Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me (Car Edition)
January 17, 2017 10:53 AM   Subscribe

I'm a first time car owner and I do not understand cars at all. How can I learn about cars, or enough about my car, that I'm not taken advantage of by mechanics/dealers when I repair/buy cars?

I just brought my car in for serving at my dealer and I (stupidly) agreed to $1500 worth of "repairs" that I "needed." Like, whatever, I can afford the repairs, I'll survive, but I don't want to agree to something so stupid EVER again. I felt like I couldn't say no or that I even had a "choice" with what they wanted to do because I had no clue what the service manager was talking about.

So... what's the best way to learn about cars and not be taken advantage of? I feel so stupid right now.
posted by modesty.blaise to Travel & Transportation (34 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh and one more thing, I really don't have anyone in real life who I can ask for help with these things!! I'm kind of alone in the dark here.
posted by modesty.blaise at 10:55 AM on January 17


I would focus on finding a good neighborhood mechanic. There isn't really any reason to go to the dealer for service if you have a good mechanic. You can use Yelp and similar websites to find someone with a strong reputation for honesty. A good mechanic will explain stuff to you and tell you whether you really need a repair or whether it can wait.
posted by Mid at 10:58 AM on January 17 [7 favorites]


you may want to check around your area - some colleges and learning/community centers will have basic car repair classes.

also, for whatever car you have, i guarantee there is a message board or lover of x car fb group out there. there's some sifting and some people will give you shit for being a noob, but i find for the most part that these people genuinely love their cars and want you to love yours too, and will be willing to answer questions, no matter how seemingly dumb.
posted by koroshiya at 11:03 AM on January 17


It's totally possible you need $1500 worth of repairs, cars are expensive.

You could buy one of the Chilton or Haynes manuals for your car. Read it and you'll learn the words the mechanics/dealers are using and you can ask questions to make sure they're not screwing you.

Also, you can always ask, "what will happen if I don't do these repairs?"
posted by gregr at 11:05 AM on January 17 [5 favorites]


I take my car to the dealer to have the scheduled maintenance (because their price is decent), but if my car is running OK and no warning lights have lit up, I don't get any non-scheduled repairs at the dealer until I know what they want to do and why. Recommended scheduled maintenance is listed in your car manual. Reading your car manual is a good first step to learning about your car.

If you like podcasts, Car Talk is a fun way to learn about cars through osmosis.
posted by muddgirl at 11:13 AM on January 17


I like Edmunds.com as a comprehensive resource, especially for learning how to research cars, determine fair prices, and negotiate at dealers.
posted by Autumnheart at 11:19 AM on January 17


I would focus on finding a good neighborhood mechanic.

This has served me well as a strategy. I use the dealership when I have to, when we don't want any possible disputes over work done (e.g. on a lease) or for warrantee work. But for everything else Bill's garage is where I take stuff. He's good, quick and about 3/4 the shop rate of the dealership. He's been there for me on the terrible snowy night when my front coil broke, and he's given me advice on what used cars he best likes. I get Bill's advice in fact on how best to get the dealerships to honour warrantee repairs. Knowing what to ask for and that, for example, there's a specific recall notice I should ask about has helped me a number of times.

Ask around and see if you can get recommendations. Bill's came highly recommended to me by my cow orkers, who had been long time customers as well.
posted by bonehead at 11:23 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


Came to say that the car might have needed the repairs but that dealer prices on routine services are generally more than a competent independent shop. Ask your coworkers or family or a neighbor or on Facebook or on Nextdoor for a recommendation. Ask questions. You don't need to be a mechanic but let them explain that hey, your rotors are worn. They can't be resurfaced. You need new ones. They cost x. Labor is y.

Ask what would happen in the worst case if you defer the repair.

Realize that cars are expensive to use and maintain. I know it seems like spending $125 to flush and fill your cooling system seems crazy expensive but the alternative is many times more expensive.
posted by fixedgear at 11:24 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


I just brought my car in for serving at my dealer and I (stupidly) agreed to $1500 worth of "repairs" that I "needed."

