The time to find a good mechanic is not when your car breaks down, or after an accident. In those cases, you'll be pressed for time and may be too stressed out to do the research and make a good decision.
So the time is now, to think about searching for someone you can trust with your car.
Start by asking friends and neighbors for their input. Where do they take their cars for service and repairs? How long have they gone there? What type of relationship do they have with the mechanics there? Would they recommend them? Why or why not? If the same business is mentioned more than once, give that one serious consideration.
Do a drive-by. Does the location look professional? You can get a pretty good feel for the type of business by scoping the place out. Does the lot have a lot of cars parked haphazardly, or does it seem neat and orderly?
Check credentials. If you have a service station in mind, consult the Better Business Bureau or AAA for their ratings and certifications, and to look for complaints. Also check to see whether mechanics are ASE certified (National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence). AAA also has an Approved Auto Repair Network to help you narrow down the field.
Don't be shy about interviewing prospective mechanics. Wondering what questions to ask? Find out about labor rates, pricing policies, the source of parts used, and whether parts and labor are warrantied.
If you've narrowed it down to two or three mechanics, call each to get a quote on the same repair, and compare their prices.
Before you have a major repair done at a new service station, have a small repair or scheduled maintenance done. When you see how they handle your oil change or tire rotation, you'll get a feel for their skill and professionalism.
And you should always feel comfortable getting a second opinion, especially when considering major work or repairs. Ask the mechanic to call you with the diagnosis is before he performs the work, and how much the work would cost. Then take the car to another shop, ask them whether they can confirm the diagnosis, and find out what they would charge.