“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.
Talk to friends, talk to family, check out the article Six Qualities to Look for in An Auto Mechanic Shop. There is a great auto repair shop out there. Go find it!
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.
The Mechanic’s Wife
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!)
Session 3: Q&A with Andrew and Bethany (Watch it now!)
Women, You’ve Got This!
Session 1: How to find a
man mechanic who will treat you right (Watch now…)
Session 2: Demonstration – What to do when you get a flat (Watch now…)
Buying used affordably, safely, and reliably
May 2 – 9:00am – 11:00am
Session 1: Make a wise investment in purchasing a used vehicle (Watch it now!)
Session 2: Demonstration: Important information a vehicle can tell you (See Session 1)
Session 3: Q&A with Andrew and Bethany (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.
-From The Mechanic’s Wife
Are you unintentionally becoming best friends with your mechanic because your vehicle is in the shop so much? You go in for an oil change 2-3 times a year and then in-between you end up going back for maintenance and repairs. It really adds up! While we’ve connected at a friend-level with several of our customers, we’d rather continue that relationship over dinner than under their car. The good news is that there are things you can do to regain control over the time and money you spend on your vehicle.
Get Your Vehicle Inspected Regularly
One of the ways we serve our customers well is changing the conversation from, “What can we do for your vehicle?,” to “How can we serve you so that you feel good about your vehicle?” In other words, how can we help you develop a long term plan to feel safe and confident in the vehicle you are driving?
The first part of the answer is to get your vehicle inspected regularly. We offer two types of inspections at our shop – Comprehensive and Maintenance.
The Comprehensive Vehicle Inspection (CVI) is meant to give a detailed overall picture of your vehicle so that you can make long-term plans and budget for repairs and maintenance. We look over your vehicle top-to-bottom and front-to-back with a fine-toothed comb. You get a list with priority rankings addressing safety and mechanical needs, maintenance due, and items to recheck or revisit later. The CVI is recommended about every 3 years.
The Maintenance Vehicle Inspection (MVI) is a smaller inspection that can be targeted toward specific vehicle systems or concerns and adapted from visit to visit. For example, the brakes may be a focus for one MVI, but if we then find all we need to know about the brakes, why bill you to look at them again the next time? Rather, the prior inspection results can lead us to focus elsewhere on the vehicle. Maybe that next check focuses on the suspension. Or if we’ve already been there before, maybe the next inspection addresses nothing more than a battery test and checking on bulbs and wipers. Andrew likens the first MVI to giving your car a good handshake. It typically occurs at the same time as an oil change or other maintenance items due based on the vehicle’s age, mileage, and the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule. The MVI is recommended at least once a year, but ideally at every service visit (2-3 times a year).
Even if you already have a trusting relationship with a mechanic or do not live close enough to enjoy our services (although we do have people who drive an hour or more just to see us – all the more reason to make each visit count), you can still follow this general rule. Take your vehicle in for a thorough inspection every few years. For interim visits, ask your mechanic what is coming up on the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule and to look over any areas of concern (for example – tires, brakes, suspension, fluid levels.) Now, when your oil changes come due, plan a “service visit” for your vehicle rather than an “oil change.” The oil can be changed in conjunction with whatever other services are due, and if the car gets all that it needs in 2-3 service visits a year, you spend less time going to and from the mechanic shop and you minimize “surprise” visits.
Save and Budget for Vehicle Maintenance and Repairs
If you are like me, you are checking your bank account and thinking that anything beyond an oil change seems like an expensive service visit! True, it might seem easier to pay for just an oil change at one visit, however, by keeping an accurate list of your vehicle’s needs, and keeping it short, you are setting yourself up to save money in the long run. (The “accurate” part of this is important; you want to be working with a shop that’s knowledgeable, competent and, we hope, caring).
A small radiator leak now could evolve into loss of cooling system pressure and an engine-damaging overheat. Oil leaks can have a few ramifications, including contamination and deterioration of rubber components in the engine compartment. An overdue timing belt could break and, in many engines, can cause internal engine damage….and the list goes on and costs can build up quickly if you and your mechanic don’t stay on top of it.
So, on the outset it could seem like it’s easier on your pocketbook to stick with “just” an oil change but when it comes down to it, you are saving yourself from more costly repairs tomorrow by keeping your vehicle maintained today by shifting your mindset to scheduling service visits. The question isn’t, “Should I?” but rather, “How can I?”
Andrew and I love to avoid debt, so we have set up different sub-accounts through our savings account for separate types of expenses. For example, we have a medical savings account to pay any doctor’s bills that might come up. One idea then, is to set up a savings account specifically for vehicle costs and pay into it monthly. For now, you can use it for maintaining and repairing your current vehicle and then, when it’s time to move on to a newer vehicle, you should have a healthy budget for which to purchase a reliable car or truck.
