What’s the Point?
As a nineteen year old college student, my parents helped me buy my first car. My dad and I did a lot of research and he wanted his first-born daughter to be safe 4 ½ hours away from home. Being a Chrysler family, we finally settled on a brand new Dodge Neon.
How ignorant I was to believe that once the sale was final, all I needed to worry about was gas, oil changes, and insurance! When the repairs got to be too overwhelming for me, even though I LOVED the Neon, I traded it in for a used PT Cruiser with lower mileage. That car, too, eventually needed repairs while still paying off the loan. I still miss my Neon.
More than a decade later, and the wife of a mechanic, I live with astute awareness of what it takes to keep a car running. Andrew and I now drive fully paid-off vehicles – a 1998 Chevy Prizm with just over 100,000 miles on it and a 1994 Toyota Corolla with almost 175,000 miles under its belt. We hope to still be driving those cars at 200,000 miles, and most likely 300,000 (by then, they will surely be classics!).
I now know that the sale price of the vehicle is not the only investment. By also investing in truly maintaining my car, I can keep it running smoothly through 300,000 miles or more.
So, why should I consider investing in my vehicle to 300,000 miles or more?
Your throat feels like you just swallowed a cactus and your head is a balloon that’s about to burst. Your chest is on fire and coughing just makes it worse. Welcome to the cold and flu season! Many of the patients in your doctor’s waiting room probably have similar symptoms, while others are there for completely different reasons. You hate going to the doctor but you just keep getting worse, so begrudgingly, here you are.
For several of the patients in the waiting room, the doctor will ask questions and maybe perform tests to determine whether they ail from cold, flu, strep-throat, or something else. She’ll then prescribe treatment once the illness is determined.
The process is not much different for your vehicle. (more…)
You’re driving home after a long day of work. You are tired and looking forward to changing into some more comfortable clothes for a relaxing evening in front of the TV with the family. The light turns green and you begin to accelerate when your car makes a stuttering noise, complaining about continuing on. This couldn’t be happening at a worse time but, reluctantly, as soon as you get home, you dial up your auto repair shop before it closes for the day.
The next day, the technician at the shop diagnoses your car. She hands you an estimate and explains what needs to be done – it’s an important repair that can’t wait. Six hours of labor and over $400 in parts. You want your family to be safe when they are in the vehicle, so you sign off on the work.
Talking to your brother over dinner that weekend he says, “I think you are getting taken. I had the same job done on my car two months ago for less. They charged slightly more for labor but I had them buy the cheaper part and didn’t have them replace all those other little things, so overall my bill was less. You should convince your shop to do it that way or get a second opinion.”
Should you listen to your brother?
Meet Joseph, a veteran auto technician (aka auto mechanic), highly experienced after 20 years in the industry. Surely, Joseph is rolling in the dough. Right? After all, he’s highly knowledgeable. His experience includes engines, transmissions, cooling systems, drivetrains, axles, suspension, steering, brakes, electrical, and heating and air conditioning. He deals on a regular basis with the physics of the moving parts, the chemistry of the various fluids a vehicle requires, and the various electronic systems.
(I want to make a joke here about the teacher from Charlie Brown because that’s how much I know about these topics…but I’m also not that funny).
So, while a mechanic like Joseph may have both depth and breadth of knowledge as well as formidable mechanical skills, he may also be tied to a pay system which constantly contradicts his mastery, and the only “dough” he’s rolling in will soon become the base of his pizza dinner. This, in part, is what makes talking about diagnostic and labor rates complicated and why I’m including the mechanic’s pay in this series, “Understanding Your Bill”, alongside posts on diagnostic and labor rates, and the deal on parts mark-up. (more…)
You leave your mechanic shop with your car running well again, but there’s a bit of anxiety embedded in the invoice you’ve thrown onto the passenger seat. You head home to look up your bank account balance and calculate how many days until your next paycheck.
“Do I need to hold off on grocery shopping this week?” you wonder, “Maybe I should have found a cheaper shop after I received the estimate…”
I understand that anxiety far too well. Understanding money matters has never been my strong suit. Understanding money matters related to my car was even weaker. Now that I am immersed in the context of car repairs on a regular basis, some of that anxiety has been replaced by knowing that a job well done is worth the cost, and you often get what you pay for. (more…)
For several years after college I moved a lot. I’d pack as many of my belongings as possible into my yellow Dodge Neon, Clunky, to settle into my new home in a new state and a new city. Michigan. Ohio. Florida…and when my oil needed changing or something more, I brought my car into a shop the same way one would spin a globe, close their eyes, point to a location and say, “Someday I will live here!” I never knew if I was going to be treated well or get the care needed for my car and I rarely brought it back to the same place twice. It’s this near recklessness with searching for a mechanic shop that causes me to joke, “Well, it’s a good thing I married a mechanic!”
You’ll often read about the importance of building a relationship with your mechanic on this blog and it’s not because I’m married to one. Rather, it is because someone who is familiar with your vehicle, its maintenance and repair history, and who knows you will be more likely to take the greatest care of you and your car. This trusting relationship will reduce the stress of the inevitable major repair and you’ll be able to drive down the road confident in your vehicle’s performance and safety.
So, what should you look for in a auto-mechanic shop? Here are six qualities to consider: