Consumer Reports Prioritizes Your Vehicle Repair and Maintenance Options
A recent Consumer Reports guide on car repair and maintenance tells us that due to the global shortage of computer chips and scarcity of used vehicles to choose from, that many car owners are turning to service centers and mechanics to fix their vehicles.
However, as we’ve recently reported, repair scams and unskilled automotive technicians are a continual problem that can leave the car owner not only with a worse or more problems than before, but also with maintenance and repair bills that can easily run into the thousands.
And, unless you know of someone personally who is a mechanic you trust, your options are limited to going to an independent mechanic or service center, a dealership, or doing it yourself.
According to the CR article, If your car is under warranty, the answer is simple—always take it to the dealership for a covered repair. For other situations, the answer depends on what service needs to be performed.
“Car owners who want to save money will want to strategize the best option for each job,” says John Ibbotson, Consumer Reports’ chief mechanic.
To help guide car owners on what maintenance and repair items are DIY projects, and which are best handed by a dealership mechanic, CR automotive experts offer the flowing summarized list of common car service best suited for each based not only on difficulty and common sense, but also on cost effectiveness.
DO IT YOURSELF SERVICING
Oddly enough, CR lists only 3 DIY service procedures—and changing your oil and filter are not one of the three. In fact, they also skipped on basic tire pressure and wear maintenance; and, battery maintenance. That said, however, the three listed are the safest and easiest of procedures, which was likely their intent in guiding consumers.
Engine Air Filter—For service procedures that are easy to do, there is none easier and at the same time more important than ensuring your engine is getting enough clean air to function properly. While oxygen sensors can help an engine compensate for a dirty air filter, why rely on that when you can do this as an easy and inexpensive DIY project at home. Most owner manuals will point out where your filter is and what type to use as replacement.
Cabin Air Filter—While the engine air filter is needed for cleaning the air going to the engine, you need to consider the air going into the car passenger areas—especially to protect passsengers susceptible to dust, pollen and other allergens. According to CR automotive analysts, makes and models of cars differ on the location and accessibility of the cabin air filter. The best recommendation is to consult your vehicle’s owners’ manual and/or a Haynes automotive book on your vehicle’s model and year before attempting to do this job.
Windshield Wiper Blades—CR says that this is a job most people can do themselves; however, since many auto parts stores offer to install them with the purchase of their blades in stock, I’d bypass this one and let the auto parts employee do it. Some blades are tricky to install and easily bent. Plus, it’s a good opportunity to ask about their battery checking services for another time.
INDEPENDENT SHOP SERVICING
CR’s choices of service procedures for independent garages are based on cost savings. Relative to what dealership service centers charge for the following procedures, the independent shops are generally significantly cheaper. However, there is the risk of a garage using cheap and inferior parts to save money, so it is strongly recommended to ask what part sources they will use and do a little research on reviews about the parts before giving the garage the OK to do the repair.
The jobs better suited for independent garages include:
• Suspension Shock/Strut jobs
• Head Gasket leaking and replacement jobs
• Brake Pads and brake disc servicing as well as brake fluid replacement
• Spark Plugs (I differ on this choice due to I believe it is usually a job most car owners can do when shown how. Follow this link regarding spark plug maintenance for more info.)
• Alternator Replacement
In many cases, you really have no option but go to a dealership for some maintenance and repairs just because the service and repair procedures are complex and require specialized tools and knowledge about particular makes and models. In these cases, you just have to bite the bullet and do what you have to do.
The jobs better suited for dealership service departments include:
Advanced Safety System Alignment—This includes features such as automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, and adaptive cruise control systems that consist of a series of cameras and/or sensors feeding information to your car’s computer.
Infotainment Glitches—Infotainment systems can be glitchy with frozen screens, touch-screen buttons and systems that go dark and require reboots. And, only factory-backed dealerships will have the right computer equipment and parts available for proper diagnosis and software updates, which is why this a dealership must-do.
