Cheryl hung up the phone and thought about what she should do. She wasn’t sure the woman from the repair shop was giving her the right information. Did she really need to have all that work done? Struts, shocks, control arms, an alignment and tires? It seemed excessive.
She called her husband. They decided they should call Uncle Billy who does a lot of his own work in his driveway. She trusted his advice about cars.
This experience was so much like all the others. She was hoping this shop would be different – the woman that answered the phone seemed nice enough. It’s for this reason that she rarely went back to the same repair shop more than once or twice. They seemed to want to sell her more than what she really needed.
Based on the advice of her uncle, Cheryl called the shop back and approved tires and an alignment – nothing more. After all, that’s why she went to the shop in the first place. Her husband noticed that her tires were wearing unevenly and based on Uncle Billy’s advice, he told her to get new tires and an alignment.
Maybe the shop was trying to upsell work that didn’t need to be done. Or maybe the work was legitimate but they failed to build trust with Cheryl in their interactions with her, leaving her questioning their recommendations.
Maybe Uncle Billy was right. Or maybe Cheryl wasn’t able to relay the information accurately between her family and the shop with her limited knowledge about cars.
Having a trusting relationship with your mechanic is important in being able to make wise decisions about your vehicle. If you don’t have trust, first and foremost, then how are you going to feel confident in the advice they are giving you?
2. Don’t focus on price when looking for a shop. Rather, focus on the value of the work to get the most out of each dollar. Read more…
3. Decide what kind of service you want from the shop. Expectations should be set from the beginning. This includes your expectations of them and their expectations of you. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Read more…
4. Talk to the new shop about why you are uneasy. What past experiences cause you to be leary? Allow them to address your concerns.
5. Ask questions! Cheryl could ask:
“Is the failure visible? Can I see it?” (sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t. In the example of the struts, control arms, and tires, failures will often be visible.)
“What happens if I wait on this repair?”
“What are the functions of these parts?”
6. Go back to the same shop for all of your vehicle’s needs. Relationships take time to cultivate. If you hop from shop to shop, you don’t get the chance to get to know them and let them show you that they care. If you are uneasy the first time (especially if you have had bad experiences in the past), that’s ok. Go back a few times and see if they are consistent in their work and the way they treat you.
How will you benefit from this relationship?
Aside from gaining a level of comfort when you bring your vehicle in for service, there is value in your mechanic having a history of the vehicle. If he knows what’s been done in the past he will be better able to communicate with you about what needs to be done in the future.
You can have a conversation about maintenance due and he can help you make sure you are getting the right maintenance at the right time. For example, he’ll have a record of your last oil change, your last tire rotation, and your last coolant exchange.
This is why having regular inspections at the same shop is important. He’ll be able to see parts that are beginning to fail and, if it’s not urgent to repair them right away, he will know to check it down the road and let you know when it is time before it leaves you with a big surprise. Inspections also help you to plan financially for future maintenance and repairs. When you aren’t surprised by maintenance and repairs due, you are able to trust that you are being given accurate information.
Cheryl shouldn’t have to rely on Uncle Billy to help her make wise decisions regarding her vehicle. If she had a trusting relationship with one shop she would be able to have a more confident conversation with them and trust them to help her care for her vehicle well.
It’s common to be uneasy about having your vehicle serviced. Shop practices vary widely so it’s hard to know what to expect. Not surprisingly, many people have their guard up. With too many negative experiences you can lose hope. Maybe you expect “the list” or pressure tactics. Maybe you assume that no-one will look out for you so you must look out for yourself. Maybe you’d be relieved just to find a shop that will find and fix the problem the first time, charge fairly, and treat you well.
We all use our past experiences and current desires to decide what paths we take toward a solution. This includes auto service. Automotive service paths can be short and effective or long, winding, and tiresome. Whether it’s home sweet home, feeling at home at work, or feeling at home with another person, there’s always a path that got you “home”.
