What should I do about repairs on my Hyundai Elantra?
June 24, 2011 11:16 AM   Subscribe

I have some questions about my car/car repair, specifically about having driven without a cap on my break fluid and my cabin and engine filters. 2004 Hyundai Elantra.

I'll go over the story of what happened just to give all the possible relevant details. I was out driving two weeks ago and someone pulled up next to me and told me my left rear wheel was wobbling. I was right down the street from my regular Firestone so I pulled in there. I got a $14.95 inspection and they told me my car had the following problems: the rim on my left rear wheel was bent/rusty/unbalanced and needed to be replaced, one of my break pads was coming unglued and had to be replaced, my break fluid cap was missing, my cabin air filter was missing, and my engine air filter was dirty.

At that time, he said it probably wouldn't be a good idea to be driving around the car until I got the rim replaced. The mechanic took me in the back and showed me the wheel on some machine that would spin so I could see how much it was wobbling and also where my break pad was coming apart. I had to leave the car there for 3 days while they got some parts to do the fix on the rim and brake pads and put on a new brake fluid cap (~300 dollars).

Now, to my questions. The mechanic said that it wasn't great to have been driving around without a cap on my break fluid because break fluid is hydrophilic and gets water in it. I don't tend to ever open up my hood so I have no idea when the cap could have disappeared and if it's been a few days or months and months without it. Do I need to spend the $80 to have my break fluid flushed or is it probably ok to keep driving? What sort of problems might this cause for my car?

Also, how big of a deal is a dirty engine air filter and is that something I should get replaced quickly? And what are the ramifications of not having a cabin air filter (which very well could have been missing since I got the car used in 2006). [And just for curiosity's sake, are break fluid caps and cabin air filters things that can just fall off/disappear or what might explain that?]

Finally, I'm not very knowledgeable about cars or repairs, so if there are any general comments you have about this situation I would love to hear. (For example, is Firestone a good place to take my car? Should I have driven or got my car towed somewhere else for a second opinion? etc.). I don't tend to drive that much (5/6,000 miles per year), and I tend to avoid highways/freeways. Thanks for the help and information.
posted by andoatnp to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total)
Best answer: I would flush the brake fluid. Moisture in the brake system will cause stuff to rust out and then you'll be looking at a $1000 repair job.

The dirty air filter could be costing you a mile or two per gallon, which adds up. Change it yourself. Instructions will be in the owners manual.

I probably wouldn't worry about the cabin air filter, but again, you can change it yourself. It'll take 5 minutes. It's probably under or behind the glove box. Check your owners manual.

And yes, I know you said you know nothing about cars. I don't care. Buy "Auto Repair For Dummies" and learn something. Nobody should be responsible for a machine worth thousands and thousands of dollars and not at least have a basic idea of how the thing works.
posted by COD at 11:23 AM on June 24, 2011

Best answer: Do I need to spend the $80 to have my break fluid flushed

Yes. You need the wet fluid out of there. It can cause the whole system to rust from the inside, and can lead to loss of brake operation if the water in the fluid boils from the heat of excessive braking (especially important if you have mountains nearby.)

Engine air filters are cheap and easy to replace. You could do it yourself, or have it done at your next oil change.

Cabin air filters have no importance at all except they might keep dust out of your car. Only recently did cars get these filters.
posted by fritley at 11:24 AM on June 24, 2011

Best answer: Flush the brake fluid. The main issue is that there could be air bubbles in the brake fluid now that it's been exposed like that. Air bubbles can very easily cause your car not to stop when you want it to. Also, the water can cause corrosion to the brake lines, etc. Flushing the brake fluid is a standard thing to do when replacing brake pads anyhow, and especially so when you've been missing your brake fluid cap.

Engine air filters should be replaced every 10K miles or so, consult your owner's manual for specs. Engine air filters typically are cheap and a very easy DIY, so replace it yourself and save a few dollars? A clogged air filter will cause you to lose gas mileage, an extremely clogged one will cause engine trouble.

