Dollars & Sense: Three Keys to Smart Auto Care

Dollars and Sense title graphic

We’ve all been there. The light on your dashboard comes on and you get a slight sinking feeling in your stomach. You’re busy, money’s tight, and maybe you’re just not a car person so dealing with the problem makes you a little apprehensive.

If you have a regular mechanic whom you trust, great! Even if it’s inconvenient for your budget or your time, at least you can be assured the problem will get fixed.

However, I’ve spent enough time scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed (oh, and being married to a mechanic) to know that a good number of people are asking the same question, “Does anyone know of a good local mechanic who won’t rip me off?”

I decided to tune into my husband and some of his buddies to help us answer this question – How do I know if my mechanic is giving me quality service for a fair price?

What I found was enough information for a four-part blog series. In this first post, I’ll give you the basic run-down of areas to consider when getting your vehicle serviced.

1. Oil Changes

This is not always an area where people are concerned about getting ripped off, much in part because there’s a quick service oil change place within five minutes of your home in your typical American city.

However, you might think twice about pinching pennies in this area once you realize the repercussions of the cheap oil change. I’m not saying that all discounted oil changes are bad – there may be some great shops out there which offer such deals. I’m fairly certain in many cases, a quality oil change for a low cost is the diamond in the rough.

What I am saying is that spending more than $19.95 to have a trusted mechanic change your oil and check for problem areas is worth the extra cash in the long run.

Read more…

2. Diagnostics

Your car is making that funny noise and you just can’t put your finger on it. Worse, yet, it’s intermittent. I can’t tell you how frustrated I was when my cute yellow 2002 Dodge Neon whom I rightfully named, Clunky, made such a noise and it took several visits to the mechanic before the problem was diagnosed.

What I didn’t know then was that these mechanics were often not getting paid, or at least not getting paid very much, to spend time diagnosing my dear Clunky. When a person isn’t getting paid for their work hours, it’s hard to be motivated to do it right and do it well. They just want to do it fast so they can move on to a repair job where they will get paid.

Paying someone to spend time figuring out the problem will often save you money as opposed to “guess and check” part replacement.

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3. Parts Markup vs. Labor

There are two main ways for an auto mechanics shop to make a profit.

Most auto shops buy parts at a commercial rate and then mark them up. The other is through the labor rate and billed hours.

I advise you to be aware of what this could mean for your car. First, you should know whether the garage is ordering the cheapest part or the most reliable part. A cheap part with a high markup usually only benefits the shop owner and not your car or the hard-working mechanic. A fair labor rate usually reveals a system where the mechanic is getting compensated properly (see my above comment about pay).

All in all, if you pay attention to these three areas when deciding where to take your car for service, you are more likely to find a trustworthy mechanic with the best parts and the most miles in before your next service. Seek out someone who will speak with you frankly and honestly.

Read more…

Tune in next week as I explore the inside scoop on oil changes.

– From the Mechanic’s Wife

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