8 Nov 2009, 12:13am

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Car repair – be careful of what you are not paying for

Nobody enjoys having to get their automobile repaired.  If you are lucky you get to drive to the shop of your choice.  Finding yourself on the side of the road or even your driveway in a dead car is just about the worst feeling in this modern world of ours.  You may never have a clearer understanding how much you rely on your vehicle than at this moment.

 When it comes to car repairs you have two unpalatable options; pay a lot now or much more later.  You also get to choose where to take your conveyance to get it fixed.  I have noticed a general acceptance that taking it to the dealer is the last thing you should do.  You will be ripped off for sure.  You will be overcharged, pressured into additional, unnecessary work and probably pushed towards a salesman while you are feeling vulnerable.  Whomever this actually happened to must have had a heart breaking experience because even though we have never met him or her we sure seem to know all about what happened.

 And yet, it is true? My own experiences with independent shops and certain chains have driven me to dealerships, only to find the service is pretty good.  A case in point is my wife’s 1998 Ford Escort.  Three years ago the clutch on its manual transmission began to fail.  Even though we live within easy walking distance of Red McCombs Ford, she absolutely insisted we take it to a shop she was referred to by an acquaintance even though it was nowhere close to her job, mine or where we live.  Sure, the work was done cheaply.  It was not done well or on time and communication with the shop proved difficult but, hey, we saved a few bucks and that’s what counts, right.

 OK, so shifting gears was bad, especially into first and second.  But you can’t have everything, can you.  My wife persevered until the car needed unrelated work recently.  The car is very old now and has high mileage but despite having four jobs between the pair of us – of which I have three – we are pretty broke, but, then again, who isn’t these days.  This time I just took it to McCombs.  In short order they fixed the latest issue plus fixed the clutch properly for the first time in a long time.  The work was done at the price quoted.  When a newly installed item failed, they called to explain that there would be a delay and gave me a new time for pick-up.

 At the same time my wife’s car was failing, my own five year old minivan was acting up.  When you are poor you have to make tough choices.  Which to get fixed first?  I called Ancira, the nearest Dodge dealership to my house, trying to get an estimate.  The employee said while it might be a CV joint or a bad wheel bearing – my guesses, not his – he recommended taking it to a tire shop first.  Guess what?  It was great advice.  Guess where I’ll be taking it when it does need work?

 Here’s what I have figured out.  McCombs, Ancira and probably Gunn and Cavender as well, though I have no direct experience, can do a better job at hiring – and firing – mechanics than I can.  They have professional service agents to try to make the experience, which no one enjoys, as easy as possible.  They have access to the best tools, the widest range of parts, the most up to date information and expertise.  These, of course, have costs but it is these things that smaller shops and even certain chains – I’m thinking brakes in particular – do not.  So be careful about what you are not paying for.  As I said at the beginning, you have two choices; pay a lot now or pay a whole lot more later.


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