BUYING A CAR IN 2017
(WITHOUT HAVING HEADACHES IN 2018)
MAINTENANCE AND REPAIRS
Time was when many of us could do our own maintenance. The cars were simple enough that with a few tools and a maintenance manual for the car, we could do most of the factory required tasks, and a decent number of us could do major trouble shooting and overhauls. The “Mom and Pop” car repair shops could be trusted to be able to fix most everything that was broken. That time has passed. Today’s cars are very complicated and computer controlled. To compensate, most manufacturers have computer tools that plug into their cars and tell the mechanics what is wrong. Many chain shops (Pep Boys, Firestone, etc) and even many independent shops have some of these computer tools, but most of the tools that they have are the generic diagnostics computers, and even those cost a small fortune. To buy the factory tools for each individual make of car would cost an even larger fortune, so the small shops and even the chain shops do not do it.
You have the right to take your car to these places when you have a problem, and they will probably fix something, but you are throwing dice if you are not doing very basic maintenance. In most cases, these places can take care of routine maintenance. Struts, brakes, tires, lubrication, and alignments are within the scope of their abilities. However, if you have a strange problem that is not normal maintenance, take it to the dealer. Yes, you will pay a higher hourly price, but in most cases, it is the dealer who has probably seen your type of problem before, has a factory alert about it, and has the correct part to fix it. You end up paying less in the long run.
Having said that, taking your car to a dealer should also be done with care. With repairs other than scheduled maintenance, you will usually have to decide whether to take it to the dealer or to another shop on a case by case basis. First, understand that when you sign the repair form, you are authorizing the dealer to do what the repair form says, and the dealer should give you a copy of what you have signed. Read the form. If the repair says something like, “inspect and repair as necessary”, you have given them a blank check to fix anything that they find. Ensure that the form puts the limits on the repair order that you are comfortable with.
Many dealers have a suggested maintenance schedule for their cars that calls for more maintenance than the owner’s manual calls for. Disregard dealer maintenance schedules. They are designed to bring in additional money for the dealer. The added benefit to your vehicle is negligible.
Most owner’s manuals have two maintenance schedules: one for “normal” driving, and one for driving under "harsh” or "severe" conditions. Read the conditions for each very carefully. You may find that what you would consider “normal driving conditions” are described as requiring increased maintenance by the owner’s manual. For instance, one of the toughest driving conditions on a motor vehicle is one short trip per day in a city, especially on cold days. If the owner’s manual requires that maintenance is done, ensure that it is done and that you have a piece of paper to prove that it was done. That’s your proof that your warranty is valid.
If you suspect that the dealer has charged more or repaired more than your car needed, or more than you authorized, there is a customer service number that each manufacturer maintains for complaints. While it is true that the dealers do not work for the manufacturers, the manufacturers have the power to put pressure on the dealers to address a complaint. If a manufacturer gets enough complaints about a dealer, the manufacturer can pull the franchise (the ability to sell cars) from the dealer. Also, many large cities have a district office for the manufacturer, and they can send out a technical representative to view the problem.