Jim and Jade are preparing to take their children to visit Grandma and Grandpa (a four-hour drive) over the week of Thanksgiving. Their 2005 Honda Odyssey has been trustworthy for around-town driving and the occasional weekend trip. They’ve done a fairly good job of keeping up on maintenance and repairs amidst their busy schedules. However, they’re not quite sure the vehicle is ready for a long road trip and they know it’s due to be checked. On Friday, a week before they need to leave, they call their auto repair shop to schedule that pre-trip inspection for peace of mind. Jim dials the phone. As usual, he hears Tina’s friendly voice on the other end. “Tina, hi, I would like to schedule the Odyssey for a pre-trip check. We’re planning to head out of town on Friday. Can I have the vehicle looked over and get the oil changed while it’s there?” Tina responds, “I can get you on the schedule for Wednesday morning, Jim! You’re welcome to drop off in the morning and pick up in the evening if all we’re doing is inspecting the vehicle and changing the oil. However, I want to be sure you are aware that if the inspection turns up any concerns, we may need a few days to address them,” Tina offers. “If it’s all simple, we’ll have it done the next day. If we have to special order parts or do a major repair, it may be a few days.”
This is a pretty normal scenario for this repair shop. They are reputable and they value their relationships with their clients, just like they have with Jim and Jade. They want them to know what to expect and be comfortable before they make the effort to drop off the vehicle.
“Ok, yeah. Let’s schedule for Wednesday, then,” replies Jim, feeling good that there won’t be anything major to be concerned about.
Jim and Jade drop off the vehicle at 8 am on the Wednesday before their trip. Per Jim’s main concerns, the vehicle is inspected and the front struts are found leaking. For safety’s sake, now is the time to replace them. Jim is notified of the problem. “How urgent is this?” he asks after Tina explains. “It’s definitely a safety concern. If it were our Mom’s car, we wouldn’t want her to take it on a trip without attending to it first. Those struts are a crucial component to the vehicle handling safely at high speeds in any demanding situations. For example, anything that might require you to get hard on the brakes or swerve quickly
“Ok, how much and how long?” Jim asks.
Tina discusses the budget estimate and time-frame. The struts are on special order, 2 business days away. This means the repair would be done on Friday – the day they were planning to leave on their trip. The shop can complete the work by the end of the day, but Jim and Jade made plans to leave early in the morning. So, from the time Jim picked up the phone to the time they would be able to pick up their vehicle, nine days (including the weekend) elapse until their vehicle would be ready to pick up, and they have a conflict with their desired departure time.
Now Jim and Jade are stressed. Do they take the vehicle on the trip and risk waiting to repair this safety concern when they get back? Do they rent a vehicle for their trip, adding to the cost of their travel budget?
About 3 weeks earlier, Larry and Louise are getting ready to visit their grandchildren on Thanksgiving. Louise calls to have their 2010 Toyota Corolla inspected and have some minor maintenance taken care of. Louise tells Tina that one of their main concerns is that in the past couple of weeks the engine has barely started a couple times. The shop is in a busy season so Tina schedules them for four days later.
As it turns out, the alternator is beginning to fail, and the resulting low battery charge has barely been adequate to start the engine. Not wanting any further trouble, or getting stuck 3 hours away at their daughter’s house, Louis and Larry approve the repair.
They have two excellent options for high-quality alternators, but the lower cost option is a two day special order. They take this option and save some money. Two days later, the alternator arrives late in the business day and is replaced the next day.
All-in-all, from the day Louise picked up the phone to the day they picked it up from the shop, it took nine days (including the weekend). This gave them plenty of time to spare before their trip.
A reputable repair shop will often be scheduled at least 3-5 days out, sometimes more during busy periods as the holidays approach. Depending on the service needed, several days can elapse (in rare cases a couple of weeks) between the first phone call, a committed slot in the schedule, finding the source of the concern, preparing an estimate, receiving parts, and completing the repair. The shop, being reputable, will take the time to confirm the root cause and repair it the right way the first time. After all, you don’t want the issue to resurface while you are on your trip.