BTW, in this specific instance, it's totally reasonable to take the car to another garage for a second opinion/estimate. It is completely fine to even request your car back from the dealership with this stated purpose (which may cause them to budge on their estimate, you never know). But for expensive repairs don't be afraid to get multiple quotes if you have the time and patience. Shop and parts rates can vary quite a bit.
posted by bonehead at 11:26 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


Ask friends for a mechanic they recommend. Our mechanic -- the one that was recommended to me by friends and the one I recommend to friends -- usually gives a report like this every time we take a vehicle in for oil changes: "Everything looks good except for X and Y. X needs to be replaced; it's 90% ground to dust and once it fails you're going to swerve into a bridge abutment and die. Y is on the way out, but you can probably get another 10k to 20k miles on it. You're set to do ABC preventative maintenance after another 20k miles anyway, so I'd recommend waiting on Y until then, but do it when you do ABC maintenance. And if Y fails before then, it's not the end of the world, you're just going to hear DEF noise."
posted by craven_morhead at 11:26 AM on January 17 [8 favorites]


FWIW, there are dealerships with good service departments and competitive pricing. I’ve lived in several places where the dealership was my preferred repair shop – the last place even told me that it wasn’t worth getting exhaust system work done there and referred me to a mom-n-pop shop for that.

And I’ve shelled out a lot of money at a neighborhood shop that was unable to solve a problem that the dealership recognized right off the bat because it was a known issue for my year and model car. Also, I hate to say it, but I’ve found in general that neighborhood mechanics are more likely to look talk down to women than dealership mechanics who have to toe a corporate line.

If you suspect you’re getting a run around, you can always say no to the work and get a second opinion. But is there a reason you think the “repairs” you just got belong in quotes? $1,500 is not a crazy bill depending on what was done.
posted by Kriesa at 11:28 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


I really like the cable show Wheeler Dealers, and it's accidentally taught me quite a lot about mechanical details of cars and also negotiation. Every week they buy one used car, fix everything wrong with it, then sell it again at the end.
posted by w0mbat at 11:29 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


What car is it? What did they do? What did they say was wrong? How old is the car?
posted by joshu at 11:30 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Nthing finding a good local mechanic that you trust. After 15 years of car ownership, I finally have a mechanic, and I no longer feel like I'm about to get screwed at every turn. However, pre-mechanic this was what I did:

*Research: Get a written estimate (get two!), and google it to death. Look up part prices on napa.com. Even without a knowledgeable friend, you can get a good sense of what other people have paid for a similar repair.
*Negotiate: Pricing is generally negotiable. It doesn't always work at a dealer, but you can always say something like "this is more expensive that I expected, is there anything you can do to knock the price down for me?" Be super polite, you're asking for a favor!
*Invent an Imaginary Authority Figure: I once needed a repair urgently, but was almost positive the pricing was outrageous, so I said "that's a lot of money, I need to go outside and call my dad." Then I went outside, did not call my dad, and went back in and told them my dad said it was too expensive and I should take the car somewhere else. They immediately cut the price in half.

TLDR - there's no harm in trying to negotiate, they will always do it for the price they originally quoted, so you have nowhere to go but down.
posted by zibra at 11:30 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]


Also, you can always ask, "what will happen if I don't do these repairs?"

Start by doing that. But yes, cars are expensive to maintain. When I still owned a car I could safely assume every trip to the dealer's service department was going to cost me about $400 because there was always some recommended maintenance due. A few trips were more expensive than that because particular big ticket items came up (e.g. the timing belt, which was like an $800 visit).

Familiarize yourself with the manufacturer's recommended service schedule, which should be in the manual. If you go to a dealer they may have a modified service schedule they prefer, and you can question them as to why they differ with the manufacturer, and the potential cost of following one schedule or the other.

After you have done that, find the owner forums for your make and model, and see if people there have said anything about particular repairs. People may point out particular recurring service issues that you may want to know about, either to prevent them (if possible) or to talk to your shop about them. With my car there was an issue that when the brake pads got too warn, the heat they generated could warp the brake rotors. Resurfacing the rotors was more expensive than new pads, and thicker pads dissipated enough heat to prevent the warping.

If possible, pull the service history for your car. Depending on the manufacturer, there could be a network log of all service no matter which dealer did the work. Independent shops can be hit or miss in this regard, but some information is better than none. Also, keep your own notes (and all your service receipts) in one place, so if they recommend a service you may already have had, you can figure that out and decline having it done again. In my case, I stupidly got my timing belt replaced twice, because I did it before I moved (knowing I was driving thousands of miles before I'd see a mechanic again) and then after the move when the new mechanic said, "hey, you're overdue for a timing belt" and I didn't know where my records were and I was late for work so I said yes without thinking.

