For most of us, having reliable transportation isn’t optional. It’s critical. You need a working vehicle to get to and from work — and to a host of other important places — on a regular basis. When your car breaks down, you simply have to get it fixed.
But what about those times when you take your car in for a simple oil change, and the mechanic comes back with an unexpected list of five more recommended repairs? How do you know which car repairs and maintenance are really necessary — and which ones need to be done right now?
Postponing repairs or maintenance because of budget concerns is not uncommon, and there are some repairs that can be delayed with minimal impact to your car. But in many cases, delaying service can actually end up costing you much more down the road. A small repair now can save you from having to make a bigger, more expensive repair later.
Here are five tips to help you ask the right questions and decide which recommended car repairs are really urgent.
#1: Find a repair shop you trust.
The best thing you can do for your car — and for your wallet — is to find a trustworthy, full-service repair shop and build a long-term relationship with them over the lifetime of your vehicle. This starts with preventative, routine maintenance like filter replacements and oil changes. That way, when something does go wrong with your car, you can trust them to help you prioritize repairs based on what is most necessary at the time.
Ask friends and family for recommendations and choose a shop that makes you feel comfortable. It’s important to form a relationship with a shop and technician before you need major repairs. You don’t want to be rushed into choosing a mechanic at the last minute when you are in the middle of an emergency.
#2: Don’t ignore preventative maintenance.
Regular, preventative maintenance is critically important. Many of the parts and systems on your car are connected, and if you ignore maintenance on one part, it could cause a whole system to fail later.
Don’t neglect the basics. Have your oil changed and tire pressure checked regularly and have scheduled inspections, so your mechanic can catch serious issues early. Not only can skipping regular maintenance lead to expensive breakdowns, it can also invalidate your vehicle’s warranty in some cases.
#3: Follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule.
Ask for a complete inspection of your vehicle and a copy of the printed maintenance schedule for all systems and services. Compare the shop’s maintenance schedule with what your manufacturer recommends. Reputable shops should be able to show you the inspection report, so you can check it against the repairs they say you need.
If a shop recommends a service beyond what the manufacturer recommends, ask them to explain why. Your shop should also be able to highlight what is important to maintain over time, so you can spread out repairs to fit within your budget.
#4: Always get a cost estimate before repairs or service.
Before getting any work done, always ask for a written estimate. The estimate should include a description of the necessary repairs, what parts are needed and the anticipated labor charges. Also make sure the estimate states that the shop will contact you for approval before doing any work exceeding a specified amount. (Many state laws actually require this.)
Ask your mechanic if the parts will be new (made to the original manufacturer’s specifications) or if they are remanufactured, rebuilt or reconditioned. Also, many manufacturers offer a warranty to cover replacement parts, but they may not warranty the labor to install them. Be sure to ask what's included.
Remember, a full replacement isn’t always the best — or the most cost-effective — option. A skilled shop can sometimes provide a custom replacement that keeps you from having to fully replace an expensive system.
#5: Compare prices on repairs.
Ask the shop how its pricing works. Sometimes, there is a flat rate for labor on auto repairs; it's based on an estimate of how long it will take to complete the repair. Other shops charge based on the actual time the technician works on the repair.
If extensive or complicated repairs are recommended — or if you have questions they can't answer about the proposed work or repairs — consider getting a second opinion. Also ask if there is a diagnostic charge if you decide to have the work done somewhere else. It is not unusual for a repair shop to charge for diagnostic time.
After you have repairs done on your car, always request a complete report describing the work that was done and a list of each repair, the parts supplied, the cost of each part and all related labor charges.
To learn more about your vehicle’s recommended maintenance schedule or to receive a free estimate on repairs, visit an experienced technician at one of Rainbow Muffler & Brake's six Northeast Ohio auto repair shops today.