You need to figure out what works best for you so that you can know how much you need to budget each month for regular maintenance, repairs, and vehicle replacement. The information you get from a CVI and/or an MVI will give you a good basis by which to develop a reasonable budget. If done right, hopefully you won’t be forced to become best friends with your auto repair shop (unless you just really like them and want to invite them over for dinner, of course). Does this mean you will never have a problem with your car between visits? No, even new cars have a warranty for a reason, and it’s not possible to completely eliminate the potential for surprises. But a high-functioning shop can help limit the possibility of surprises, and we encourage you to look for that.
If you want to get started in this process, we’d be happy to help! If you can’t make the trip to Winter Park, Florida, start looking for a mechanic you can trust and build that relationship. Consider that an excellent shop can be well worth an hour-long trip to get there; especially if that shop helps to minimize the chance of vehicle problems in between service visits.
I love to travel. My photo albums and passports are evidence of this passion. I’ve seen a lot of amazing places across the world and across our country and have a desire for more. It’s not just about seeing the places, it’s about the people you are with, the people you meet along the way, and the memories you make. Different places are great to visit at different times of the year. Sure, you can fly pretty much anywhere, but nothing gives you the true experience of your journey like getting in the car and hitting the Interstate. I tend to forget to enjoy the journey and then wish I had taken notice of all the places I traversed to get to my destination. If you are thinking about taking a road trip this summer, or wish you had planned one and have a goal to plan one next year, here are my top picks…
Pyramid Point, Lake Michigan – 2008
I’m a little biased on this one because I lived near the northern part of Lake Michigan for 19 years. Although it is where I grew up, I didn’t appreciate it at the time. Now that I live in Central Florida, as I run from my car only to arrive in my house drenched in sweat from 100 degree hot humid summer, I long for the warm days and cool nights of summers on Lake Michigan.
Not only is the in Northern Lower Michigan weather gorgeous in June, July, and August, the scenery is breathtaking. Leelanau County is a sliver of land that is home to a series of tiny lakeside towns, fields of fruit trees and vineyards, long sandy beaches, and massive golden sand dunes that you expect to only see in a picture book.
Grand Traverse County has some of the best restaurants and if you time it right, you can experience the National Cherry Festival.
Go a bit further north and you can take a ferry to car-less Mackinac Island and explore it in a horse-drawn carriage, horseback, or bicycle. Tour a historical fort, visit a butterfly garden, or have a romantic dinner at the Grand Hotel.
Head south along the coast and you enter a string of picturesque small towns with Dutch roots. The possibilities are endless.
Hiking in the Colorado Rockies – 2007
The Great American West
My love of the west go back to my early teens and every time I go back, I can’t get enough of it. I’ve always flown, but would love to take a long road trip someday and hit some of our nation’s great sights along the way. My mom often reminisces of the time her father, a psychology professor, took a sabbatical and piled four young children into the car for a month long family vacation out west. I aspire to that same goal!
From exploring the Rocky Mountains in Estes Park, Colorado, to cheering at rodeos in Wyoming, and horseback trail rides in Montana, I can’t get enough of it. Whether you are a roughing it type that likes to back-pack and pitch a tent in the wilderness or prefer to lodge in a beautiful hotel near amenities, there’s something out there for everyone. Hiking, horseback riding, and white water rafting are calling out to the physically active travelers.
Or, maybe you are a more of a window shopper and sight seer and are content taking a drive through the rockies and stepping out at look-out points to snap some photos before you cruise into a mountainside town to peruse boutiques and art shops.
There are so many amazing sights out west, including the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, The Great Salt Lake, Mount Rushmore, and many others. Even if you fly into Denver, Colorado, and then rent a vehicle to road-trip through the great expanse of the west, you won’t regret it.
Exploring an old battleship in Baltimore Harbor – 2013
I’ve always wanted to explore more of the East Coast. A visit to Baltimore and Washington D.C. tickled my interest a few years ago and I wanted more. I could spend days exploring the museums at our nation’s capital. Touring old ships in Baltimore’s harbor was fascinating. I’d love to experience more of what our founding fathers started in Boston, visit some of the old battlegrounds and memorials, and then escape to Maine’s seaside for a breath of fresh air and take in some historic lighthouses. If you like history, you won’t be disappointed at what our east coast has to offer!
There is also a rich culinary tradition on the East Coast that I’ve yet to truly sink my teeth into but would love to experience. From fresh seafood to lush gardens, it’s definitely something I’d spend my time exploring.
If you’ve already made summer plans to road trip, I’d love to hear where you are going. If not, I strongly suggest you make plans this summer or start saving and planning to do it in the future, to make time to explore what the United States has to offer one Interstate at a time.
