(ARA) - Unless you're a mechanic, taking your car into the
repair shop can be a scary and mysterious experience. Your
car goes behind the doors and minutes later, you're presented
with a list of problems, and possibly a large bill. Even if
you aren't a car expert, there are things you can look out
for to make sure your car repair is honest and necessary.
Brakes are a common area where repair estimates can be inflated.
Calipers are the devices that push the brake pads against
the disc. They can last up to 100,000 miles; so if the mechanic
says they need replacing, ask if you can see how they aren't
working properly or where the brake pads are wearing.
An oil change is a fairly simple task, but it can sometimes
end up costing you more than you intended. This is because
there can be hidden fees, such as disposal fees, extra services
included, or extra parts, such as new air filters or wiper
blades, added on. Make sure you know what's included in the
price of your oil change. Mechanics typically recommend an
oil change every 3,000 miles, but many car manufacturers recommend
only twice a year or every 7,000 miles. Somewhere in the middle
may work for you.
Surprisingly, if your battery is weak or dead, it may not
be the battery. Instead of automatically purchasing a new
battery, it may be cheaper in the long run to have a reputable
mechanic run an alternator and voltage regulator test. This
will tell if your car's electrical charge system is working.
If there's a problem, it may cost a few hundred dollars to
fix, but it will save you hundreds in constantly buying new
batteries while the problem goes unchecked.
When you go in for a new muffler, you may also be told you
need new exhaust pipes, tail pipes, even a new catalytic converter.
Make sure the mechanic shows you the damages on your pipes
before paying out. Federal law requires cars built before
1995 to have catalytic converter warranties of five years
or 50,000 miles. Cars built after 1995 have warranties of
eight years or 80,000. If you're satisfied the work needs
to be done, get the estimate and shop around for the best
The old standby, the tune-up, is an old-fashioned term these
days. Yesterday's tune-ups included carburetor and ignition
system adjustments. Today's computerized systems take car
of that for you. All you may really need checked are the spark
plugs, which should last about 30,000 and cost around $20
to replace. If your car is running rough and you've noticed
your fuel efficiency is down, explain the specific problem
to your mechanic rather than just asking for a "tune-up."
Getting bodywork done can be extremely expensive - especially
if the repair shop puts on used parts and charges you for
new. You could also be charged for replacement parts when
your old parts were simply repaired. If you suspect this might
be done, tell the mechanic you'd like to see your old parts
and the packaging and documentation that comes with new parts.
The most important thing to remember is to find a reputable
mechanic that you can trust and don't be afraid to ask questions.
It's your car and your checkbook, and you have a right to
protect them both.