Airbag/Seat Belt Maintenance and Repair—Again, repair and servicing for items like these require specialized tools and know-how. And, especially because they are systems to keep you and your passengers safe
Timing Belt Replacement—A timing belt replacement is a complicated procedure, often requiring partial engine disassembly. While many independent shop might be able to handle this job, CR automotive experts recommend going to a dealership with this procedure because “…dealerships are more likely to know which parts associated with the timing belt or chain for your model should be replaced at the same time to avoid problems in the future.”
BUILDING YOUR OWN VEHICLE REPAIR CHECKLIST
Now that we’ve covered some good advice on how to save thousands of dollars in maintenance and repair costs that applies to almost all car owners—especially those not inclined to get their hands dirty and push past their comfort zone with DIY automotive mechanics—here’s some additional advice—for whether you are inspecting a used car for yourself or a friend who needs some help in deciding on whether a car is worth buying—toward creating your own checklist to give a vehicle a quick once-over just to see if that car is a contender…or a lemon.
To help guide you on the basics of what to look for before committing to a more thorough inspection process done by yourself or a qualified mechanic you trust, a popular Scotty Kilmer YouTube channel video offers this summarized checklist breakdown:
Item #1: Turn the engine on and check the dash warning lights—If the check engine dash light only comes on momentarily and then turns off, then it’s a good sign. However, if you never see the check engine light flash on, you will want to make sure the light does work just in case the bulb is burnt out or someone removed the bulb to hide a check engine warning.
Just turn the engine off, and then turn the key to its accessory mode and look for the warning indicator light. It should light up and stay on until you start the engine. If you don’t see it, it’s time for some additional diagnostic help from an automotive scanner or code reader.
Item #2: Plug in an OBD2 Scan Tool—Automotive scanners come in a variety of models that vary by the range of features they provide. Once considered a for-mechanics-only tool, today there are several affordable models available that can at the very least alert the user to some potential electrical problems in a car.
In general, just by plugging the tool’s connector into your car’s OBD2 port located beneath the dash, it connects to the computer that runs your engine and other systems and presents data on its screen that can be useful in finding some hidden issues. Most models will read and clear diagnostic trouble codes, reset the check engine light, and monitor engine and sensor data in real time.
Item #3: Connect a Battery Tester—A battery tester is very affordable and easy to use tool that will provide you with a good indication of the health of the battery under a load and whether the alternator is functioning properly toward keeping the battery charged. Follow this link for more about maintaining and testing a car battery.
Item #4: Jack Up the Front End—Here is where you will do a quick examination of the front end to check the tire condition for signs of cupping indicating a possible suspension problem; the shocks and other suspension components for wear or breakage; the engine for oil and other fluid leakage; the brake pads to see how thin they are and whether the brake discs are scored or warped. Spinning a wheel while jacked up and listening for telltale sounds of disc warpage and/or bad bearings can save you from costly repairs.
Item #5: Examine the Fluids—Check the fluid condition of vehicle by either pulling out the dipstick or draining a small sample from the engine oil pan and transmission oil pan. The color of the fluid can indicate when was the last time—if ever—the fluids were changed and could reveal some not-so-fine metal particles indicating serious wear. Roll a magnet through the collected fluid sample and see what sticks to it. Click on this link to see what different transmission fluid colors indicate.
To see a visual demonstration of the checklist, here is the referenced video below with useful relevant information to help you inspect a vehicle with a quick once-over:
Doing This Will Save You Thousands in Scam Car Repairs
For more used car articles, be sure to check out the following links about “How To Spot A Used Car Being Flipped After a Hurricane” and “The Most Important Scam Used Car Buyers Need to Know About.”
Timothy Boyer is Torque News automotive reporter based in Cincinnati. Experienced with early car restorations, he regularly restores older vehicles with engine modifications for improved performance. Follow Tim on Twitter at @TimBoyerWrites for daily automotive-related news.
Photo by Towfiqu Barbhuiya on Unsplash