Cars

4 Questions You Need To Ask Before Taking Your Car to the Mechanic

New cars are scarce right now due to a shortage in parts, and used car prices have surged 30 percent in the past year. So it’s smart to hold on to your current car a little longer and ask yourself these simple questions to ensure it continues to run smoothly without costing you a fortune.

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Am I following the right maintenance schedule?

There are two money-saving benefits to following the maintenance schedule in your car’s owner’s manual: (1) It increases your car’s resale value and (2) It reduces your risk of problems. But not if you’re following the manual’s “normal” service conditions. “‘Normal’ is for areas where the weather is always pleasant, the temperature is steady, and there’s no traffic, which doesn’t apply to the majority of us,” says auto expert Audra Fordin, founder of WomenAutoKnow.com. “So you could be waiting too long between checkups, tune-ups, and fluid changes, which can lead to pricey repairs like $5,000 to replace the transmission because it wasn’t serviced at the right time.” Instead, Fordin advises following the schedule for “severe” conditions, which takes into account weather changes and heavier traffic.

Can I get this repaired for free?

If you’ve got an issue with your car or tires, find out if it’s covered under a warranty by calling your dealership or warranty company — even if the warranty has ended. In some cases, manufacturers extend coverage if they discover a part is flawed. Or check to see if the problem is covered under a recall by visiting Recalls.gov. If it is, there’s no cost for repairs. Tip: Get a complimentary test on your battery now at AutoZone, Advance Auto Parts, or another auto parts store. Extreme heat during summer may have drained it, shortening its life. “If it’s still under warranty, you may be able to get it replaced for free, saving you over $100 and helping you avoid an expensive tow because of a dead battery,” says Jody DeVere, CEO of the automotive education website AskPatty.com.

Is this auto shop certified?

If your car’s warranty has expired, you’ll typically pay less for repairs by using an independent repair shop over a dealership since they have lower overhead. But how can you find one that will do the work correctly and won’t scam you? Look for shops that have been certified by organizations that review auto repair business practices and training. For example, you’ll find ones that have earned a National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence certification, which ensures technicians are highly qualified, by visiting ASE.com/repair-centers. RepairPal.com gives certifications to shops that use fair and transparent pricing. And at AskPatty.com, you can search for shops certified as “Female Friendly,” indicating they’re ethical and respectful to women.

Is this the lowest charge for labor?

“Typically, the highest percentage of a repair cost is the labor rate,” explains DeVere. To find out who offers the repair you need at the lowest price, call at least three shops and ask how much they charge per hour for labor. Since the fix should take the same estimated amount of time regardless of which shop you use, choosing one with a lower hourly charge translates to a lower bill. To save on parts, ask your mechanic if they offer ‘aftermarket’ parts, which are up to 60 percent cheaper than original manufacturer parts — but just as good!

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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