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Jalopy love: 5 dumb car repair mistakes to avoid

By Posted : 07/12/2012

car repair mistakes to avoidWith gas prices well over the $3 mark and auto insurance costs rising, owning a car is no drive on Easy Street. Don't let common repair mistakes add more bumps to the road.

Smart car care keeps a vehicle running safely and prevents accidents. And staying accident-free keeps car insurance rates down at a time when drivers could use all the help they can get. (See: "How minor repairs can boost your car insurance rates.")

The Consumer Price Index for auto insurance rose 3.6 percent last year and was up 33 percent from 2002, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Proper car maintenance also prolongs the life of a vehicle, another critical factor in today's sputtering economy. (See: "Learn about car insurance coverage in 5 easy steps.")

"People are holding onto their cars longer, so they really have to pay attention to maintenance," says Brian Hafer, marketing vice president at, an online automotive repair resource for car owners.

After purchasing new or used vehicles, drivers on average are keeping them 57 months -- an increase of 23 percent since the third quarter of 2008, according to Polk, a global automotive market intelligence firm headquartered in Southfield, Mich.

Meanwhile, the average age of cars on U.S. roads reached a record high of 11.1 years in 2011, up from 9.3 years in 2001, Polk says. The average age of light trucks reached 10.4 years last year, compared to 8.4 years in 2001.

Whether you have a brand-new set of wheels or a beloved clunker, poor maintenance will cost you big time. Here are five mistakes to avoid, according to AutoMD.

1. Skimping on routine maintenance

Don't let the temptation to save a few bucks by delaying maintenance steer you off course. Follow the maintenance schedule in the vehicle owner's manual.

"Not changing the air filter and oil at the right intervals just makes your engine work all that much harder," Hafer says.

Neglecting other tasks can have even more serious consequences. Failure to replace worn-out brake pads, for instance, will result in the grinding down of other parts and put you and your passengers in danger. "Parts of the brake system may then need to be replaced," Hafer says.

Don't take your tires for granted, either. Make sure they're inflated to the proper pressure. Underinflation increases treadwear on the outer edges and reduces gas mileage, according to Goodyear Tires. Too much air pressure leads to uneven wear and faster deterioration.

Goodyear suggests checking tire wear every 3,000 miles. Use the "penny test." Put a penny into the tread with Lincoln's head upside down and facing you. It's time to replace the tires if you can see the whole head, according to the tire maker.

2. Communicating poorly with your mechanic

"The better you are at communicating what's wrong with your vehicle, the better your chances of getting the repair done right," Hafer says.

AutoMD recommends keeping a log of what you hear, feel, see and smell when your car has trouble and then sharing those details with the mechanic. Thorough information about the symptoms will speed up the diagnosis and save on labor costs. AutoMD provides a free online car diagnosis tool that provides questions a mechanic might ask.

Don't tell the shop what needs to be replaced -- you might be wrong. Also, ask for your old parts back if anything is replaced. This prevents dishonest mechanics from needlessly replacing good parts or charging you for work that wasn't done.

3. Failing to get repair quotes

Research repair shops online and get quotes for repairs, AutoMD says. Keep in mind you don't have to visit the dealership for every problem. Car owners can save an estimated $300 or more a year by opting for independent repair shops rather than dealerships, according to an AutoMD analysis. (See: "Vehicles that cost less to fix often mean lower premiums.")

4. Ignoring dashboard warning lights

Read the owner's manual to understand what the dashboard warning lights mean, and take appropriate action when a light turns on -- even if the car appears to be running OK. Ignoring warnings could lead to expensive damage and danger.

That includes the warning light for low fuel. Besides increasing the risk of running out of gas, driving a fuel-injected engine frequently on a very low tank is hard on the fuel pump, Hafer says. AutoMD recommends keeping the fuel level above a quarter tank.

5. Failing to do simple repairs yourself

Not everybody's a mechanical genius, but anyone can learn to replace wiper blades, light bulbs and even fuses and air filters. Doing simple tasks yourself will save money you can use to pay experts for complex work.

With the economy stuck in neutral, do what you can to keep your car running smoothly today and save money for tomorrow.

