What the Experts May Not Tell You about Car Repair

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  • Insider's tips than can save you hundreds of dollars
  • The telltale signs of a dishonest shop
  • The important questions you must ask before every job
  • Straightforward facts about the inner workings of your car


  • Protect yourself against unscrupulous mechanics
  • Avoid the scare tactics that repair shops love to sell you
  • Spot a super scam-where the mechanic scams both the consumer and the repair facility
  • Find a shop or mechanic you can trust
  • Use the service manual for the make and model of your car when discussing repairs or maintenance
  • Protect yourself by learning the ABCs of car function (it's easier to spot a liar)
  • Negotiate repairs
  • Get additional work done if you're not satisfied-at minimal or no expense
  • Fight back when you've been ripped off.

When it comes to your car, knowledge is power-as well as the best guarantee that you won't get taken for a ride! Discover all the facts on parts, services, and labor that will enable you to always get a fair deal and keep your vehicle running smoothly.

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Product Details

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What the "Experts" May Not Tell You About ... Car Repair

By Mitchell Zelman

Warner Books

Copyright © 2004 Great Ideas of Brooklyn, Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-446-69094-5

Chapter One

Learning About Your Car What Destroys Cars?

If you were to put your new car on a lift, start it, and put it into drive, with the exception of changing the oil and filter and adding fuel, it would probably run for well over 100,000 miles without a hitch. From that point, with the proper preventative maintenance, it could do it again. But that same new car on the road encounters many adverse obstacles and stresses.

Road conditions. The ideal road is one that is open, flat, straight, and smooth. The worst is one that is bumpy and congested with many sharp turns. "Stop and go" traffic situations put strain on the engine, drivetrain, brakes, and suspension.

Climate. The ideal climate for cars is one that does not get excessively hot or excessively cold. Extreme heat causes parts to expand, crack, or melt. Extreme cold causes parts to contract and become brittle and stiff. A vehicle kept in a heated garage will outlast a vehicle parked under a foot of snow.

Driving styles. Ideally, if you baby your car it will outlast one that is pushed to its limits. Your car was built to be driven, so drive it, but do not punch it out, push it through hard turns, jam on the brakes to stop, and then expect it to last forever. A car purchased from the little old lady from Pasadena will surely be in better shape than a car purchased from Speed Racer.

Functionality. Compare a three-year-old car driven by a salesman on long trips to the same three-year-old car driven for a car service. There is no comparison. The salesman's car will be in much better shape across the board.

Environment. Do you live near the coast? Salty air penetrates into every space of your vehicle and in due time will corrode exposed surfaces. Salt that is spread on the roadways during the winter will eat away at exposed surfaces and imbed in nooks and crannies, where it will become like a cancerous tumor.

Lifestyles. If you are always in a rush, chances are you will not warm up your car on a cold day, you will accelerate harder to get where you are going, and you will brake harder to stop when you get there-not to mention the risk of crashing.

Over-revving. Driving at high speeds, shifting at the red line (manual transmissions), or forcing your car out of a snowbound parking spot puts added stress on your engine and transmission. Take it down a notch ...

Poor maintenance. Ignoring the maintenance requirements of your vehicle will eventually take its toll and can affect other parts of the car. Ignoring sounds and odors can be a big mistake, as these can be signs of a serious problem.

Faulty repairs. Every time you have a repair performed on your car it is with the intention of correcting or avoiding a mechanical problem. If the repair is not done properly, your vehicle's integrity is compromised. If the repair was made on your power sunroof, well, maybe you will get rained on if it will not close. But if the shabby repair was made on your brake hose, that could be another story ...

Kids. Food, drinks, cigarettes, sharp objects, using the passenger compartment to carry things other than passengers-all can lead to the destruction of your beautiful car.

Exterior aesthetics. Protecting your vehicle's finish from the elements by washing and waxing it periodically will help it last much longer.

Remember that two identical cars that roll off the assembly line one after the other could be found years later, one in great shape while the other is ready for the scrap heap. It was not that the cars were built any differently from each other. It was because of the care and maintenance-or lack thereof-that the vehicles' owners gave to their cars over the years.

