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  Mechanical Feature

Putting Your Best Face Forward

Posted 1/5/2009
By Angie Kilbourne

The annual AutoInc. Top 10 Automotive Repair Web Sites give the industry something to cheer about.

AutoInc. Top 10 Automotive Repair Web SitesWe were astounded by the number of entries we received this year for the 11th annual Top 10 Automotive Repair Web Sites honors. When we realized how hard the job of choosing only 10 was going to be, well, it was certainly an event to celebrate.

This year, we added a new component to the competition: an entire panel of judges from different disciplines and walks of life. Because of the number of nominations, each Web site was evaluated by three judges. Our judges used set guidelines and a scoring sheet to evaluate specific features of each site uniformly.

Judges evaluated sites using the following criteria:

• First impression • Objective/purpose
• Visual design • Innovation
• Appearance • Credibility
• Navigation • Interactivity
• Consumer friendliness • Encouraging action
• Technical  

So, without further ado, let's look at the Class of 2009. (Sites are featured in no particular order.)

Euro Motorworks Inc., IndianapolisEuro Motorworks Inc., Indianapolis • euromotorworks.com
Clearly, when you cater to the owners of European vehicles, you'd better be able to deliver an outstanding service experience. Promoting itself as the "dealer alternative" for European and Lexus vehicles, Euro Motorworks' site is in the same class as many automakers.

Gloria Heath, Euro's vice president, told us that the online forms for estimates and appointments are extremely popular with her clients. She also said the client testimonials feature on the home page "is working for us by building confidence and trust before the client even walks in the door."

"Wow. This site is as classy as the cars this shop services," said one of our judges. "[The site is] visually beautiful and easy to navigate with all the information you could need at your fingertips."

Another judge pointed out the unique twist on staff bios provided on "The Crew" page. Writing in a more familiar style, each staffer's nickname and vehicle specialty is highlighted prominently. But each employee's special qualities and abilities aren't diminished by the writing style; in fact, it feels more like a comfortable conversation than a standard recitation of education, experience and hobbies.

Our judges also gave high marks for the great content: "Very informative site," another judge wrote. "Good use of buttons for newsletters, appointments [and] estimates."

 

Addison Auto Repair & Body Shop, DenverAddison Auto Repair & Body Shop, Denver • addisonauto.com
Pulling double-duty of mechanical and collision repair is never easy and presents its own challenges for delivering an effective Web design. Addison Auto Repair pulls it off beautifully, providing an intuitive and clear navigation bar that directs visitors right to the sections they're looking for.

Co-owner Brenda Addison told us that the site recently received an infusion of new content: "Lots of content has been added with the intent of educating the consumer - and not just selling our shop."

"This site had it all! Very clean design and interactive features," one judge wrote. "I particularly liked that customers can sign up for an electronic shop newsletter. The navigation is very sophisticated and very well-organized."

What really impressed our judges was the wealth of information available to visitors that was balanced with good graphics. First-time visitors get plenty of information about the shop's affiliations, history and staff qualifications right on the home page, and the appointment schedulers are right at the top, in a highly visible location on the page.

 

Roth & Miller CARSTAR Autobody, Portland, Ore.Roth & Miller CARSTAR Autobody, Portland, Ore. • rothmiller.com
Showing how much they care about their customers is important to Roth & Miller CARSTAR Autobody's owners; they have even included a section titled "Empathy" to talk about the emotional aspects of collision repair. Their "Expectations" section is another example that educates customers about working with insurers.

Visitors can also read the owners' embarrassing car stories and are encouraged to leave their own. "A nice site with good information," said one judge. "The owners' car stories add a personal touch to the site and the company."

Co-owner Camille Eber told us, "We receive the most comments from visitors on our History page; it covers from 1946 to present - more than 62 years. But I like that I have welcomed people in and invited them to get to know our family."

But, beyond the unique content, a site needs to be able to convey and communicate effectively with visitors: "A tasteful Web site that is professional, clean and very informative in a creative way," said another judge. "The Web site's features instill confidence in its customers and prospective customers. Testimonials are good, and the 'Just for Fun' section is ... well, fun."

 

Eason Collision Specialist, Claremore, Okla.Eason Collision Specialist, Claremore, Okla. • easoncollision.com
Attractive, informative and professional: These three words describe some of the first feelings you want a prospective customer to experience when they visit your site. Eason Collision Specialist offers several interactive points on its home page to engage visitors and keep them coming back.

"I thought the audio message from the owner was a nice touch and put a personal feeling to the site," said one judge. "Several interactive elements impressed me, including the ability to see the repair process of individual vehicles."

The virtual Shop Tour, though it took some judges a little time to load, was another point of interest from the judges: "An interesting and innovative way to illustrate the shop tour! It's a little slow, but it is worth the wait," said one.

Overall, the excellent content and professionally executed interactive sections won over our judges: "The features such as the before-and-after gallery, the ability to check on the repair status and the tour of the repair process are what make this a great site."

 

Mecklenburg Fleet & Automotive, Charlotte, N.C.Mecklenburg Fleet & Automotive, Charlotte, N.C. • mecklenburgfleet.com
Mecklenburg is one of three shops in this year's Top 10 that provides multiple services to the public. The shop's Web site ensures that visitors can find what they need with three large, red buttons near the top of every page that direct them to the appropriate section of interest: Auto Repair, Fleet Services and Body Shop.

"Good looking site," said one judge. "Home page kept me interested ... particularly liked the 'Top 10' list on the home page. Graphics are very professional."