Auto maintenance isn't necessarily a scam, but there definitely are service departments at some dealerships that will goose their numbers by making everything sound critical and pushing you to take care of scheduled maintenance early because you're there, but if you've read up and found people you can trust this will be less likely to happen to you. On the flip side, dealer service departments will have parts and labor specified for the job by the manufacturer, so this can prevent nasty surprises as long as they communicate the final cost up front. Some independent mechanics can start with a lower quote but then be surprised by something the manufacturer includes in the maintenance schedule.

Also my personal rule was that I took the car to a dealer while I still owed money on it and it was under warranty, and I started using an independent mechanic for maintenance after that. Once I had an independent mechanic I usually got quotes from them and the dealer and chose from there (oil changes: same price. Brake pads: cheaper at the dealer. Spark plugs: cheaper at the independent mechanic).
posted by fedward at 11:40 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


My roommate services both his car and mine exclusively via Youtube tutorials. He's done everything from basics like changing the oil and brake pads to more complicated things I am not even sure how to describe, involving situations like "my car is making a weird noise, what's wrong with it". If you search for your make, model, year, and issue you will find plenty of info.

The only exception is when it's something to do with the electronics (other than fuses) or anything related to the computer. That's a Firestone / dealer problem.
posted by ananci at 11:41 AM on January 17


Recommended scheduled maintenance is listed in your car manual.

And, to expand on this note, many dealers have a scummy practice of telling you that you need a "30,000 mile tune-up" that costs a few hundred dollars when your manual doesn't have any such thing listed in the maintenance chart.

Read your manual, look at the chart. Only perform the recommended services at the recommended intervals in the chart.
posted by Fleebnork at 11:41 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


I just brought my car in for serving at my dealer and I (stupidly) agreed to $1500 worth of "repairs" that I "needed." Like, whatever, I can afford the repairs, I'll survive, but I don't want to agree to something so stupid EVER again.

Part of this is also going to be forgiving yourself. One of the things about dealers is that while they often have higher prices and will suggest a lot more preventative maintenance that you may not technically need. They are also usually not going to out and out totally rip you off (though some do), they're just usually catering towards a different sort of clientele. My dad bought a car new, from a dealer and took it in for all of its routine maintenance there (even though it cost more) and appreciated the service he got and didn't care about the money. He also took it to the car wash every other week, got it detailed, etc. Nothing wrong with that approach, it just isn't mine.

I inherited his car when he died. I care more about money so I'll take my car to a dealer if there's a recall (which i have done twice and they've been decent and haven't tried to upsell me on stuff) and otherwise I bring it to Chip's for oil changes and when things need repair. Chips is a local place who is familiar with my type of car (a fairly normal Honda CRV) and has cheaper service costs and less expensive parts. The car also sometimes smells like grease when I get back into it and occasionally they forget to put the seat back where it was. They have email which is something I care about, and I can walk there. It's a different sort of service. My partner owns a much older Toyota which he doesn't want to spend a lot of money on and he has "a guy" who does a lot of fixit work, uses used parts when he can find them and sometimes just shrugs and says "I don't know" about things.

You can often find a good garage by checking Yelp for your area and look for reviews for people like you (some are good for women, some are good for people who need a loaner car, etc). You can also read automotive boards that talk about the sort of car you have to see if the issues you are having are normal or weird and if what your mechanic is suggesting is normal or not. YouTube videos can be good for helping you diagnose your problems. But $1500 is sometimes what car repairs cost and if you can afford it and it's stuff your car would need eventually, being able to pay for preventative maintenance is a good thing so learn to contextualize your feelings around your car. You're not stupid because you tried to take care of it, you just may need more experience with car maintenance.
posted by jessamyn at 11:43 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


And just to note, there may be a person in your life (a family member or a friend who may have a different relationship to cars than you do) who might be all judgmental about the way your choose to maintain and deal with your car. If they're making you feel bad, stop talking to them about the car, or offer to let them take care of it, if they're so good at it. A lot of people like to think they're the best car repair lifehackers out there and don't allow for how there are many correct ways to care for your car. You need to pick the way that works best for you.
posted by jessamyn at 11:45 AM on January 17


Buy Auto Repair For Dummies.

Read it.
posted by COD at 11:46 AM on January 17


But is there a reason you think the “repairs” you just got belong in quotes? $1,500 is not a crazy bill depending on what was done.