Service Contracts

Nowadays, new cars are being built better than ever. They require less and less maintenance because of new technology. As a result, new car manufacturers offer long warranty periods. However, because of the points listed above (and more!), all vehicles will eventually require maintenance and repair. How well your car was maintained and where and how hard it was driven will determine how it will fare when it gets on in years.

If you are the original owner of your vehicle and you have maintained it fairly well from the get-go, you should not expect any major breakdowns for the first 50,000 miles or so. At this juncture in your vehicle's life, you should consider a few points. If you can afford to purchase a new car every three to four years then you may want to start shopping. If you cannot afford to, and you want to see your car last for many years without pouring good money into it, consider a service contract (extended warranty) to protect you from the high costs of repairing your vehicle.

Insurance companies offer plans that will cover the expense of repairing your vehicle should it need repair. There are a wide range of plans that cover anything from a faulty cigarette lighter to rebuilding your engine or transmission. Choose a plan that pays for "new," not used, replacement parts. Before deciding on a particular plan be sure to read the fine print and understand what will not be covered. Look for a plan that offers a zero deductible even if you have to pay a few hundred dollars more for the policy.

This will save you money in the long run. If you select a plan with a deductible, find out the terms of the deductible. Under some service contracts you pay one charge (deductible) per visit for repairs, no matter how many. Other contracts require a deductible payment for each unrelated repair. For example, your vehicle develops a leak from the water pump, which is a component covered by your extended insurance plan. You bring your vehicle into the shop to have it repaired and while it is being repaired the mechanic notices that your shock absorber (another covered part) is leaking. Will your insurance company apply the deductible only once or will they consider the repairs as two separate incidents as these components are not related, and apply the deductible twice? For more facts on service contracts go to the Federal Trade Commission for the Consumer Web site. Also, you can contact the Better Business Bureau or your state insurance commission to see if there have been any complaints against a specific insurance company.

Also look for a plan that will cover overheating and related problems. Note: Salvage titles will void this warranty. Salvage titles are titles given to cars that were considered total losses by the insurance companies due to fire, vandalism, collision, theft, or flood. These cars are purchased and repaired by body shops. They then have to pass a strict inspection to determine if they are safe before they can be re-registered. The new title will then say "salvage" on it.

Additional benefits of these plans might include towing, car rental, tire coverage, road service, and trip interruption, which would pay for lodging and meals while your car is being repaired. For those who lease vehicles, some plans include turn-in protection, which will cover against any body damage the vehicle has when you return it at the end of your lease.

Different plans are available for cars with both low mileage or high mileage, but the least expensive plans are offered to vehicles that are still covered by the manufacturer's warranty.

Insurance companies are in business to make money. They do this by taking in more money than they shell out. Hopefully your vehicle will not suck you dry, but if you feel that it is on the verge of doing that you should consider this coverage. There is a Web site called "Extended Warranty Buyer's Guide" that can help you decide on the right policy for you and your car.


New vehicles, barring any manufacturing or engineering defects, require very little maintenance for the first 15,000-20,000 miles. You should familiarize yourself with your vehicle by reading your owner's manual and maintenance schedule, which should serve as your guide. Changing the engine oil and oil filter every 3,000 miles, rotating the tires every 6,000-9,000 miles, and maintaining the proper tire pressure is generally all that is needed for new vehicles.

Insider's Tip

New car dealers offer scheduled maintenance at high prices. If your car has less than 20,000 miles you should not and will not need much. Many of the items on their checklist can be checked by a qualified mechanic during a routine oil and filter change.

Used or older cars require a little more attention. By 20,000 miles, depending on driving conditions, brake pads could wear down due to the friction exerted against them each time you brake. Some cars have brake sensors that will activate a warning light on the dashboard when the brake pads wear thin. Others have metal squeak indicators that will squeak when your pads are worn out.

Fluid levels are another concern. Check the levels of the following fluids: oil, transmission, power steering, brake, antifreeze, and windshield washer. Check the wiper blades for cracks or streaking. Clean them with a paper towel and Windex before you decide to replace them. Clean the windshield. If you do a lot of stop-and-go driving, have the motor and transmission mounts checked at this time.

Many people do not replace their belts or hoses until they fail, and eventually they all will fail. A recent national voluntary vehicle inspection program by the Car Care Council found that 24 percent of belts and 19 percent of hoses checked Wwere in need of replacement. And there is no good time to be stranded. In addition, your engine will overheat from a broken belt or hose. This can cause serious and expensive damage.

