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ALL CAR REPAIRS FALL INTO THESE 3 CATEGORIES

car repairs

Hey everyone, hope your weekend is going well! I’m coming at you with a short post today, regarding one of my favourite topics…cars! I actually haven’t written nearly as many vehicle-related blog posts as I would have expected when I started out blogging.  Of course, you may view that as a good thing, depending on your interest level on the subject. ; )

As someone who owns a used vehicle, I’ve figured out that all used car repairs fall into three categories. I was reminded of that this past week, along with the importance of having a great mechanic!

Here’s the story:

CAR REPAIR, PART 1.

Last summer, I took my 2005 Toyota Sienna in to my local dealership for service. I’d noticed a squeaking noise coming from the rear suspension and wanted to have it checked out. Aside from that, the van appeared to be running smoothly.

After a few hours, I got a call from the service technician. With a very serious tone, he informed me that there were some major problems with my van.

My heart sank, and I immediately saw $$$ signs.  After all, who wants to spend money on car repairs?

The issue I’d brought it in for was confirmed to be a cracked rear coil spring, which posed somewhat of a safety issue and had to be repaired. The cost would be about $600 to replace both of the rear springs, which was recommended.

That wasn’t a surprise.

Unfortunately, it was just the tip of the iceberg, so I was told.

The tech proceeded to tell me that my tires were shot, and that I had a noisy hanger bearing which needed replacing. As if that wasn’t enough, the right boot on my power steering rack had been torn, and was leaking power steering fluid. I was told that the boot on it’s own could not be repaired, and that I would need to replace the entire power steering rack at a cost of over $1200.

In total, they quoted required repairs of over $3500! Ouch.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS…

I gotta tell you, it was hard to understand how a vehicle which by all accounts was running perfectly fine could have such extensive problems. It’s not like I had been left stranded on the side of the road and the van had to be towed into the shop. In fact, it pulled into the garage purring like a kitten.

I had to do some quick math! My Sienna, 11 years old with 200,000 miles, had a market value of about $4000. It was worth a lot more than that to me, but regardless, it’s tough to justify shelling out almost 100% of your vehicle’s value in repairs.

THREE CATEGORIES OF CAR REPAIRS

When you drive older, higher mileage vehicles, there comes a point where repairs fall into one of three categories: essential, deferred, ignored.

In my mind, essential repairs are ones that involve matters of safety. In other words, if you don’t fix this, you might die. Also included are repairs that if neglected, could lead to further damage and more costly repairs.

Many repairs can be deferred. This is an important one. Just because a problem has been identified, it doesn’t mean that it needs to be fixed immediately. You should always ask your mechanic if the repair can be postponed, and if so, for how long. A good mechanic will often volunteer this information, others will let you figure it out for yourself. Don’t hesitate to get a second opinion if you don’t trust the information provided.

Repairs that can be ignored. This category is also called “running your car into the ground”. There comes a point where any non-essential repair becomes one that can be ignored.

You may decide to replace your car before reaching this point, but if not, it’s not likely you care about cosmetic damage, or that half-burned out clutch. Anything more than an oil change is tough to justify.

CAR REPAIR, PART 2.

Returning to the story of my van repair, I quickly assessed which category Toyota’s list of ‘required’ repairs fell into. Toyota felt that the cracked coil spring was a safety issue, so I considered that an essential repair. The steering rack was the most expensive item, but they told me that as long as I watched my power steering fluid levels, the fix could likely be delayed as well. Therefore, I considered this to be a deferred repair. I did buy a jug of power steering fluid to keep on hand in the van.

The hanger bearing, they said it was noisy, I couldn’t hear it at all. Again, not an essential repair. It’s almost a year later and I don’t notice any difference. For now, I’m ignoring that one. At some point it may need to be addressed.

I asked them how much life was left in the tires, and they said that it wasn’t an immediate concern, but that they were wearing. I decided to defer for the time being, but keep an eye on them.

It’s now 10 months later. Aside from the $600 coil spring repair, I deferred all other recommendations from Toyota. Keep in mind that had I not questioned them on the repairs, they would have gladly accepted my $3500 that very day.

FAST FORWARD TO THIS WEEK

car repairThis week, I noticed that the van steering was becoming laboured. While the power steering fluid levels hadn’t changed, I thought that perhaps the rack now needed to be replaced.