Even if you aren’t much of a planner, it is wise to think ahead when preparing your vehicle for a trip. We don’t like people to feel stressed with a tight timeline before they absolutely need the vehicle. We are also cautious about letting a vehicle with a safety or reliability concern leave our shop. While it is the choice of the vehicle owner, we will offer a litmus test – would we encourage our mother to drive the vehicle in this condition? If the answer is no, then we will encourage you to take care of the issue while the vehicle is here. We want the best for you, your family, and the people driving around you. We want you to have a safe and enjoyable holiday!
“I avoid bringing my car to the repair shop until it’s screaming at me so loud that I can’t ignore it,” commented a brand new client. This isn’t an uncommon mindset among vehicle owners – especially those of “older” vehicles with “some mileage” and a tight budget.
“Why worry if there’s no real way to plan for these unexpected costs?,” many people think.
We helped change the mindset of this client, to their benefit. A proactive, thought-out, budget- honoring approach to vehicle maintenance and repair is a win-win for the client and the repair shop. You can reduce the stress of finding that time and money to address symptoms and surprises. You can catch problems before they get worse or strand you. You can set aside a vehicle ownership budget.
You shouldn’t have to worry about unexpected costs, because you can have a reasonable idea of what you need to save each month to keep your vehicle in a safe and reliable condition. With this money set aside and a proactive plan for repair and maintenance, you can reduce your visits to 2-3 times each year coinciding with oil changes and other necessary maintenance.
How Do I Find My Vehicle’s Average Monthly Cost?
We regularly walk clients through a process of planning out current and upcoming needs in order to create a budget plan. Additionally – and this is key – with a repair and maintenance history, we can formulate a vehicle ownership cost analysis. With the cost analysis, paired with a budget for upcoming needs, we have been able to help vehicle owners keep their list of needs low, reduce their average monthly expenses, and help them set a realistic budget to keep their vehicle safe and reliable. This reduces surprises and their unexpected costs for repairs and maintenance.
A basic explanation of this cost analysis service is that we calculate your total expenses for maintenance and repairs for as long as we’ve serviced your vehicle. We can show you what your average monthly cost has been and help you plan to maintain or reduce that average. This is a benefit for clients who come to us for all of their vehicle’s needs. By having a record of what was done when and how much you paid, we can better advise you on how to budget for the future.
The spreadsheet, pictured above, helps us calculate your vehicle’s average cost to the month. We can look at the vehicle’s trends over years, months, and miles to tell the client if the vehicle’s average cost is reasonable, better, or worse. We can also note an increase in the cost of the vehicle’s needs and advise a client when it’s time to look for a different vehicle. For example, in 2020 the average monthly car payment is about $550 for a new car to $390 for a used car per month, not including interest or maintenance and repairs. The average monthly cost for a paid-off used vehicle should be around $120-$180 if a proactive approach is taken for maintenance and repairs. Over the course of 5 years, that is a difference of $22,200.
Why Should I Consider A Cost Analysis?
We have clients, a newly wed husband and wife, who bought a used vehicle (their only vehicle at the time). It wasn’t in great shape and they needed to put a lot of tender loving care into it for the first year or so. In the third year of their owning the vehicle we did a cost analysis. We found that their average monthly cost went from $200 to $75. They were able to decrease their spending by being proactive in their maintenance and repairs and continue to reap the benefits of increased vehicle reliability and fewer surprises.
How did we guide them in this process? We did a comprehensive inspection of the vehicle when they first bought it and gave them a list of everything they needed to know about the vehicle’s condition. We helped them make a plan to attack prioritized maintenance and repairs while working within their budget. They did a great job of putting away as much of their income as possible to get on top of maintenance and repairs. We saw the vehicle a lot at first, but as they worked down their list, we began seeing it less and less.
We’ve recently talked with them about doing a second inspection. This will confirm the status of the “keep an eye on this” items from their original list and help us continue to help them keep their needs low.
Once the needs on this vehicle subsided, they didn’t reduce their budget for vehicle repair. They kept putting money away as before, but instead of investing it all in more repairs – because there weren’t many – they were able to use it to buy a second vehicle.
If the couple continues to maintain their two vehicles well and they continue to put money away, when it’s time to move on, they will have funds set aside for a replacement vehicle.
When Do I Just Replace The Vehicle?