I think because this is the first time I took my car in for general servicing (according to the mileage schedule) that I just felt so shocked to be hit with that number and repairs. I feel stupid because I don't know enough about cars to know if these repairs are truly needed or not, I felt like I had to say yes. I didn't understand half the terms they used! It felt like they were speaking Kingon or something! So, I really need to educate myself so I can feel confident in the future when it comes to dealing with my car.
posted by modesty.blaise at 11:49 AM on January 17


Why do you feel that your decision was stupid? Without knowing any other details about your car (make, model, age, etc.) I wouldn't automatically assume that you got ripped off. Actually, my general feeling is that dealerships are unlikely to do anything fraudulent, but that you may not get the lowest price.

There are many reasons as stated above to prefer taking your car to a dealership for repairs.

So I would start by acknowledging your lack of knowledge, let it motivate you to learn if you're interested, but stop beating yourself up about it.

I enjoy Engineering Explained on youtube. He tends towards more specialist knowledge (explaining stuff to people who are already car enthusiasts) but has good primers. Check out the "Learn How Cars Work" playlists. He started out a bit dry but has become more concise and entertaining with more recent videos.
posted by danny the boy at 11:53 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


My wife knows nothing about cars. When she brings her car in for something that I know she needs, she will text me what they said and I tell her to tell them yes or no.

You said you have no one in your life to ask, so when they say you need things, have them print it out, go to your favorite online forum, and ask there.

But, yes, it is highly likely that your car needed those repairs either as preventative (so you won't be stranded a week from now), or you actually needed them now. And don't sweat about the dealer, I take my cars to only dealers now. Their pricing is only a tiny bit higher than a neighborhood mechanic, and they know what they are doing with the nuances with modern cars. I am saddened by how many mom-n-pop shops aren't keeping up with the tech (in their own defense, some of the tools needed exceed 5 digits, however that's the business they are in).

As far as teaching yourself, start by reader your car's manual, go to the fan-site forums for your car, and write down terms you don't know, then YouTube those terms. You can learn a lot in a very short amount of time. You don't need to memorize anything, just be familiar with things.
posted by TinWhistle at 11:59 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Why do you feel that your decision was stupid? Without knowing any other details about your car (make, model, age, etc.) I wouldn't automatically assume that you got ripped off.

Absolutely. If the car is a relatively new (0-10 year old BMW) then that is a perfectly reasonable/normal servicing cost. if it is a 20 year old Accord, then unless it was in a shit state to begin with (possible) then that may be over-spending. Note that none of those scenarios mean you were necessarily over-charged. It is not conclusive that the work you did wasn't necessary, based on what we have here to go on. You seem to be hanging on to the experience as distasteful, and viewing it through that lens. Take a step back a bit.

I feel stupid because I don't know enough about cars to know if these repairs are truly needed or not, I felt like I had to say yes.

The issue is that you felt you had to make that decision right there and then. You don't. Just say 'Um, no thank you' or 'Hmmm, maybe not this time' routinely to all repairs beyond that which you brought the car in for as your FIRST answer and be prepared for them to raise an eyebrow and start with "Er..... but are you sure? Because *this* one is kind of a safety concern" or similar. Then you know which ones you really need to do.

Also, the above advice on googling is correct. Drop the car off, don't wait for it. Have them call you for ANY additional work beyond the agreed scope. If it is above your expected additional work threshold (say an extra $200) then say you will call them back, do your googling and make a decision.

Phrases/thoughts to help you:
Is it a safety concern? If so, why
What is the usual life of the component (and why is yours worn now if that differs).
What will happen if I wait until my next pay cheque/nominal date in the future
What's the worst that can happen if you wait

If you are polite and reasonable, you can judge the severity of the issue based on the responses to a selection of the above. Remember that dealerships and mechanics are trying to make money (of course) but ALSO in the case of dealerships tend to work on the 'get all cars to the perfect serviceability' level. They are trying to make the cars as good as the manufacturer wants because that is what is best for the car. It's not necessarily essential, but is the path of most preventative maintenance. They also service cars like they are new cars, and there comes a point where a (say) 20 year old accord doesn't deserve quite the same attention past the safety critical parts.

Over time you will get this right. BUT. Remember that servicing a car is going to be expensive.
posted by Brockles at 12:32 PM on January 17 [9 favorites]


Ask them what they mean with those terms. If they are asses about it, find a different dealer. In my experience (woman), asking will get me good answers and sometimes even they'll take me to the garage to point it out on my vehicle and show me what they mean. I prefer to go to my dealership because I've been going there a long time for my previous car and I trust them because when I've asked, they've answered.

