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Don't Get Punk'd When Hiring a Shop

Nine questions to ask before plunking down the cash

Staff Report
Jan 21, 2004 SHARE

We've all heard the horror stories of crooked shops taking advantage of both inexperienced and experienced enthusiasts. True, it can be difficult to tell friend from foe when you're hiring a shop, but there are some steps you can take to lessen this likelihood. Don't rely on fate or a magic 8 ball; the editors of Turbo magazine have come up with a quick checklist to help in that all-important shop selection. These nine questions and answers will give you some insight into the shop you're considering. Remember, our species has survived by acting on our instincts, so if something doesn't feel right, investigate further, or pull the plug and look elsewhere. Happy hunting.

When Closing The Deal
1. Can we come up with a game plan
so things go smoothly? Game Plan--Talk about your list of mods with the shop to get a feel of how well it's equipped to handle the job. It's a good idea to create a timeline for the project.

2. What parts can I get now that would help speed the process along?
Parts Acquisition--Part of the game plan should be parts acquisition. Find out what parts you can get before delivering the car. Also, check to see what O.E. parts need to be special ordered and get an ETA on them. Then adjust the delivery date of your car to the shop accordingly. This will minimize downtime for you and keep floor space open for the shop. Remember, time waiting for parts is time wasted.

3. When will my car be done?
Set Deadlines--With a better idea of what will transpire for the job, work with the shop to set deadlines. For a turbo conversion, agree to have the engine out by a certain date, machining and assembly by another, replacing engine and connected everything by another and tuning by another.

4. How much will this cost?
Payment Plan--The first three questions lead to this point. Payment plans are nothing new to subcontractor businesses like carpentry and room additions. Take the deadlines set forth in question three and the cost of the work and arrange to pay as you go along. This will keep the shop motivated to get your car done. If there is a hiccup, re-evaluate the deadline and adjust the timeline accordingly.

When Considering A Shop
5. Can I check out the back?
Inspect the Shop--You may be hit with the usual "my insurance doesn't allow it," but we have seen several shops open the doors. The size of the job usually impacts this decision. If you're turned down, move on to question six.

6. Can I talk to some of your previous customers?
Customer References--If you plan to spend a sizable chunk of change, it's logical to request customer references. Arrange to talk to the people and see their cars; don't go to a Web site for this info. The Internet is great, but all too often we've seen people who have no first-hand experience badmouthing shops and spreading lies. People feel they can say anything and not be held accountable and they act accordingly. Also, some forum Web sites are run by shops and that's called propaganda. The Web is a great way to get useful information. Just remember: Buyer beware.

7. Do you have a dyno?
On-Site Dyno--The chassis dyno is a critical tuning tool. If your job requires tuning, an on-site dyno is key. If the shop doesn't have a dyno, see if it has access to one for tuning. Get a vibe on how this question is answered because it can make or break more complex jobs.

8. What kind of cars have you worked on before?
Caliber of Cars--Shops become known for working on certain models or engines. Find out the specialty of the shop you're considering, or even some of the more recent models it's worked on. Each car/engine has its quirks and going with a shop that has superior knowledge of your car will cut down on the "we've never seen that before" comments, which are usually followed by a delay in finishing the job.

9. What crazy stuff have you done to cars?
Complexity of Work--Are you dealing with a muffler shop to perform a turbo conversion? Find out the craziest stuff the shop has done. Has it had cars published in magazines? What is the most wheel horsepower the shop has made with a certain engine? Insight gleaned here will allow you to ascertain the knowledge and experience of the shop.

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