How Do I Explain My Situation To my Mechanic?
December 13, 2013 4:47 PM   Subscribe

I know I need some maintenance on my Volvo, I haven't kept it up perfectly, but I don't know how to ask for what I want without appearing as a complete mark to my mechanic.

I know very little about cars. I like my mechanic a lot and I've been seeing him for years, but business is business and I don't want to get taken advantage of.

I drive a 2004 Volvo. I acquired it several years ago, and it had very low mileage. I don't recall ever having taken it into the mechanic to get a "tune up" or for regular scheduled maintenance. They may have done a few things to it over the years when I took it in for necessary repairs but I don't know exactly what's done (premature parenthetical question---is there somewhere online where I can see exactly which repairs have been done?)

Now, my car has nearly 70,000 miles on it. It's been doing OK, except my check engine light has been on for a few months. My mechanic has told me that it's because I need a new 'mass air flow,' and I've been putting off getting this until I have some mass cash flow.

Since I have a few bucks now, and I'm taking it in to get the mass air flow fixed, I figure it's time to address some regular maintenance issues that I may have ignored, however, I don't want to just waltz in to his garage and tell him I have money to burn, that I'm willing to get a lot of stuff done, and that I have no idea what the heck I'm talking about.

I found this schedule of services online. I'm looking at it, and it seems reasonable to ask my mechanic for the following services listed here: replace engine oil, and filter; check fuel lines for damage/leaks, check exhaust system for damage leaks, replace spark plugs, check Auxillary Drive Belt and Driveshaft joints, check Driveshaft for wear/play, check boots, check wear on Propeller shaft, pilot bearing and universal joints; Check Break fluid level and replace brake fluid, Check Break pads, Check Break hoses and lines for damage/leaks.

In addition to these repairs, I hear a scrapey sound when the car runs, and a squeeky sound as it turns. What could this be? Should I just ask him to check it out?

I also received letter from Volvo years ago telling me I needed to get my fan belt replaced. I've consulted the net, and it seems that truthfully, I shouldn't really need this until I hit like 80,000 miles. If I did decide to get this done when I bring it in, how much would this cost?

How much should I expect to pay for all of this crap I want done? Jeez. I'm really stressing. I acquired this car through luck, and I don't have as much money as I imagine the typical Volvo owner to have. On top of that, my job requires that I look fairly snazzy, even though I don't make much. Because of my schedule, the only time I see the mechanic is when I'm all snazzed up and ready to work. I may look like I'm better off than I actually am. I think he knows this because I have some mismatched parts on my car I've gotten from used auto parts suppliers.

How can I go through all of this without getting fleeced? Do I tell him that I've been remiss in getting regular maintenance? He'll lecture me like Putty did to Seinfeld and think I'm a fool. Do I tell him that after a careful consideration of the scheduled maintence recommended by Volvo's website, I've decided to get a bunch of work done LATE?

If I get ripped off, I'll never hear the end of it from my fiance. She tells me just to take my car to the dealership (it's not under warantee or anything else, obviously), but given the prices they've quoted me for other repairs, I think they will rob me. I know they will rob me. Help.
posted by Hennimore to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The best answer you could get here is a recommendation for a good, honest volvo shop. You might want to share your general location. If you were in Ann Arbor I would have a recommendation for you...
posted by HuronBob at 4:57 PM on December 13, 2013

I have no idea about car maintenance, or specifically with your Volvo. What I do know is that, if I had your car, I would feel confident to take it to my mechanic, and be confident that he wouldn't rob me. Because I trust my mechanic.

I found my mechanic by going to, and looking through the mechanic's files. I found glowing recommendations for my mechanic, and found them to be true in my case. You can get as close to your house as you want, or you can decide how far you want to travel. You can also find someone who specializes in Volvos.

Good luck!
posted by China Grover at 5:01 PM on December 13, 2013

If you are this stressed about getting ripped off by your mechanic your lack of knowledge about cars is not your biggest issue. You need a mechanic you can trust. Find a Volvo forum, or check the Cartalk website as mentioned above.
posted by COD at 5:17 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mechanics are not just thieves preying upon the innocent fools of the world.

It doesn't seem like you have any reason to mistrust your mechanic. It also sounds like you don't know much about cars. From your post, it's sounds like you're not doing regular maintenance like replacing your oil every 3,000 miles / 3 months (depending on what type of oil this may be longer).

The thing about cars is, things break when they get used. They cost money to keep in working order. If you don't want to pay someone else to fix it, you learn how to do it yourself. So the best way to not put a lot of money into it is to keep up with the regular tune-ups, because they keep the car in good shape and prevent anything from going really wrong.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:24 PM on December 13, 2013

Best answer: Agreeing with the other comments, if you don't trust your mechanic then you need a new mechanic.