What causes belts to break? Heat, age, and high mileage are the culprits. The engine compartment is very hot and the bending of the belts as they go around the pulleys creates more heat.

Serpentine belts are more commonly used on today's engines, spinning the power steering pulley, air-conditioning compressor, alternator, and water pump. If this one belt breaks, all of the above will stop working and the vehicle will be dead in the water. Serpentine belts should be replaced every four to five years or 50,000-60,000 miles. V-belts should be replaced every three to four years or 40,000-50,000 miles. Timing belts should be replaced every 60,000 miles, although some newer models boast timing belts that last 100,000 miles.

Hoses carry antifreeze through the cooling system. They are subjected to extreme heat and cold. After enough time hoses can become hard and brittle. In many cases they balloon and burst.

The problem for many mechanics is that a hose may look fine from the outside but it might be deteriorating from the inside. This is why it is a good idea to replace all the hoses every four years or 48,000 miles as a measure of preventative maintenance. Care should be taken by the mechanic not to damage the neck of the radiator or heater core while removing the old hose. New clamps should be used to ensure a tight squeeze.

If you drive over bumpy conditions, have the suspension checked. This would include the steering linkage, ball joints, struts or shocks, control arm bushings, and sway bar links.

Aside from your routine oil and filter change, you might be in need of a new air filter and fuel filter. The air filter prevents small particles such as dust and sand from entering the air intake manifold. Traveling on dirt roads and driveways will cause this filter to clog faster, preventing the free flow of air into the engine. This can cause poor engine performance resulting in sluggish acceleration and decreased fuel mileage. Some newer vehicles come equipped with "cabin" filters. These prevent dirty air from being blown into the interior compartment through the heater or A/C vents. If they are clogged you can blow air pressure through them to clean them, or purchase new ones.

The fuel filter prevents dirty fuel from entering the fuel intake system. Dirty fuel can result from a dirty or rusty gas tank, or possibly from sediment floating around in the gas station tank when you are filling up. Dirt in your fuel will clog your fuel filter, causing poor performance, and if completely clogged will cause your engine to stop running. A third source of dirty fuel could come from vandalism. You should always lock your gas cap.

Gasoline goes stale after five or six months. If you know you will not be using your vehicle for an extended period of time, a fuel preservative or stabilizer should be added. Follow the product's instructions.

General Precautions

Before we go into the things that could go wrong with your car, here is a list of sensible rules to be followed when you start tinkering around.

Exercise extreme caution when refueling. Static electricity can ignite fuel vapors when you are refueling. Always touch the side of the car, not near the filler, or touch the metal near the pump away from any source of gas before touching the gas pump nozzle.

Never put yourself or any body parts under a car when lifting it or when it is jacked up. Never jack a car up on anything but level ground with the parking brake on.

Never use a droplight in the presence of fuel. A droplight is a potential igniter of fuel.

Out of respect for heat, moving parts, and high voltage, never touch anything in the engine compartment when the car is running.

Never wear a tie, braids, or jewelry of any kind that could be drawn into the engine's fan, belts, or other moving parts.

Never put your face directly over the carburetor or battery.

Never touch high-voltage ignition wires when the car is running.

Never touch the fan blades, even when the engine is off.

Never open up a radiator cap when the engine is hot.

Be aware of remote starter switches when you work on your car.

Never stand in water with a droplight or other electrical device.

Never run your engine indoors.

Never work on your car with children in or around it.

Always wear gloves and eye protection when handling a car battery.

Always use your head. Think it through.

Protect the environment. Dispose of oil, antifreeze, batteries, and tires properly.


Excerpted from What the "Experts" May Not Tell You About ... Car Repair by Mitchell Zelman Copyright © 2004 by Great Ideas of Brooklyn, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2005

    saved me time and money

    this book helped me out of a bind when my car was towed in off the highway.I referred to the chapter on starting and was able to control the situation at hand.It was great.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2005


    great book...thanks for putting the stroy in the book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2004

    Read this book and SAVE money!!!

    After reading this book I now understand how my car works.It wasn't that hard to grasp.I can have an intelegent conversation with my mechanic and feel much more confident in the repair process.I also know what to look out for .Great,easy reading...

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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