Many people get frustrated with a string of high dollar repairs and decide to just sell the vehicle and get into something a little newer and with a few less miles. Or, they may see that their odometer is getting up there and think that they will be proactive and replace the vehicle before too many “big” expenses come along. Neither of these situations are generally based on actual numbers, but rather misconceptions about the depreciating value of a vehicle, a “feeling” about their vehicle, or stress over their financial situation.
First of all, we’ve seen vehicles get to 300k miles or more and still be cost-effective to keep. . Mileage alone is not an indicator for the average cost to maintain a vehicle. Additionally, a few bigger, more costly repairs, does not mean that the vehicle is in poor condition. Many times, those investments in higher cost repairs (such as major engine work, for example) are less than replacing the vehicle and affords a second life for what has otherwise been a safe and reliable vehicle. Cars and trucks wear down over time, but if well maintained, are fine tuned machines that can be safe and reliable for many years and thousands of miles.
So, if age, mileage, and a momentary increase in repair costs don’t make your vehicle a candidate for replacement, what does? The answer lies in your cost of ownership.
First, let’s look at what a new or new-to-you vehicle would cost:
For a quality used vehicle, you should plan, at minimum,$5,000 – $7,000 in total expenses. This involves several factors. For example:
You purchase a used vehicle for$3,000 – $5,000 (this is generally the low-mid purchase price for a reliable used vehicle)
The fee for a thorough pre-purchase inspection (helps you to budget maintenance and repairs in the first year or so). Yes, paying a fee for this inspection will help ensure a thorough and detailed result. You generally get what you pay for.
Plus about $2,000-$3,000 for repairs in the first year (depending on the vehicle’s condition)
This is your initial investment, but costs don’t end here. However, if you are proactive, they can certainly go down over time.
A financed new or low-mileage vehicle
Total of your monthly payment
Plus maintenance and repairs
The question is, are you able to confidently plan your vehicle’s financial needs for less than it costs to purchase or finance a new(er) vehicle in addition to inevitable maintenance and repairs? The answer to that question is our litmus test for clients who are considering replacing their vehicle. The bottom line is: What will it cost you to replace what you have with something that is just as reliable or better?
If you can maintain a safe and reliable vehicle for less than it would cost to replace your vehicle, including maintaining the replacement vehicle’s condition, then it makes the most financial sense to keep your vehicle.
If your cost of ownership has increased to the level that it is about the same cost or higher than purchasing a quality used vehicle or financing a new or used vehicle, plus maintenance and repairs, then it is time to move on. This should not be based on, “I feel like my vehicle ownership costs are too much,” but rather, “I’ve looked at the numbers and the costs are higher than they should be.” Start the process of replacing your vehicle.
Now, there is the case where your vehicle just isn’t working for you anymore (and, be honest with yourself, not just because you are bored of the vehicle). Maybe you have a Toyota Corolla but you have child #3 on the way and you need to upgrade to a bigger vehicle. Or, you have a Ford Explorer but it’s just you and all you need your vehicle for is getting around town and maybe a road trip here and there. Andrew would say, “Just get a Corolla!” Maybe buy it from the family upgrading to a bigger vehicle (ha ha).
There are times when you need to move on if the type of vehicle you have just isn’t serving you anymore. If you have a trustworthy mechanic that is knowledgeable about a variety of makes and models, they may be able to direct you to a make and model that will serve you well in your season of life. If you haven’t built a relationship with a trustworthy mechanic, now is the time to find one! Ask friends and family if they have someone they would strongly recommend. If you are in Central Florida, we would be happy for you to give us a ring!
The couple I mentioned above had a monthly cost of ownership that was slightly less than if they were to own a vehicle under a lease or payment plan. As they proactively attended to it’s needs, they positioned themselves to a monthly cost significantly lower than financing a vehicle. They did two things right –
After we earned their trust over time they looked to us (the professionals) to help plan for repairs and maintenance in a timely manner.
They were proactive in addressing those needs AND in saving for future maintenance, repairs, and funding for their next vehicle.
