Auto Repair Made Easy
Vehicle owners can prepare themselves to avoid getting ripped off when it comes to repairing their automobiles. Smart vehicle owners know how their vehicle works, which also means they can identify common car problems. Knowing this information can prove beneficial for vehicle owners who wish to save money and keep their automobiles in top notch condition. Most vehicle owners do not have the advanced mechanical knowledge needed to perform regular maintenance checks themselves. Therefore, getting familiar with an automobile's basic functions will help vehicle owners select a good technician by asking the right questions. Knowledgeable vehicle owners also know their consumer rights in the case a technician does try to rip them off. In addition, it may help prevent common mechanical mistakes.
How to Choose a Repair Shop
Informed vehicle owners know how to choose an honest repair shop. They know all of the right questions to ask before they bring in their vehicle for repairs. In addition, they usually ask friends, family, or trusted individuals about honest auto repair shops. It is important to know the right repair shop before mechanical problems start happening rather than waiting until the last minute when it counts the most. After talking to trusted friends and family, shop around by telephone and compare warranty polices on repairs. Ask the auto repair shop about their current licenses. State law requires auto repair shops to obtain a license. If a problem arises, contact the local Attorney General's office to see if any current complaints exist against a particular repair shop. Find another repair shop if the current one fails to provide information or honor the vehicle's warranty.
Taking the Scare Out of Auto Repair: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers prudent advice to automobile owners who wish to avoid getting scammed by auto mechanics.
How to Choose a Technician
Informed vehicle owners know how to choose an honest auto technician. Look for auto repair shops that display certifications. This proves they employ technicians have the competence to work on automobiles. Look at the date on the certifications to ensure they are current. However, remember that certification alone does not guarantee a technician will perform good or honest work. Inquire with the auto repair shop to see if the technician has previous work experience.
Automotive Service Excellence: The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence rewards certifications for technicians who demonstrate competence with auto mechanics.
Motorist Assurance Program: A consumer education program that equips vehicle owners with common knowledge about their automobile in order to choose the right auto repair shops and technicians within their local areas.
Before allowing their vehicles to be worked on, informed owners inquire with the auto repair shop to see how they price their work. While some auto repair shops charge a flat rate for labor, others charge based on the actual time it took for the technician to complete the job. Consider getting a second opinion if the vehicle requires expensive repairs. A second opinion will also answer questions about recommended work. Also be sure to inquire with the auto repair shop to see if they charge for diagnostic time. Some shops only do diagnostic work, which means they can give objective advice about any necessary repairs.
Vehicle owners should always ask for a written estimate if they do decide to get the work done by their chosen auto repair shop. A written estimate should identify the repairable condition, the needed auto parts, and the labor charge. Obtain a signed copy from the auto repair shop and then file it away. A written estimate should state that the auto repair shop will contact the vehicle owner for approval before they do any work on the automobile. State law may mandate that auto repair shops provide a written estimate before working on the vehicle.
Informed vehicle owners also know their auto parts. Auto repair shops classify parts in one of three categories, including new, re-manufactured, and salvage. New parts fit the original manufacturer's specifications, whether it comes from an independent company or the vehicle manufacturer itself. State law may mandate that auto repair shops inform the vehicle owner before they use non-original parts. Prices of new parts vary. Re-manufactured parts imply that a manufacturer has restored them to a working condition. Salvage parts refer to mechanical components taken from another vehicle without modification. Salvage items rarely carry a guarantee against breakdown.
It is important to get a complete auto repair order detailing the work done on the automobile. An auto repair order should list the repair job and parts used on your vehicle. It should also state the time when the technician completed the repair work. Owners should ask the auto repair shop for all replaced parts. State law may mandate that the auto repair shop provide an auto repair order.
Understanding the Shop Estimate and Repair-ese: Auto MD explains the written estimate and its importance in ensuring honest repair work.
What Everyone Needs to Know About Auto Repairs (PDF): A fact sheet that explains the proper steps to take when getting repairs for an automobile.
Protecting Your Auto Repair Investment
Informed vehicle owners know what to do to protect their auto repair investment. When dealing with warranties, owners should make sure they understand what it covers and then get it in writing. Warranties may have limitations, including deductibles, time, mileage, and an authorized businesses list. The manufacturer requires that vehicle owners meet the terms and conditions outlined in the warranty in order to qualify for reimbursement. Vehicle owners should contact the federal and local agencies governing consumer rights regarding warranty policies.
Vehicle owners can contact the dealership directly to see if they offer service contracts. Service contracts provide additional coverage for auto repairs. Owners should consider several factors before purchasing a service contract, including its overall cost, covered and omitted repair work, limits to overlapping warranties, deductible, and limitations on where the owner should take the automobile to have the repair work done. Owners should conduct research on the procedures required to file a claim, whether or not the service contract requires the owner to pay for repairs out-of-pocket, and the service contract company's reputation. Smart vehicle owners can dispute errors in billing, quality of repairs, and warranties. In order to resolve a dispute, owners should document all transactions, including dates, times, and expenses. Before escalating a dispute, owners should talk to the shop's owner first and then contact the Attorney General for further action.