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15 Responses to "Jalopy love: 5 dumb car repair mistakes to avoid"
  1. Joshua W. 03, Jan, 2014

    It's easy to maintain your car nowadays because many sites offer step by step tutorials with pics for just about every procedure. Plus you can go to brand specific forums and ask for help if you get stuck.

  2. Danil Jack 29, Sep, 2012

    Great, thanks for info My car. I change oil, change filters and put in gas. Two sets of tires, one brake job. One new battery two years ago. Never needs anything else.

  3. 12, Sep, 2012

    That AutoMD car diagnosis tool you linked to from this post is excellent!! Saved me some time.. thanks..

  4. Micheal Pinkham 14, Aug, 2012

    When I bought my 2004 Dodge Durango, I knew That I would not do my oil changes on time as I work in construction and drive a lot of miles, mostly freeway. After 2 or 3 oil changes, I went to full synthetic oil, because of this. I've been a pro mechanic, and I first started to work on cars in 1965. In all of my years, I have never torn down a motor ran on full syntyhetic oil before. Normally there is a small wear pattern on the top and bottom of the rod bearings, and also there is a certain amount of cylinder wear with a ridge at the top of the cylinder. I have 185,000 miles and had a valve seat failure, and hydroliced a rod. I took this motor apart and found NO wear in the rods and the cylinders. The reason is only because of the oil I chose. It costs a little more, but it is the cheapest insurance you can ever get for your car. Also, it is possible to go as far as 12,000 miles between oil changes, although I don't recommend that. Go on line and do the research, read up on how synthetic is produced verses regular oil, and you will see the difference. Also, there have been test to see if synthetic oil will produce more HP. Well the tests swow only Royal Purple will do that, but that should be a serious indicater of why syn. oil is so much better.

  5. toyotagirl 14, Aug, 2012

    As a woman,I have always been concerned about being ripped off. However, I have had great advice from good friends. Plus...I'm not a teenager anymore (36) so I've learned a few things. I completely agree with Retired Mechanic that you don't need to change your oil every 3K miles unless you're especially difficult on the vehicle, drive in dirty areas or something similar. I change my oil at least every 5K or maybe 6K. I've only had to change the brake pads once (at 81,000 mi) and the same with the air filter. I have a 2005 Toyota (Corolla) Matrix. It only has a little over 87K miles on it. What I HAVE had problems with involve gasoline! I got bad gas from a little mini-mart when the car had less than 20K miles on it. I didn't keep the receipt but I knew it the was the last place I bought gas. Anyway, I couldn't prove it, so we had to pay out of pocket for the gas tank to be removed and cleaned (at the closest Toyota dealership). They said they had to power-wash the gas tank 5 times to get it clean. They gave me a plastic Gatorade bottle with what contaminant they gathered. Nobody had ever seen it before and nobody knew what it was. It was an oily, brownish yellow, and smelled like nothing I can describe. The second problem I've had is that my catalytic converter was replaced at around 40K miles (under emissions warranty) thanks to ETHANOL. It burns too hot and creates ash in your catalytic converter. Ethanol may be good for corn growers, but it is disastrous for many vehicles. I have emissions problems with it again now at 87K. Because of the CC. The (free) diagnostic check (when the engine light came on) reported 5 problems with my emissions system. Fortunately, I don't live in an area where they are strict, or I wouldn't pass. There is only one place in town that sells ethanol free gas, and it is imported from Oklahoma so it is more expensive. It seems that at least this part of Texas is PRO-Ethanol. I suggest premium gas if you can afford it and no ethanol if available in your area. Also, buy gas at larger chains, and if you use cash keep your receipt! Other than that, routine maintenance is all you should need for a long time. (Rotate your tires, keep them from going bald) and replace your windshield wipers. :)

  6. MIKE 14, Aug, 2012

    I like your article, very informative and I couldn't agree more. I use all those priciples of maintanance and have 230k miles on my truck that I bought new.

  7. Kerndell Jones 14, Aug, 2012

    I have a 2003 Honda Accord and have 103000 miles on it and I contonually take my Honda to the dealership. I had a change of oil, and also had a state inspection so I can get my renewal license plate. It came at a cost of $60.00. Thirty bucks for the oill change, and thirty dollars for the insppection which is mandadted by the state in order to be able to get a new license plate..