If you are like me, you find budgeting to be stressful – making sure you have allocated your income in the wisest way for you/your family with enough cushion for surprises. The tighter your budget, the more difficult it is to plan for “the unknown.” However, if you have a good mechanic who gives reliable input in a way that you value and understand, this can take you a long way. In addition, if you can work with that auto repair shop to evaluate your cost of ownership and have a thorough inspection of your vehicle so that you know what your upcoming needs are, you will have so much more confidence in the money you are saving and where the money is going when it comes time for maintenance and repairs.
When I see your social media posts recounting horrible vehicle repair experiences, where you’re sure they overcharged you for a problem they didn’t even fix, I feel your anger and disappointment.
When I hear you say, “I don’t like bringing my car to the mechanic because I don’t know when they are taking advantage of me,” I cringe.
When you tell me that the repair shop was pressuring you to approve a repair and you weren’t sure you really needed it, but now you don’t know what to do. I don’t blame you for shedding tears over it.
When you say, “I don’t like going to the auto repair shop because I feel like they treat me differently because I’m a woman,” it really frustrates me to hear that.
Ladies, we should not be having these experiences. We should certainly not be having them just because we are women. We should not be worried about being overcharged, about paying for an unnecessary repair, or being taken advantage of because we are women. We should not put our wallet, our safety, or the safety of our family in a compromising position because auto repair is a man’s world and we are women. We should not be broken down on the side of the road because, while we knew something wasn’t quite right, we dreaded bringing the vehicle in to be looked over. It’s uncalled for.
Ladies, you deserve respect by everyone – including the man (or woman) who is helping you keep your vehicle safe and reliable.
Men, women deserve your respect. So, respect her. Even if you don’t know her, respect her, You might be the only man in her life that has ever shown her what a gentleman is.
Before becoming a mechanic’s wife, that was me. I was that woman who called Dad every time her car made a noise because she was scared and didn’t know what to do. I was that woman who handed her cell phone over to the mechanic, daddy on the other end, because she couldn’t understand what he was talking about. Why must the mechanic speak Man? Why can’t he just speak Human? I’m grateful to my dad for filling the gap between me and the auto repair shop, but do you know what? My dad isn’t a mechanic. He worked in insurance sales. He may have tinkered with cars in the driveway here and there in the 1970’s, but when it came to auto repair, he mainly relied on life experience.
Now that I am a mechanic’s wife, I have a different perspective. I have the perspective that no one should ever feel like they are being overcharged, taken advantage of, or talked over, under, or down to.
Women – while you are the most vulnerable to feeling this way, you are not alone. A lot of men whose father’s didn’t tinker in the driveway with them aren’t confident in understanding mechanic talk. Even if they did have those kinds of father’s, they may have learned a thing or two that is incorrect. Whether you are a man or woman or teenager who’s just gotten their driver’s license and first car, you should be treated right by your mechanic.You should be and you can be.
Ladies, stop waiting until you feel like your vehicle is going to break down before you finally relent and start typing “auto repair near me” into Google. The right man is out there waiting to treat you and your vehicle right. Don’t wait until your car is about to give up on you. That’s like being in labor and not going to the hospital or birthing center until you are ready to push. You don’t want to have that baby in the passenger seat of a car! The doctor or midwife wants to walk with you throughout the process of your pregnancy. They want to labor with you from the start – not just when you are ready to push. Then, all you have to focus on is your beautiful family.
There’s a mechanic out there ready to use plain English, to take the time necessary to discuss your options until you understand what is happening with your vehicle.
There’s a mechanic who’s not interested in just telling you what’s wrong, he will gladly show you.
There’s a mechanic who wants to use his expertise, time, and resources to serve you to his fullest.
There’s an auto repair shop who will give you a clear honest answer about what is wrong with your vehicle, a reliable budget estimate of the cost of repair, and honest advice about how long they would or wouldn’t let their mom drive a car in that condition.
In general, the auto repair industry has a bad reputation for treating customers poorly, not communicating well, issuing bills that don’t make sense, and not fixing the problem right the first time. Auto repair is a rough industry (I can tell you honestly from both sides), but I know that there are shops out there ready to build a relationship with you. Look for one with honest communication, quality-focused automotive repair, fairness in practice, and kindness in action. You don’t deserve anything less than that.
