Let it get to that point, and you'll realize -- there's a reason it's called an idiot light. After all, the first step to successful car maintenance is simple: do it. The second is even easier: do it exactly as you're told to by technicians and in your owners manual.
Simple. Easy. Yet for many people, it's an ongoing challenge, for two reasons. Admit it: you don't have the time and forget to get it done, or you're intimidated about dealing with technicians. So you put it off and create the scenario you most dread - a major repair costing thousands of dollars.
Unfortunately, fear and loathing is to be expected: we've all had at least one experience with price gouging and unnecessary repairs.
It's enough to make you learn how to change your own oil. But you don't have to get dirty to get a fair price and keep your car in top shape. According to Michael Rose of Autobytel, formerly an Certified Master Technician with BMW, the two most important things a car owner should do is keep his or her car serviced as per recommended service intervals, find a technician they can trust - and stick to them. "It's important to follow the automaker's service schedule, because it is a good way to discover potential manufacturing defects," said Rose. "Part of the factory scheduled service is designed to help keep a car running correctly."
- Get a price for the service -- on the phone, and write it down - if that price is different when you bring your car into the shop, ask why.
- Always get a signed estimate.
- Don't worry about what a shop charges per hour
- Understand what the job is - ask an outside source if you are not comfortable.
- Be aware of what the owners manual says, and use that knowledge.
- Let your service professional advise you -- trust him, and don't be afraid to ask questions.
"Continuity of service is important," Rose said. "Pick anywhere you want to have service done, but try to get all your service done at the same place so they can keep track of your car, and maintain your records. It's like those little stickers on the windshield, they work great" Rose, who has managed and supervised fixed operations for BMW, Honda and Acura, and has been recognized as operating the "highest quality" shops in the San Francisco Bay area, pointed to Autobytel as a great way to manage your car's maintenance. "The service garage area of our sites are a great way to keep track of your maintenance schedule," Rose said.
Caring For Your Automobile
The survey indicated that "only 28% of respondents perform the factory-specified services described in the owner's manual, and 72% perform services later than scheduled or not at all." The survey also found that the consistent-service ideal is the exception rather than the rule. In fact, the majority (58%) of survey respondents indicated that they either take their vehicles to different garages for different repairs, or deal with different service representatives visit-to-visit. Nearly 10% said they are completely unaware of their recommended factory services schedule, and 28% had "no idea" or only a "vague idea" when they're supposed to schedule their next service appointment.
According to Rose, today's new vehicles are considerably more dependable than ever before. "For example, spark plugs used to be a 10,000 mile item, now they are a 100,000 mile item. Today's cars are more efficient, and cleaner than before." said Rose. " Perhaps this trend toward indestructible cars gives today's motorists a false sense of security - as if cars are still maintenance free. If so, it's a dangerous way to think. The best way to destruct an indestructible car is by ignoring the simple things, such as oil changes. And according to Rose, oil changes are essential. "Every 3750 miles, it's time for an oil change," said Rose. "It may not look like your oil needs to be changed, but there's a build up in the oil of acids, formed when the car is started and driven hard. Your oil may look okay, it's still time to change it."
Rose recommends that motorists follow these tips when it comes to car service:
- Dealerships offer new car owner clinics - sponsored by the service centers. Take one when you purchase a new vehicle.
- Read and understand the service part of your owners manual.
- Always keep to a repetitive schedule.
- Build a relationship with the dealership or shop, and start when you make the appointment -- make time to speak with the service advisor.
- Pick up your car from your service advisor - not the cashier.
- Don't hesitate to question the Service Advisor.
- Know what's supposed to take place - question any variation.
- If you get your oil changed at an oil change shop, don't expect them to check your brakes.
- Listen for rattles, squeaks, and let your technician know about it. Be prepared to show the condition, and document intermittent problems.
- Remember that the people who work on cars are skilled technicians - not "mechanics". They are required to serve a four-year apprenticeship, during which time they have to gain a four-year degree. Today's auto technician uses sophisticated diagnostic equipment in tough outdoor conditions, works on his feet all day in a hazardous environment - and must be versatile enough to do everything from complex repair to tire changes.
So go ahead. Abuse your car. And cower in the dark, away from the local auto technician who knows how to fix the problem. It's okay, as long as you understand that your car will abuse you right back -- sooner or later but always at the wrong time.
Photo Credit: Automakers