Know the Facts about Auto Service Contracts: The Better Business Bureau (BBB) provides pertinent information about automobile service contracts.
Guide to Automotive Service Contracts: A consumer-based report that addresses all of the key points about automotive service contracts.
Preventing and Detecting Auto Problems
Smart vehicle owners who know about their vehicles will likely head off repair problems. Owners can detect common vehicle problems by using their acquired knowledge and observational skills. A defunct automobile will let its owner know that problems exist. Owners only need to look around their vehicle to see if something seems off. Vehicles do funny things when their parts malfunction, which can manifest in an unusual ride. Unusual odors also indicate that the vehicle may have something wrong under the hood.
Unwelcome Surprises: Consumer Reports addresses 7 common car problems that can leave drivers stranded on the side of the road.
Notes From the Road: Help Your Mechanic Help You: Mobil Oil addresses key points about auto repair work that every vehicle owner should adhere to in the long run.
What to Look For
Vehicle owners who notice small stains under their automobile may not have worry too much about mechanical problems. On the other hand, wet spots in the form of puddles deserve immediate attention. Owners can identify fluids by color. For instance, a yellowish greenish, bright orange, or pastel blue may indicate an antifreeze leak or overheated engine. A dark brown or black puddle may indicate an oil leak. A red puddle may indicate a power-steering or transmission fluid leak. A clear water puddle usually comes from the vehicle's air conditioner.
How to Identify a Transmission Fluid Leak: HowStuffWorks explains the short process of identifying transmission fluid leaks.
Reading "Road Signs": Fluid Leaks and Puddles: The Car Guy helps ordinary customers identify common wet spots found around their vehicle.
What to Smell For
Vehicle owners who smell unusual orders may have mechanical problems. Owners can detect these problems by their particular odor. For instance, the smell of burnt toast indicates an electrical short. The smell of rotten eggs indicates a problem with the vehicle's catalytic converter. A thick odor indicates an oil leak. Gasoline vapors after a failed attempt at starting the engine indicates a flooded engine. Burning resin indicates an overheated clutch or brakes. A sweet odor indicates a coolant leak. If a sweet odor with a metallic scent exists, then it means that the engine has overheated and continued driving could severely damage the engine.
Auto Diagnosis - What's That Smell?: Popular Mechanics helps consumers identify common car problems associated with unusual odors.
What are These Fluid Leaks Under My Car?: Gary's Car Care answers frequently asked questions (FAQs) about basic car care, including how to identify fluid leaks and odors associated with them.
What to Listen For
Vehicle owners who hear a difference in the way their automobile sounds may have mechanical problems under the hood. For instance, a squeal usually indicates a loose or worn power steering, air conditioning, or fan belt. A clicking noise indicates either a loose wheel cover, stuck valve lifter, or a loose bent blade. A screeching noise may indicate that the brakes need replacements. A rumbling noise indicates a defective exhaust pipe, muffler, converter, or worn drive-line component. A pinging noise may indicate the use of a lower octane gas than what the manufacturer recommends. A heavy knocking sound indicates a worn crankshaft or loose transmission converter. A clunking noise indicates a loose exhaust pipe, muffler, or shock absorber.
What Does The Check Engine Light Mean?: An article that explains the significance behind the mysterious “check engine” light, including signs of potential car problems.
Why a Car Won't Start: "I Can Hear a Clicking Noise, but My Car Won't Start.": A troubleshooting guide that identifies common car problems associated with clicking noises.
What to Feel For
Vehicle owners who feel a difference in the way their automobile handles the road may have mechanical problems under the hood. For instance, misaligned front wheels can cause difficulty steering. If the vehicle veers to the left or right, then it may have problems with under-inflated tires. A vehicle with poor cornering may have problems with its suspension system. Weak shocks will allow the vehicle to bounce multiple times.
If the vehicle pulls to one side when applying the brakes, then the owner should schedule a diagnosis and repair. The same applies if the pedals sink to the floor when applying pressure to them. Scraping and grinding during braking indicates the need for replacements. A vehicle may indicate engine trouble if the owner has trouble starting the engine, if the “check engine” light turns on, or if it stalls out and idles. Other indicators of poor engine performance include poor acceleration, poor fuel economy, and excessive oil use. Owners may feel problems with their transmission if it suddenly becomes hard to shift between gears. Other indicators of transmission problems may include slippage during acceleration, failure to shift while accelerating, and delayed response when shifting from neutral to drive.
Steering Problems Associated with Pulling: An article that explains what causes pulling in vehicles.
The Effect of Wheel Umbalance on Vehicle Dynamics (PDF): A paper that describes how misaligned wheels can cause steering problems, including vibrating and wobbling.
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