Regular servicing is a recommended and often essential part of caring for your car. It can also cause resentment due to the almost inevitable feeling that you’re paying for unnecessary work. Here are seven tips from a veteran mechanic that will help to ensure your car serving is fair and affordable.
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If you have a particular repair job in mind, then you can brush up on the likely costs beforehand. It’s the unexpected surprises that sting the most. The best approach is to anticipate your car service as a long-term project, and work your way up to the final hurdle.
So, whether you’re an eternal optimist who expects to be pleasantly surprised by your mechanic’s bill, or you stop in at the closest garage for even the smallest job, you should take heed of the following tips, which may work out to be considerably cheaper.
#1 Consider related trades, and seek some free advice
Rather than assuming that all car problems need a mechanic, you might be able to find a reputable and thrifty alternative. For example, ignition problems can be solved by a qualified locksmith. For a fraction of the price of replacing the ignition barrell, you can get your key cut to exact manufacturer’s specifications, which will turn over much more smoothly.
Another option is to visit an auto parts store. You’ll likely find that the extremely knowledgeable staff can steer you in the right direction, without having to fork out an hourly rate to hire a professional.
#2 Dial an auto wrecker
If your car is a little older, try calling in spare parts, and you may be able to replace your problem in its entirety. This solution has an added benefit, in that you aren’t waiting for weeks while a mechanic orders a specific part from your manufacturer, which often comes with a premium price tag.
#3 Knowledge is power when choosing a mechanic
Even if you can’t source a second hand part, you can always enquire about its price. This puts you in the driver’s seat, so to speak. Then, when you call garages for an all-in quote, you can run a quick calculation and roughly ascertain their labour costs. A well placed follow-up question can also help you decide which mechanic is most economical. Enquire about how long the job will take, and you’re in a position to talk billable hours.
Even if your car isn’t in need of repairs, asking the right questions will help to ascertain which mechanics are inflating their margins. So, when it does come time for a service, you’ve narrowed the field to reputable contenders.
#3 Ensure you undertake regular car maintenance
Prevention is always better than a cure, particularly if your car happens to be under warranty. Indeed, this is the only scenario where visiting your dealership will be your most cost efficient option. Otherwise, it’s quite easy to keep your car running smoothly by undertaking work yourself, but it comes with a caveat.
#4 Know your limits while expanding your skill set
Don’t attempt an oil change unless you’re prepared to get very dirty. But in all seriousness, you can quickly teach yourself a number of smaller jobs for when you pop your hood, without risking an irreversible accident. For example, you should look into changing your own air filter next time you check your water, oil and coolant levels.
#5 Work the franchise discount
The advantage of visiting your local mechanic is that you get to build rapport with staff and foster a long-term relationship. However, this can quickly be supplanted by the advantages of a retail chain, where you can save considerable cash due to their economies of scale. In addition, after sourcing a few quotes, the larger national retailers will often price match or even offer a further discount. For the infrequent visit to the mechanic, it might seem like the odds are stacked against the little guy, but don’t write him off just yet.
#6 Trial a local mechanic with a small, cheaper job
This is a top tip to set you in good stead for regular visits. Test their customer service. Come prepared with questions, and you’ll soon get a sense of whether your mechanic is interested in keeping your business. Also, get any quotes in writing, and work to tiers. If you don’t ask for alternatives to bring down the price, you’re more than likely to be charged the premium. The sort of banter that accompanies a negotiation also shows that you’re prepared to challenge their workmanship, rather than just hand over your wallet or purse.
Ultimately, when larger and more expensive jobs come up, you’re more likely to receive an explanation rather than just a bill.
#7 Utilise the digital age
Not only will you find reviews of local mechanics online, you can also find fairly detailed quote estimation websites. But take any recommendations with a healthy pinch of salt, and never assume that you’ll be given the same deal. Also, check the currency and date stamps of the sites you use, to make sure you’re working with relevant, contemporary rates.
Most importantly, your mechanic will ensure your safety, and the safety of others, so value his or her workmanship as an investment. If you keep your car in good working order, you’ll enjoy a better driving experience while circumnavigating potential stresses down the road.
Harry Sarkissian has been a mechanic for over 22 years. He owns and operates Reliance Auto Centre in Chatswood and has serviced well over 10,000 cars.