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GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - Has the winter taken its toll on your car? You have options.

Twin Cities Consumers' CHECKBOOK magazine has evaluated 329 local repair shops by collecting nearly 9,000 consumer reviews, checking complaint files at consumer agencies, and performing more than 1,300 undercover price checks.

Key findings from CHECKBOOK's report include:

• The Twin Cities area is home to many top quality auto repair shops. In fact, 113 of the 329 shops evaluated were rated "superior" for the overall quality of their work by 90 percent or more of their surveyed customers.

• But there are plenty of shops that left consumers wishing they'd steered in a different direction: 31 of the shops CHECKBOOK evaluated were rated "inferior" for the overall quality of their service by at least 20 percent of their surveyed customers.

• CHECKBOOK found no relationship between the prices shops charge and the quality of their work. There are many top-quality, low-priced shops in the area.

• Shops operated by non-dealers had lower prices and were more likely to satisfy customers than new-car-dealer shops. Non-dealers were rated "superior" for "overall performance" on average by 83 percent of their surveyed customers, while dealers received such favorable ratings from only 66 percent of their surveyed customers.

CHECKBOOK also uncovered dramatic cost differences.

• To replace the water pump on a 2007 Toyota Camry XLE, prices quoted to CHECKBOOK's mystery shoppers ranged from $546 to $980, with an average price of $708.

• To replace the right front axle assembly on a 2010 Volkswagen Jetta SE/SEL, prices ranged from $275 to $680, with an average price of $486.

• To replace the alternator on a 2007 Dodge Caliber SXT, prices ranged from $484 to $781, with an average price of $592.

• To replace the front wheel brake pads and rotors on a 2009 Nissan Maxima 3.5 S, prices ranged from $333 to $556, with an average price of $424.

• Labor rates ranged from $60 to $150 per hour.

CHECKBOOK recommends consumers do the following to help improve auto repair results:

• Write down a detailed description of the car's symptoms, give a copy to the shop, and keep a copy.

• If possible, talk directly to the repair technician who will be working on the car.

• Either get a written estimate in advance or write on the repair ticket that no work is to be done without the customer's approval based on a written estimate.

Through special arrangement with nonprofit Twin Cities Consumers' CHECKBOOK, KARE11 viewers can access CHECKBOOK's ratings of 329 local auto repair shops without a subscription until Thursday May 8, and can view CHECKBOOK's advice indefinitely :http://www.checkbook.org/kare/auto

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