Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Where to Service Your Car

The Digerati Life has an interesting post discussing costs of owning a car and in particular the costs of a recent maintenance service. Some of her points regarding financing (I don't), depreciation (I buy when the car is nearly fully depreciated) and insurance (no collision for me), I have discussed in the linked posts.

One point I have not discussed is car servicing. One of the mechanical engineers I work with does all his own service. I don't have the time nor patience to work on cars. My first car was a 1968 Impala with a straight 6 cylinder. There was so much space under the hood that I could literally sit beside the engine! Today's cars are so crowded under the hood that just doing any work requires removal of other components. I owned a 1998 Intrepid that was a pleasure to drive and had great interior room, but servicing it was a nightmare. The front end had to be removed to change the drive belt and a tire and wheel well had to be removed to change the battery!

So when choosing someone to service your car who do you turn to? Most people just use their new car dealership (since they buy new cars. they think that it is to their advantage to to this). But my experience with servicing at a car dealership has been less than stellar. The typical modus operandi of the dealerships here is to comb the car for every imperfection and then try to "sell" me on why these repairs are needed. Since I have some knowledge of cars, I typically know when they are bluffing and when the repair is really needed. But I have found that their tactics border on the high pressure technique's that we dread from the proverbial used car salesman. Typically, I have found that it will cost me twice what I was anticipating whenever I have used a dealership.

My strategy has been to seek out local car repair shops with a good mechanic in charge. The shop I use now gives me a free loaner whenever they work on my car. They advise me about repairs that might be needed but don't pressure me to have work done that day. For example, I was advised during the annual inspection that I would need new brakes soon. But the mechanic stated that I would need new rotors so I should drive the car an additional 5k miles before changing the brakes. In another situation, there was a leak in an air intake manifold that would cost $500 to replace, but they found a way to patch it that worked.

This is not a unique situation for me. I have had several mechanics in different States who are honest and provide good service at a reasonable price. I would recommend that you explore alternatives to dealerships.

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