You matter and your vehicle matters because you need to get to work, school, church, soccer practice or the retirement home knowing that you can get there safely and reliably. You should be able to look into the face of your mother, husband, child, and friend with a smile because you know that you and your family have been cared for.
It’s been a month, now, since the U.S. President declared a national emergency due to COVID-19. Many of us have been confined to our home since then. More recently, we are required to stay home aside from essential work or errands. That means, we’re not driving as much. I can’t even remember the last time I got gas for my car (Gas prices?!!). Just because you aren’t driving your vehicle, doesn’t mean you don’t need to keep up with it’s care…or maybe because you aren’t driving your vehicle that’s all the more reason to attend to it.
There are several opportunities to get on top of your vehicle’s needs and some of them don’t even cost a single penny.
Taking the time to educate yourself about your vehicle and how to maximize your investment probably isn’t high on your priority list when your life is busy with work, school, kids and just life in general. In our present circumstances, however, why not set aside some time?
Like many of you, whatever work projects you had going on before the COVID-19 crisis have been turned on their head. My goal this year was to facilitate a series of seminars about vehicle ownership to equip people for making confident decisions in keeping their vehicle safe and reliable. Now that life has become virtual, I jumped on the bandwagon and reformatted my seminars into a Facebook Live series. I hope you take the time to join me!
Taking control of your vehicle’s maintenance and repair budget
April 4, 2020
Session 1: Can you really budget for repairs and maintenance? (Watch it now!)
Session 2: Demonstration: DIY maintenance with Andrew and Arthur (Watch it now!)
To receive regular updates on more upcoming seminars and other helpful information, please like our Facebook page, @Marinelli Auto Service.
Make A Plan
Do you check your engine oil, coolant, power steering fluid, and windshield washer fluid on a regular basis? Do you regularly check your tire pressure? What about your windshield wipers? The more familiar you are with your vehicle based on its basic health, the more likely you are going to be invested in keeping on top of keeping it that way.
Focus on Prevention
The more you know about your vehicle, the better you are prepared to take measures to prevent nasty surprises and set a practical and affordable budget for maintenance and repairs.
When was the last time you had a really thorough inspection on your vehicle? Do you have a comprehensive list of your vehicle’s current, upcoming, and future needs with an understanding of their benefit to your vehicle’s safety and reliability? If so, then you are prepared to prevent your vehicle’s needs from being urgent and likely more costly than if you waited until components start to fail.
By working with your mechanic to compile this information and talk through what decisions you need to make about maintenance, repairs, and your budget, you can save yourself a lot of worry, time and money. If you haven’t done this – or maybe it’s just been a while – or you don’t know where to start, please reach out and we’ll be happy to help you begin this process.
Having a plan in place for maintaining your vehicle is only beneficial if you act on it. Schedule regular maintenance and repairs according to the number of your vehicle’s needs and the budget you have set. We like to see our clients do this in conjunction with oil changes – why go back and forth between the auto repair shop for multiple things when you can leave it for a day or so and get them taken care of at the same time in a regular interval?
We know that time is precious! Plan ahead to a time when going without your vehicle is going to cause the least amount of stress. Many of our clients schedule service for when they are going out of town – if it’s just going to sit in the driveway, why not use that time to get some work done? Speaking of sitting in your driveway – many of you have been driving your vehicle so little that you can’t remember the last time you got gas. If you aren’t an essential worker and life has slowed down, now is the perfect time to jump into this process.
Communicate Regularly with Your Mechanic
We understand that this health crisis has affected many of your jobs and income. Maybe you had planned on getting some work done on your vehicle but now your budget has changed. By staying in regular contact with your mechanic about repairs and maintenance due and your current budget, you can navigate together the best course of action, even if that means re-evaluating your initial plan to meet a change in budget.
We are happy to help you tailor your vehicle’s next service appointment to your current budget. Don’t hesitate to reach out!
If you have any questions, concerns, or support during this unusual time, please get in touch with us. We want your vehicle to be safe and reliable but, more importantly, we want you and your family to be safe and well.