Cabin air filters do exactly what's on the box: filters the air that comes into your car. If you tend to get a lot of dust in your car, you might want to replace it, otherwise skip it.

Caps and filters don't just disappear. No explanation here on that. Consider getting a repair manual for your car so you can see exactly what is being done and the steps to do it. It's one of the the best $25 investments you can make on your car.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:29 AM on June 24, 2011

"... Do I need to spend the $80 to have my break fluid flushed or is it probably ok to keep driving? What sort of problems might this cause for my car? ..." $80 seems high to have your brake fluid flushed, but if it includes 2 or 3 pints of brake fluid, an hour of labor, and shop charge for old fluid disposal, I guess I could see it. You certainly should have it done, as it is true that brake fluid is very hydrophillic, and yours could also have been contaminated by dust from the engine compartment and outside atmosphere. Failure to change the fluid can result in mushy brakes during hard stops, and sticking brake calipers and brake cylinders at the wheels. It's usually recommended to change brake fluid every 2 years, as part of normal maintenance.

"... Also, how big of a deal is a dirty engine air filter and is that something I should get replaced quickly? ..." A dirty air filter cuts your engine's efficiency, and should be replaced immediately. You could possibly save some gas, and notice improved power. Shouldn't be more than $30 for the filter, and takes only a few minutes to install.

"... what are the ramifications of not having a cabin air filter [sic] ..." The interior of your heating and airconditioning system will be coated in dust, if you drive in dirty conditions, reducing their effectiveness, and may lead to funny smells when you turn on heat or airconditioning. The interior of your car will get dusty faster.
posted by paulsc at 11:33 AM on June 24, 2011

Response by poster: I'll go get my break fluid flushed/replaced today. As far as buying an engine air filter, does this seem like what I want? Does anyone have a better recommendation of where to get one of those?
posted by andoatnp at 11:35 AM on June 24, 2011

Best answer: Any auto parts store will have air filters, as well as most any Walmart or the like with an auto section. You can dig around and find one for a dollar or two less, but honestly, just buy a cheap one at wallyworld/advance/AutoZone and pop it in. The lookup book or the counter staff should be able to tell you what number to buy, you're looking at $10 or so for a standard filter/
posted by pupdog at 11:46 AM on June 24, 2011

Some auto parts places even have a policy of putting on windshield wipers, batteries, etc. purchased there for free. Be a sport, and buy some replacement windshield wipers (which should also be replaced every year) along with that/those air filter(s), and they'll probably put them all on your car for you, for no additional labor charge. Watch, and you'll know how to do it yourself, next time.
posted by paulsc at 11:51 AM on June 24, 2011

Yes, change the BRAKE (note spelling; sorry, pet peeve) fluid. You don't want water in something that gets hot enough to boil it to steam, and it will rust the lines.

Air filter - it's at most a couple screws. Go to autozone and they'll show you what to do.
posted by notsnot at 11:59 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Alright, I'm off to Firestone. I'll be back later if there are any follow-up questions/comments.
posted by andoatnp at 12:12 PM on June 24, 2011

BTW, the brand name on the shop is not really relevant. It's a franchise. If they get a better deal from Goodyear when their contract is up they'll change the sign. It sounds like you got good advice from them, and they didn't rip you off on what they charged you, so assuming the work was really necessary, you probably are going to an ok place.
posted by COD at 1:49 PM on June 24, 2011

Best answer: As a general comment, you say you don't tend to look under the bonnet very often - do you check things like your oil and water level? I check tire pressure, oil level, radiator water level, brake fluid level,etc weekly, and just have a quick look at the same time to check that things like the distributor cap is on firmly, belts look to be in good condition. I also regular check that all lights operate and tyre tread is sufficient. Seconding getting a good basic book on car mechanics - I like Haynes manuals as they are specific to your car but also cover basic checks.
posted by kumonoi at 12:27 AM on June 25, 2011

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