What will you do when car woes come for you?

Our long-time, and older, friends recently ran into the Trouble-in-Threes. Two of those were car troubles and unfortunately, they were big ones.

While on a regular road trip pilgrimage to their usual vacation haunt, the second of their two cars had serious trouble: transmission trouble. In fact, the transmission went kerplunk, entirely. Luckily, while it was incredibly inconvenient and costly, no one was hurt when it dramatically died. There was nothing to be done but to replace the transmission, they were told. That ran a good couple thousand dollars.

The second incident was not more than three months later, on the same road to the same destination!

This time they were taking separate cars and the husband pulled over with a flat tire halfway to their destination. The wife wasn’t worried because that car had run flat tires, and she was pretty sure that they should be able to re-inflate the tire enough to get to their destination where they’d deal with the actual problem. As it turned out, that wasn’t good enough.

At the service station they turned into they were informed that run flats can actually only run down to a certain level of flatness. This tire was too low. And only a dealership could repair the tire. It was the weekend, without an open dealer’s maintenance department in sight – and them without a spare.

In the end, our dear friends went through hell and back to get their tire taken care of, and were so exasperated with the process and the product that they ended up paying the dealership they’ve been using for twenty years that sold them the original run flats over $3000 to replace all four tires and wheels with regular tires.

When I related the story to PiC, I think he had a mini-aneurysm.

Overall, money is my thing, but cars are his niche.  Since then, I kept thinking
of the areas where their choices were not the same choices I would make, in general.  For starters, I would have reached out to My Car Guys* for better advice to deal with the situation.

What I’ve Learned Over the Years

Have a team.
When in doubt, ask the local informed enthusiasts to get started – they know how to get the job done or who can get the job done for a fair price. You don’t want to skimp on car parts and services, but you don’t need to pay inflated prices for either one. I have Car Guys of my own but I would definitely hit the auto forums for a start at research if I didn’t have My Car Guys.

*My Car Guys are a group of trusted friends and family: PiC and his friends who are either employed in the car industry with their own expertise or have direct connections to the same because they frequently use their services; a family friend who has been our mechanic for nearly twenty years, he can do any basic maintenance when he’s got time or give us general over the phone advice; my childhood friend who has done his own car maintenance and research over the past fifteen years.

I can trust them to guide me to the right resources when they can’t help me out directly (which isn’t always practical since we’re not longer just down the street from each other or just simply don’t have the time anymore). Which leads me to …

Do your own research. Make sure that you’re consulting reliable resources.

If you’re looking to buy? Start with Edmunds. Kelley Blue Book.

If you’re being quoted services? Know that mechanics actually use prescribed manuals that suggest the number of hours of labor each service should take. The actual cost per hour will vary, of course, but the multiple of hours they’re charging should be within reason. Mechanics use, among others, Alldata and Bentley’s, for reference.

If you’re replacing parts? Know the difference between OEM (original equipment manufacturer) and aftermarket parts before committing to buy. And some parts can be easily found on Craigslist, used and new. PiC buys and sells tires there and they’re easily checked for wear and tear.

Know the true lifespan of your parts.
Today’s modern cars aren’t built to withstand impact like the tanklike models we so fondly refer to but the component parts can last longer than the age-old truisms would have you believe. Most modern and newer cars really do not require an oil change every 3000 miles, if you do some research, you may find that the oil changes can really be done between 5000-7000 miles depending on the car usage.

Other parts should not be stretched past conventional wisdom – it may be tempting to leave it until later because “they’ll last another week/month/several months” and they might squeak by but it can really cause severe damage to other parts of the car. Timing belts, for example, may not obviously give out once past their recommended replacement date, and should be replaced regularly as it can affect the other parts that rely on them.

::What are your go-to resources when it comes to car repair and maintenance?

About Revanche

Revanche writes the personal finance blog A Gai Shan Life.