Can You Trust Your Mechanic?
Don’t spend more than you need to on older-car maintenance. And be wary of those ‘free inspections’ when you go in for a recall.
Beware Recall Add-Ons
Car owners should take recalls seriously and have them performed at a dealership to ensure their vehicle’s safe operation. But owners should be wary of dealerships that will take advantage of the recall service to bamboozle customers with additional frightening-sounding, but unnecessary, repairs.
One Los Angeles Mini owner took her low-mileage 2006 Cooper S to her local BMW/Mini dealership for a recall. Upon returning her car, the mechanic informed her that the Mini needed more than $6,000 worth of other work—almost equaling the value of her car. Startled, she took her Mini to an independent mechanic, whose estimate was 76 percent lower—and who told her that most of the work was unnecessary.
The scams don’t just happen with unscrupulous dealers adding extra work during recall campaigns. A minor service can turn into a major hassle if a shady mechanic gets his way.
In the past, a typical car needed its oil changed every 3,000 miles. But modern cars can go much longer between services—and with modern synthetic lubricants, oil-change intervals can now stretch beyond 10,000 miles. The annual “tuneup” is a thing of the past because intervals for replacing spark plugs and oil and air filters have also been extended. That means fewer times a dealer gets to make money servicing your car.
Respect Routine Maintenance
If your car hasn’t reached the manufacturer’s suggested mileage for a service interval, or the item is outside the scope of routine maintenance, regard recommendations from your mechanic to replace those extra parts with skepticism, even suspicion.
Although the owner’s manual will tell you what each service interval entails, certain modern cars’ onboard computers will inform you if that period has changed based on your driving habits.
If your owner’s manual says you are at or past the recommended interval for, say, air filters, it makes sense to replace them. And if your car’s engine has a timing belt, you really don’t want to postpone that major service that should be performed between 60,000 and 105,000 miles.
Break Down the Breakdown
If a mechanic says your car isn’t running properly, you’re entitled to a simple explanation. In most cases, he or she should be able to explain the problem in detail, in terms that you can understand.
“Asking the right question is key,” says Ray Evernham, garage owner-turned-NASCAR crew chief. “You want a written estimate and an explanation. Sometimes just asking these questions keeps a shop from taking advantage of you.”
If the explanation doesn’t satisfy you, ask the mechanic to show you the worn part in question. If you still don’t like the answer, get a second opinion.
In the end, you can avoid headaches by using our DebugMyCar™ device to diagnose yourself your car, before ask for a mechanic expertise.