  8. TSHARP 14, Aug, 2012

    I believe this was a very good article but if you didnt know these things then there is already a problem with your car most likely.........

  9. James Corbin 26, Jul, 2012

    On 1) Skimping on routine maintenance, there is this quote: "Failure to replace worn-out brake pads, for instance, will result in the grinding down of other parts and put you and your passengers in danger. 'The whole brake system may then need to be replaced,' Hafer says." The WHOLE brake system will NOT need to be replaced. No matter how many parts are damaged by worn-out brake pads, you are not going to have to replace brake lines or the master cylinder. Yes, you should replace worn-out brake pads because of safety issues. If you don't, more parts may be damaged. Saying the whole braking system needs to be replaced is an incorrect statement.

  10. don 21, Jul, 2012

    All good points, except #3 -- I own an American car, not a foreign car, and I ALWAYS go to the dealership, for several reasons. Mostly, though, it's because they answer to corporate. They have a major incentive to do it right without ripping their customers off. When the Big 3 were shutting dealerships in 2008, complaints were a factor. I had been taking my vehicles to a local independent mechanic for a number of years. I knew the guy who owned the business. Then, just a few days after getting a brake job done, which included replacing the front rotors, I went to a tire shop for new tires. That was when I discovered that not only had my friendly mechanic forgotten to put one of the caliper pins back in, but they had never replaced the rotors. A trip to a second tire shop confirmed that the rotors on the vehicle were the originals. After thinking about it all for a while, I realized that I was being ripped off at every turn. My friendly mechanic offered a lifetime replacement warranty on all parts (except brakes), and a 90 day warranty on labor. After a while, it starts to sink in that that water pump or alternator you replaced last year is bad again. And again. And again. Always 4-6 months between failures. Sure, the new part is free, but the labor . . . Son of a gun -- the cheapest parts available. So every 4 to 6 months you're back, because, after all, the parts are free, all we're paying for is the labor -- at $300-500 per. The water pump on my '03 Suburban went out twice -- the first time, I had my dealership replace it. When it went out again, they replaced it again -- totally free, without any charge whatsoever. And that was the end of that -- the water pump did not fail again, because it was a genuine Chevrolet part, not some cheap off brand. I realize that not all independent mechanics are crooks. As a matter of fact, most are honest, hard working people. But as the old saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

    1. don 14, Aug, 2012

      You have to have all that work done on a car that's less than 10 years old??? You have a lemon. My car. I change oil, change filters and put in gas. Two sets of tires, one brake job. One new battery two years ago. Never needs anything else. 165,000 miles. It's almost 20 years old. Oh, I forget had to get wippers this summer. Toyota Corolla.

        Reply »  
  11. flflake 18, Jul, 2012

    If you don't at least have a basic knowledge of these 5 things maybe you shouldn't driving! Just a thought.... flflake

  12. Retired Mechanic 18, Jul, 2012

    I can think of 3 more needless repairs. (1) Changing your oil every 3,000 miles. Not needed check your owners manual it will probably suggest 6 or 7 thousand miles. You would be safe changing every 5000 miles. (2) Fuel injector cleaning. Unless there is a check engine light or the car is running bad it is a needless repair. You could include tuneups "when" car is running bad. If a mechanic suggest tuneup without checking car first, just say Thanks but No Thanks. (3) Removing old refrigerant and putting in new. This time of year this one is an easy sell, but not needed. If there is a problm with the AC system then have mechanic find problem and solve that problem. I hzve seen cars go 10 years and not have any work done to AC system. Simple PM's-Preventive Maintenance will save a person a ton of headaches.Oil changes, checking fluids regularly and tire rotation are just a few. Read your ouwners manual instead of watching your favorite tv show it will pay off in the long run.

    1. Charitable Donations 15, Aug, 2012

      Retired Mechanic, Thanks for these tips. That little sticker they put on your windshield after the oil change always shows to change the oil every 3000 miles, but I just checked my owners manual, and it states every 6000 miles. The oil change shop always wants to flush this system, or change this filter. I guess I need to pay more attention to the owners manual.

        Reply »  
  13. Stainless steel tank 16, Jul, 2012

    I will keep these in my mind and avoid them so as to face worries in the future.thanks for this valuable post


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