It’s Thanksgiving Day, 2016, and I’m 6 months pregnant. Andrew and I had just bought a used pick-up truck for the shop and after doing some repairs, was excited to drive it to his brother’s wedding…three states away. I mentioned several times that I was six months pregnant and, “Wouldn’t the Toyota Corolla be more comfortable?” But he really wanted to get the truck on the road and see what it could do. “Fine,” I relented, “Let’s take the ‘new’ truck.” Halfway to South Carolina the check engine light comes on. Then it starts flashing.
Ideally, if you take care of your vehicle properly, adhere to all of the items on your maintenance schedule in a timely manner, and have it inspected every few years, you can avoid a surprise breakdown. Even when necessary precautions are taken, you may still find yourself on the side of the road. Thankfully Andrew got the light to stop flashing and we made it without breaking down…but it was midnight. I was swollen, uncomfortable, and having false labor contractions. Not the ideal scenario.
It’s important to know what you are going to do if it ever does happen to you in order to be safe for you and your passengers and avoid causing further damage to your vehicle. Not everyone can bring a mechanic along like I can.
Pay Attention to Your Surroundings
Being married to a mechanic, we were fortunately able to avoid a breakdown on our trip because Andrew was able to intervene, but you never know.
I was driving in the rain on FL-408 one evening with my six-month old son in the car and I got a sudden puncture in my tire. I put my hazards on and pulled off at the nearest exit and couldn’t quite make it off the ramp, much less to the gas station at the next light. It was a scary situation as car after car sped past me in the pouring down rain at dusk, so I decided to just stay put in the car to avoid getting hit. I called Andrew, we made a plan, and then climbed into the back seat to entertain my son while I waited for him.
What completely surprised me is that instead of stopping to help me, people honked at me, gave me rude gestures, and no one stopped to see if they could help. Four police cars even went by me!
My point is that you have to be smart. I stayed in my vehicle because I answered “no” to the following safety concerns:
- Are you able to pull off at a safe distance from potential dangers?
- Are you and your car visible to other drivers?
- Is/are your passenger(s) safe?
One thing I’m really disconcerted about in this flat-tire-in-the-rain scenario is that the trunk of my car was an absolute mess. I’m embarrassed to say that once the rain and traffic cleared up and a good samaritan finally stopped to see if they could help, I couldn’t even find the jack and ratchet for changing the tire. This was definitely a mistake.
Always have the proper tools in your vehicle in case of an emergency. Consider putting together a basic roadside emergency kit including a first aid kit, basic tools, water, and protective wear (blankets, hat and gloves for cold climates, and/or a poncho, sunglasses, and sun hat for warm climates) and keep your trunk tidy so you can find them. You could really go extreme if you spend a lot of time on long trips with the ultimate roadside emergency kit. At the very least have the tools for changing a tire, know where they are and how to use them.
Make A Plan
Once you have pulled over safely and assessed the situation. Here are some good questions to consider:
- Is this a problem I can remedy myself until I can get to my mechanic? (i.e. flat tire)
- Is my car driveable or do I need to call a tow truck?
- Do I have someone to assist me?
DO NOT try to drive your vehicle if it is smoking from either end, the check engine light is blinking, or there is any obvious suspicious noise. These are signs of serious problems and driving your car further could cause additional serious and costly damage. Always, if possible, call your mechanic and ask for his/her advice before driving your vehicle.
This is just another reason why having a mechanic you have a trusting relationship with is so important. Your mechanic can help guide you as to whether your vehicle is safe to drive or if a tow truck is recommended. Even if you are out of town, he can tell you if, based on the symptoms, it’s something you need to take to a nearby mechanic right away or something that you can address with him as soon as you return.
Thank Your Rescuers!
Due to the messiness of my trunk, my good samaritan friend and I couldn’t find the ratchet to remove the lug nuts. However, while we were figuring that out, a police officer stop to lend assistance as well. Remember the FOUR that passed me before? This guy was off duty, probably heading home for the night, and still decided to stop and help. He loaded my son and I into the back of his cop car (a new experience for me and quite a story for my son when he’s older!) and brought us to the gas station up ahead to wait for Andrew to come rescue us and our car. I was super grateful for that officer and the other helpful citizen as it took a while for Andrew to get to us.
Every situation is different but it’s wise to be as prepared as possible. I don’t think anyone will be prepared as much as my husband who made many preparations beforehand and, while on our Thanksgiving trip said, “I should have brought that other diagnostic tool,” as he was looking at a whole box of tools that the average person doesn’t even own.
You can’t be prepared for absolutely everything, but you can know what to do if something were to go wrong that keeps you safe and helps you make and execute a plan in a way that minimizes stress and gets you back on the road as soon and safely as possible.
-From The Mechanic’s Wife