This time I took it to my main mechanic, one I trust, one who volunteers the information I had to pull from the previous shop.

As it turned out, the U-joint in the steering column just needed lubrication, which they did at no charge. In addition, they informed me, that 10 months later, my tires still have six months to a year left in them.

The hanger bearing is a complete non-issue.

As for the power steering rack, my mechanic said that he can replace the boot without having to replace the entire rack, something I was told previously was not possible. It will set me back $300, a far cry from the $1200 I was quoted last summer.

Given this information, the boot now becomes an essential repair, as I don’t want to eventually have to replace the full unit. I’ll gladly pay $300 for the power steering boot.

SUMMARY

In June, 2016, I was told that my van needed $3500 of repairs, and that the situation was not dire. Rather than accept the diagnosis, I pressed for more information, and categorized the list of repairs under essential, defer, or ignore.

Because of this, my initial bill was only $600. This week, (ten months later) I’ll pay another $300. In the next three to six months, I’ll replace the tires, for another $800 or so.

That’s much easier to swallow.

Authors note:  It was not my intent in this post to be critical of my local Toyota service department.  In fact, my experience in dealing with this particular shop has almost always been overwhelmingly positive, and I am a huge advocate of Toyota cars.  If you have some time, check out this post  and you’ll see why I’m such a big fan : ).   

Comments 12

  1. The vast majority of minor issues do fall into your ignore bucket. Sadly it’s the major that are the least deferrable. I’m quite worried about the future of cars. Each year they become less mechanical and more electrical. At some point fail points will become microchips and it will be much harder to categorize if your electrical gremlin is catestrophic or an annoyance.

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    Hey FTF! I agree with you. I also think that the older cars get, more and more “major” issues can be deferred, or ignored, simply because the car’s value doesn’t warrant the investment. I’m not so worried about the future of cars, but maybe that’s because I’m not very mechanical, so I don’t have that frustration of feeling as though I can no longer do my own work on my car. I know a lot of friends who like to DIY their own repairs, and they lament the computerization of cars.

  3. As a part time mechanic, I can tell you that advances in technology are both good and bad. The best thing you can do is educate yourself. Here is the best channel out there in the topic and if you understand the content of this video, you will be armed to the tooth and know more than plenty of “pros.” I’d rather diagnose something 5 years old than 30 with this knowledge.

    Well, for some reason I can’t post the video, so look up the secret to engine diagnosis on YouTube. The channel is called Schrodinger’s box.

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  4. Great way to break it down MMM! I always struggle with what to do when it comes to repairs like this. When we had a used car, I didn’t have a preferred mechanic and when we bought new, we’ve tried to stick with the service departments from the dealer.

    That said, I’ve heard the “doom and gloom” story from plenty of oil change places and others and have probably gotten taken for a ride more than once.

    Any advice on how to find a “good mechanic”?

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    Hey Chris! To be honest, I haven’t had much in the way of car repairs over the years, aside from this recent issue. We do have a newer car as well, which is still under warranty. I am fortunate to know a couple of mechanics, guys I trust, and I usually bounce things off them if I have a problem. Second opinions are really important when it comes to car repairs.

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      Hey Troy! I was going to title this post, “The Importance Of Having A Great Mechanic”, or something close to that, but your comment pretty much sums it up. Knowing a great mechanic can be a real money saver, not only because of more reasonable prices, but by being honest about the repairs you need to spend money on vs. what can wait.

  6. What a great breakdown! I give up on my cars when the price of repairs are greater than the value of the car. At that point I do exactly as you did and fix only what’s necessary to prolong the life a bit longer.

    I really like your three categories and will be borrowing them for sure.

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      Thanks Ty! I take the same approach you do. In my recent experience, aside from new tires in a few months, my repair bill should only be about $400. I could very easily get another couple years from this vehicle, perhaps more, so it’s still worth that kind of money.

  7. This is a topic that we’ve been tackling lately, so it was great to read your take on it. We have been ignoring an AC issue that popped up at the end of last summer, but with hotter weather approaching, I’m not sure we’ll be able to do that much longer. Getting a second opinion/quote on the issue tomorrow. And… if you or anyone else has a recommendation for a great mechanic in the Tacoma, WA area, I would love it hear it! 🙂

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    I definitely wouldn’t want to go without AC in the summer! Unfortunately, I don’t have any connections in Tacoma, although I have been there a few times. : )

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