechanic that is going to help them to prevent problems," Angie's List owner Angie Hicks. "Find a mechanic and test them out on small things, oil changes, and just basic items so they can develop a comfort level and the mechanic can get to know the car. "
Once you have a mechanic you trust, you'll be more willing to heed their advice.
"The most important item that we would consider is the simplest one too and that is just getting your oil changed on a regular basis and we see it day in and day out," said automotive shop owner Kevin Beck. "People who are rigorous about it get it changed every 3-5 thousand miles versus the people that go longer intervals and we rip open, err pull open the engines and look inside you can see the difference from the people that do it often."
Make sure you're somewhat knowledgeable about your car.
"No one likes to hear this, but read the owner's manual for your car," said Hicks. "It's amazing what it can tell you about your car and that will also help you be more educated when you are talking to your mechanic. If they are recommending something that is counter to the manual it's a time for you to say wait, maybe I need a second opinion."
And get a written estimate before authorizing repairs. Request that all replaced parts be returned and insist on a detailed invoice of work done, including an itemized description of parts and labor charges.
Taking a used car to an independent mechanic prior to purchase is an important line of defense for consumers. A pre-purchase inspection can zero in on any problems.