Gene Reed, Mecklenburg's owner, told us the site was redesigned in July 2008 to integrate the multiple disciplines of the work and improve navigation: "Our customers love the site, and it has been bringing in the work!"

"Gorgeous," said another judge. "Easy navigation. Great
content. Love that the address and phone is on every page. Great job!"

 

Village Auto & Transmission, Roseville, Minn.Village Auto & Transmission, Roseville, Minn. • villageautoworks.com
Village Auto appears to have branding down to a science. The shop's well-organized, simple home page, striking graphics and emphasis on educating customers on its specialties won over our judges.

Owner Rich Fearing told us that his "classic" site serves a two-in-one purpose by promoting the shop's auto/transmission repair business and its Express Lube location. "We get lots of positive feedback from our clients who use the site."

"Very cool and unique site with a 'retro' kind of feel," said one judge. "The menu graphics are great! The pop-up menus for the testimonials and towing service are a nice touch."

"Retro artwork gives the site a neat look. Loved the appearance; [content] was organized well and was very easy to navigate. Informative section on transmissions, which is its specialty," added another.

 

Westside Auto Pros, Clive, IowaWestside Auto Pros, Clive, Iowa • westsideautopros.com
Personality is always a plus when you're trying to make a name online. Westside has it with its "Top 11" lists and interactive features for visitors.

"A very nice site - easy to navigate and I love the '11 ways to ...' and '11 things to ...' The lists give the site personality. They could expand on that idea for more promotions," commented one judge.

Content is educational but not a bit boring for the reader with headlines such as "Quit Dragging Your Feet!" and "Fuel-Saving Tips." Pages with great content such as FAQs and nitrogen tire-filling information educate readers and put them at ease with doing business with professionals.

Interactive features were the biggest hit, however. "I thought the 'Click to call me now' feature was very unique and offers a Web surfer the utmost convenience," added one judge.

 

Autohaus Import Service, Raleigh, N.C.Autohaus Import Service, Raleigh, N.C. • autohausimportservice.com
Flash, when done right and for the right reasons, provides a very professional look to a Web site. Autohaus knows that and doesn't overdo the bells-and-whistles. It simply provides visitors with an easy-to-navigate site that puts lots of information at their fingertips.

"A nicely laid out site with lots of good information," one judge told us.

Doug Rogers, Autohaus owner, said, "My Web site is my No. 1 source for new customers, next to referrals. [It] serves my European [vehicle] customers well: They find what they are looking for, and I have specific pages for each line I service."

The Testimonials section, with its scrolling marquee of numerous clients, made a big impression on judges. "Nice site overall," said one judge. "I thought the client testimonials section on each page was presented well. The tips were a welcomed addition."

"I liked the mix of text and graphics. The testimonials on the home page and elsewhere were informative and interesting," added another.

 

1st Class European Authorized Coachworks, Pompano Beach, Fla. 1st Class European Authorized Coachworks, Pompano Beach, Fla. • 1stclassauto.com
Keeping it simple for first-time visitors is the goal of any Web site. 1st Class presents a lot of information, but does it in an organized, simple manner that allows readers to easily find what they are looking for.

"Site was clean and refreshing to view," said one judge. "Good use of right-side links for info if I wanted some."

Specialty services, such as motorcycle collision repairs, exotic vehicle transport, fleet services, private property towing and impound services are highlighted for maximum visibility to viewers and explained completely. Vehicle badging on each page alerts visitors to the shop's specialty in repairing high-end vehicles such as Jaguar, Ferrari and Aston Martin.

"A very nice, clean site that's just easy to navigate," said one judge. Enough said!


Hawthorne Auto Clinic, Portland, Ore.Hawthorne Auto Clinic, Portland, Ore. • hawthorneauto.com
One look at the home page of Hawthorne Auto Clinic's Web site tells you that community means a lot to this group. From educating customers about global warming and carbon footprints, to promoting the shop's outdoor "Share the Road" mural and local charities, Hawthorne owners strive to remain in harmony with the rest of the urban landscape.

"Clearly a 'green' shop, and [provides] great credibility links," said one judge.

"Has good info throughout the site. It's nice to see them list a Code of Ethics in its 'Our Promise' section," added another. "Fuel-saving tips are good and the 'Bella Sez' newsletter is creative and fun. They consistently try to publish it so it shows their commitment to educating their customers."

"This site was quite friendly and thorough in everything it is trying to get out to the consumer," said another judge. "The presentation of the staff (including Bella!) was impressive as well. Very informative site. I would consider this business if I were needing repairs."

To be considered for AutoInc.'s Top 10 Web sites in 2010, please click here.

 

Meet Our Judges
Editors note: ASA and the AutoInc. staff would like to thank this year's judges for their time and feedback on this project.

Each of our judges could be considered a potential new customer for the nominated repair shops. None have any experience working at a shop; however, some have experience with Web design and production.

Let's take a minute to introduce them:

Our first judge is a single mom who works in the medical field in the northeast United States. She has no ties to the automotive industry, nor does she have any background in Web design.

Our second judge is a married Gen-Xer with a photojournalism degree and Web design background. He hails from North Texas.

The third judge is a married print journalism professional with two children. Originally from the Midwest, she and her family reside in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Our next judge is the director of news with a privately held electronic/digital publishing company. A journalism major, he has also written for the automotive industry.

Our fifth judge is a freelance automotive journalist who has written for both the mechanical and collision sectors for both print and online publications.

Our final judge is a print and online editor working within the automotive industry. She also has experience in Web design and digital publishing.

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