I feel like it is a good place when they ask me and give me a quote - for both how long it will take to do the work and how much time it will take to do the work - before the extra work is done. It is their job to answer your questions. It is your job to ask questions for clarification.

I have an 8 year old vehicle with low miles that I bought new. $1500 can be a routine maintenance visit in my experience if they had to replace filters, rotate tires (or even replace tires), replace brake pads, do an alignment, etc. It isn't EVERY routine maintenance visit, but it does occur every so many 10k of miles. Find the maintenance schedule for your car in the manual or online and that will help you go into your next maintenance appointment with a good idea of what they'll be recommending next.
posted by jillithd at 1:14 PM on January 17


When I was a lad, it was possible to know about cars. The had a class in HS (for non-college track kids) called Auto Mechanics. I had a Volvo for which the working parts looked just like the illustrations in an Auto Mechanics text.

It's not like that any more. The engines are covered with tubes and whatnot for exhaust cleanliness and high fuel economy. Most of the important functions are controlled by a computer. There are baffles and shields that I think are mean to discourage shade tree mechanics. So, basically, no one knows cars anymore.

And some things are just impossibly expensive, especially from a dealer, but maybe from any mechanic. I recently spent about $400 replacing the little sensors in the valve stems of the tires that inform the light in the dash if tire pressure is low.

You do need to understand the ordinary schedule of maintenance items, which are mostly oil, other fluids, and brakes. Every so often, you have to replace the brake pads. The second time you do, they may say the brake discs have to be resurfaces. Probably, the third time, they have to be replaced (ouch!) In bring this up because if often seems like an unexpected repair, but in fact brake disks are not expected to last for the life of the car, and are a maintenance item.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:24 PM on January 17 [5 favorites]


Find a local, independent repair shop; dealers, on average, will gouge you on the labor rate.

Yelp is for reals a good place to start. That's where I found my favorite NoVA mechanic. Combination of high stars and the following:

1. They provided a report which graded problem areas green ('s fine, maybe problems down the road), yellow (you should save up for this in a few months), red (this thing is actively leaking). Each item was broken down by price, then by parts | labor.

2. They took color photos of the problems and put them in the report. I can't tell you how much this meant to me from an honesty/transparency perspective. You could literally see what they were talking about. I will never go to a mechanic who doesn't do this, ever again.

3. They were pretty "take it or leave it" about what I wanted to do and when. Nobody told me I was going to die if I didn't fix a red item--except the one time where the mechanic said, matter of factly, "In a front-wheel-drive car like this, with this type of suspension, if your strut, which has a crack in it, collapses on the highway, there is a decent chance that you are going to flip your car and die, or else spin leftward, get t-boned, and die." Then he explained how that would happen, from a physics perspective, and he was right. So I had them replace the strut.

I took my car there for everything, even oil changes.
posted by radicalawyer at 1:44 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Cars are fairly easy to understand in a general sense, but it's practically impossible to understand all the details.

The main things to research (wikipedia is a fine place for this) are:

1. Engine - learn how a 4-stroke engine works. But all that you really need to know is that spark plugs matter, and it's Very Bad if the valves hit the pistons.

2. Drivetrain - FWD, RWD and AWD are the major flavors of drive train. RWD is the simplest, and just involves a transmission and differential to the rear wheels. FWD is more complex because power needs to be sent to wheels that turn left and right in addition to going around and around. So FWD cars typically have CV-joints as well. AWD is the most complex, and varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. There will be clutches and differentials all over the place.

3. Wheels / Tires / Brakes - Wheels are purely aesthetic, don't worry about them. Tires should have plenty of tread for when it rains, learn about the Penny Test. Brakes can be disc or drum, but both have pads that need to be replaced from time to time.

4. Suspension - Most of the time, suspension issues don't show up before 100k miles, and suspension systems can be particular to manufacturers or models. The main thing to know is that if your car is overly bouncy (like a water bed), you may need suspension work. If the car squeaks going over bumps, you may need to replace some bushings.

The main drivers in service cost are labor and parts prices. Dealers will sell you new dealer parts and charge high labor rates. Independent shops will usually offer the option of OEM parts, 3rd party parts or even used/refurb parts. The older your car is, the more likely you will end up going down the used parts route. Labor may also be less expensive, since the indie shops don't have to pay for the overhead of the brand franchise. Also, you might need to replace a $70 bushing in your transmission, but getting the transmission out of the car and opened up may cost $500 in labor. Some stuff is just hard to get at.

