For most Americans, owning a car remains a part of everyday life. For the car enthusiast, frequent maintenance, as well as knowledge of how the car works, become part of regular conversations. For the non-car enthusiast, finding a trusted mechanic is like becoming a treasure hunter searching for gold on the seafloor with no boat. Frequent “trust me” conversations result in the spending of extra money while the owner does not even know what exactly the money is going toward.
I have been fortunate in that my background allowed me to build a small and useful mechanical skill set. My family had a trucking company and my dad often worked on cars. This is how we spent a good portion of our time together. We built a show truck that won a few awards and appeared on a magazine cover. These skills have not been used much over the past 16 years as my professional career and family matured.
For many years, my family—probably like yours—has been taking our cars to the mechanic to get the oil changed and for general maintenance. After all, we are busy going to soccer practice and traveling to see grandparents, friends, and relatives. Who wants to spend their limited time pulling a car apart or changing the oil in their own garage? Tools would need to be bought, oil disposed of… the list goes on and on.
My family was getting ready for a weekend getaway, the last one before school started. My wife took the car in for an oil change, as usual. We dropped the car off the night before and assumed that we would receive a call to pick it up once the oil was changed.
As expected, my wife received the call, but much to her dismay the service person on the other end proceeded to describe a car in need of an immediate brake job. The cost for the brake job: $680. The representative discussed turning some rotors, replacing others, and new brake pads. Feeling pressured to make a decision and hearing me ask multiple questions at the same time, Yvonne willingly gave the phone to me. (I could hear some of the conversation from the service representative.)
The conversation quickly changed as I asked questions about the brake job. When we had taken the car in, it had not displayed any warning signs of needing brake maintenance. How could it need an immediate brake job? Don’t brakes wear down slowly? During the last oil change, why hadn’t we been told that the car would soon need a brake job?
As you can imagine, not going on a trip already paid for was not an answer the family wanted. I asked the representative directly if the maintenance had to be done right away and if the safety of the car was at risk. He paused for a moment and stated, “Well, no. They can last for a little while longer.” I thanked him for the call and explained that we would be discussing his proposition to have the brake maintenance completed.
I completed the brake job myself, saving $350. The cost of the parts was $330, which included new pads, rotors, brake cleaner, and hardware.
Throw it in Reverse
Mechanics may try pressuring you into car maintenance; however, you need to watch out for neglect as well. My brother-in-law came to visit us on a business trip last year. His car had been to the shop for an oil change. Part of the maintenance involved a routine brake check. He was told the brakes were good for another year.
Yet when the car entered our street, a choir of screaming banshees strolled down the street with my brother-in-law. I immediately went on a short test-drive. The car ended apart in my garage that evening while we completed a brake job. (My brother-in-law was in for an evening and had to leave for business the next morning.) The car was unsafe to drive. He could have been in an accident with someone getting hurt.
Pump Your Brakes
I share these stories not to point fingers or claim to be a mechanic. Rather, I do so to share information about saving money on car maintenance and not feeling pressured to purchase a service. Take your time; ask as many questions as required about the service needed to uphold your car. Ask the service manager to speak to the mechanic directly and to see the parts so that you better understand the car and the maintenance proposed.