By Whitney Vandiver
Auto repairs have gotten more expensive, and delaying maintenance — and your driving habits — can cost you
This article is reprinted with permission from NerdWallet.
You went for an oil change. You leave with an itemized invoice as long as your arm.
Expensive services are a reality for many car owners, especially those who have delayed maintenance. According to insurance market SmartFinancial, the cost of auto parts has jumped since early 2021.
Many people don’t trust their mechanics to do only what is necessary. You should not arbitrarily accept all repairs, but neither should you reject them out of hand. Instead, learn to ask the right questions and question the way you drive and the quality of your service.
Parts quality and driving habits influence maintenance schedule
Some maintenance is recommended at regular intervals, such as an oil change every 6,000 miles, while other services occur at irregular intervals. When variable maintenance will be needed depends on how worn your car is and how long the parts last.
Items like batteries “generally have a lifespan, and the more you spend, the longer the lifespan,” says Nicole Miskelley, manager of PMR Auto & Diesel Repair in Marion, Illinois.
Driving habits also impact how quickly you’ll need service. Two people driving identical vehicles may need the same type of maintenance at different intervals, says Miskelley.
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Show me the money – and the interview
Most car owners can probably spot bald tires, but the problem arises when mechanics recommend service for issues that drivers can’t see.
Miskelley estimates that about 60% of his customers who come in for regular maintenance learn that there is more to do on their car. In some cases, it is based on the mileage of a car; other times it’s something a technician noticed during a quick inspection of the car.
But not being able to verify that a recommendation is legitimate rather than an attempt to take advantage of a car owner makes some drivers skeptical of mechanics.
According to AAA, 63% of Americans don’t trust the recommendations of mechanics. The main reasons were experience with unnecessary referrals and overcharging for services. However, distrust of mechanics can lead to stale maintenance and higher costs later on.
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Pay now or pay later
A 2022 AAA study estimates that the average car owner pays 9.68 cents per mile for maintenance and repairs over a five-year period, or about $1,300 per year.
And those costs only increase as cars age: Consumer Reports’ 2021 Annual Automotive Surveys showed that the cost of 12-month maintenance and repairs for a 10-year-old car was nearly double that of a 5 year old car.
It’s no surprise, then, that IMR Inc., an automotive market research firm, found that 24.1% of drivers were delaying services or repairs in Q3 2022. And a recent United Tires survey found revealed that 52.2% of drivers who delayed maintenance cited price as the reason.
But small problems can “go from zero to 60,” says Miskelley, which can lead to more problems and higher bills down the road. And according to the same United Tires survey, regularly delaying maintenance adds an average of $1,193 to maintenance costs over the lifetime of car ownership.
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5 tips to offset your car’s unexpected maintenance costs
1. Create an emergency car account
In addition to a general emergency account, having a savings account for unexpected car expenses helps you prepare financially, says Peter Locke, Certified Financial Planner and Head of Financial Planning at InSight, a planning company financial. Preparing for these expenses is part of owning a car, just like planning for home maintenance.
2. Look for recommended maintenance
It can be expensive to accept all recommended interviews in bulk. Research mechanics’ recommendations to find out what they include, how they affect your car’s performance, and when they should be done.
3. Ask questions
Don’t be afraid to ask a mechanic for more information about what maintenance includes and why it needs to be done. This will help you make an informed decision based on the condition of your car.
“Any time you talk to a mechanic, they should be able to explain pretty clearly why they’re doing it,” Miskelley says. “And what will be the long-term effects of avoiding it.”
4. Look for maintenance quotes
Just like comparing prices for hotels or flights, compare quotes for maintaining your car, says Locke.
Dropping off your car at the nearest garage may be the quickest option, but that doesn’t mean it’s the cheapest. Ask around to see if you can get a better deal.
5. Time your serves
Some maintenance operations may not be as urgent as other services. Take a look at your budget and recommended services to come up with a plan to meet the necessities first.
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Your mechanic should be able to help you prioritize maintenance, says Miskelley. Safety issues should “be addressed immediately to keep your car alive rather than ‘this is what we recommend just because it’s time'”.
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Whitney Vandiver writes for NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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