This is changing, but the car world can be extremely sexist. If you are a female-presenting person who feels that they aren't being treated fairly, try bringing a male-presenting friend along who can ask some tough questions. This may be more of a problem in indie shops than at dealerships.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:20 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


1: Sign up for RepairPal. It will give you reminders about services, recall notices, and also gives typical price quotes for your area that you can check against the mechanic's quote.

2: Email/Facebook your friends to ask for reliable mechanic suggestions.

3: CarTalk is a great resource for learning essentials even if you don't listen to the show. Great practical articles that cover the basics and good forums too.

4. The other thing is you can ALWAYS walk away from a quote, just say you want to think about it first. You may have to pay a diagnostic fee (always a good question to ask ahead of time) but unless the car is actually unsafe to drive, the only annoyance is the logistics of bringing it back in.
posted by veery at 3:20 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]


In the process of buying my new-to-me 2003 Subaru Outback this past year, I watched a lot of Chris Fix's videos to even learn what to look for and what I was looking at.

I watched the "How To Inspect and Buy a Used Car" series more than once for my purposes, but he has lots of helpful videos about fixing broken car things and how to do routine maintenance. This helps a LOT with understanding how the systems work, even if you (like me) have no intention of doing any of the work yourself.
posted by concertedchaos at 3:34 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]


Seconding fixedgear - ask around or on Facebook and see if a particular mechanic has a great reputation for being trustworthy and doing good work.
posted by bunderful at 6:03 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Google terminology and issues. Read through results that point to message boards. especially helpful seem to be message boards that exist for fandom nerds of certain brands / cars (I've had a lot of luck with finding solutions on forums for Toyota 4Runner fanboy boards).

Haynes manuals (check your library - they may have a subscription to the digital copies).

After you pinpoint some parts / areas / systems of the car that need maintenance or fixing, look them up on youtube. For example, I recently had to look up "Honda CRV 2006 starter" and lo and behold there's videos people have posted showing exactly how to replace the starter (which is what I needed).

Look up the prices of parts on auto parts store sites like Autozone.

Get yourself one of those OBD II (On Board Diagnostics) (or whatever's appropriate for your vehicle - ask someone at a parts store) code readers that plugs in to your car, usually somewhere under the steering wheel area. Then you can see any error codes the computer is throwing out and google them to see the seriousness and related systems. (These codes are what cause things like your check engine light to come on).

Paying a mechanic incurs a premium for their labor and knowledge, but a least familiarizing yourself with the above techniques will let you gauge if their diagnosis is in the ballpark or not. If you do find a mechanic that you can establish a relationship with, you may even be able to do things like bring them the part and just have them put it in so you don't need to pay a premium markup for the part.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:41 PM on January 18


There's a lot of good advice here about finding a good neighborhood mechanic -- often easier said than done, but when you find "the one", it's a life changer, I can tell you from personal experience.

However, it also does help to just get even a little bit familiar with cars. I love the Car Talk podcast (as others have suggested), but I also highly recommend this book of theirs. It's pretty old by now -- published in 1991 -- but I would still recommend it. I read it in about 1996 and I am still grateful for what I learned about just basic car 101. They're funny guys, and their writing is as much fun as their on-air banter, plus the book includes transcripts of some funny bits from their shows. But most importantly, they cover some car basics, of the what-every-car-owner-should-know variety, in a really easy to understand way. For example, they divide car problems into 3 types: ones that will annoy you, ones that will leave you stranded, and ones that can kill you. It's a pretty good metric for deciding how urgently that light on the dashboard needs to be attended to!
posted by leticia at 1:59 PM on January 18


Get yourself one of those OBD II (On Board Diagnostics) (or whatever's appropriate for your vehicle - ask someone at a parts store) code readers that plugs in to your car, usually somewhere under the steering wheel area. Then you can see any error codes the computer is throwing out and google them to see the seriousness and related systems. (These codes are what cause things like your check engine light to come on).

I know the auto parts stores around here have loaner code readers... you give them their license (so you don't run off with their device) and tell them the make and model of your car, and they give you the reader to take to the parking lot and check your car.

Usually with the codes you can google up common things that might be causing the problem - I've found youtube videos quite helpful here - and even if you don't want to pick up a wrench, it's good to have an idea of how easy a job is for gauging how much you're willing to pay to have someone else do it.
posted by Zalzidrax at 5:17 PM on January 18


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