That said, what I'd say to my mechanic would be basically this:

"Hey, I've got an unusual few extra bucks and I want to catch up on some maintenance I've been putting off. I'm thinking oil change, tire rotation, fuel and air filters, a new belt and plugs at least. Maybe change the brake fluid if it looks like it needs it. I'd also like to figure out what's making these squeeky, scrapey noises and see whether we can do anything with that. I don't have a ton of cash to play with, but I want to keep this thing dependable so let me know if anything else jumps out at you. I really have to be careful with the cost, so aftermarket parts are fine and I'll even pick them up at at the parts store if it helps any... yeah, I understand, I just want to do this as economically as possible. Thanks."
posted by jon1270 at 5:26 PM on December 13, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: > squeeky sound as it turns.

Low power steering fluid. You can get some at Pep Boys and top it off yourself for a few bucks.

> I shouldn't really need this until I hit like 80,000 miles

Do you think you'll keep the car until it hits 150K? If not, you're going to have to replace the fan belt once either way, might as well get it out of the way now.

Being nonchalant and willing to take the car somewhere else is your key to getting a fair price. "Hey, I think I need some service in a few months... how much would you charge for service XYZ?" Don't feel guilty about "missing regular maintenance", because really, on most parts, the real guideline is "replace the part before it breaks". So if nothing has gone crazy bad, you're fine. (That being said, you should try to do fluid replacement on a regular basis as it will just be a lot cheaper for you in the long run.)
posted by IvyMike at 5:35 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One thing to keep in mind with a car of somewhat older years: there are maintenance items that are recommended based on years in service, not just mileage. Things like belts can age and lose their integrity over time, even in a relatively low-mileage car. And you don't want simple-fixes like belts crapping out on you and leaving you limping along or stranded by the side of the road in your fancy work duds (ask me how I know...).

Take the Volvo to a recommended mechanic. Have him/her change oil, check fluids and belts, and diagnose the squeaks. "And while you have it up, let me know if you find anything else interesting..." Remember, you don't have to say yes to any recommended repairs. You can take the car to get a second opinion if anything sounds fishy.

If he finds anything "interesting," ask him to show it to you. Indie mechanics are more loosey-goosey about letting you into the service bay than the dealer.

With an older car, there is a huge value in building a rapport with an independent mechanic. I take my car in every 3-4 months for an oil change, mileage notwithstanding, just so he can give it a look-see and see if I've effed anything up on it recently. This is preventative maintenance. Have your mechanic do all oil changes (to hell with Jiffy Lube, they are worthless) to keep his finger on the pulse of your car.
posted by nacho fries at 5:54 PM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Check the Mechanics Files (pronounced Mechan-X-Files) at You should be able to get recommendations and warnings about mechanics in your area.
posted by Sunburnt at 5:57 PM on December 13, 2013

If I get ripped off, I'll never hear the end of it from my fiance. She tells me just to take my car to the dealership

Taking your car to the dealership will practically guarantee that you get ripped off.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:03 PM on December 13, 2013 [8 favorites]

Tell your girlfriend that my independent mechanic charged me half what the dealership quoted, and was able to do the work in less than one day vs. the 2+ days the dealer wanted for the work.

See for yourself. Once your indie mechanic gives you a to-do list, and attaches estimates to those to-do items, call your dealership and see what they charge, and also be sure to ask how long they need the car in the shop, and if you need to schedule an appointment in advance.
posted by nacho fries at 6:11 PM on December 13, 2013

Your timing belt schedule on your Volvo is based not only on miles but also on time. For my 2003 V70 it is around 85k or 8 years so I would get it done. There is some parts to remove to change the belt so get this work done when you are predicting other engine servicing to save on labour costs. Nacho Fries is right although if the timing belt fails you are not just stranded on the side of the road but looking at a £2k+ cost for an engine rebuild as the valves will be damaged.

If you want an older car to keep running well then it is advised to follow regular service intervals. I avoid the Volvo dealers mechanics like the plague (went once, never again) ask around, especially owner/operator taxi drivers for where they take their vehicles. Ask how much they charge an hour for labour. You don't need a Volvo mechanic to work on a Volvo, in this day and age all the parts are available cheaper not from dealers and even the lamest mechanic will have tools for communication with the ECU.

The scrapey sound when running is likely your brake. A car of this age may be looking at new calipers/discs/pads so ask your mechanic to check those as well.
posted by camerasforeyes at 6:47 PM on December 13, 2013

Quite frankly, you sound like you have no idea about cars. Oil changes shouldn't be a "Hey I have money for once" thing - they should be a once-every 3-to-4-thousand mile thing. Timing belt, yeah, that needs replaced. Assume that you should use the "severe duty" schedule recommended by Volvo.

Also, at 70k, your brakes need replacement. you can pay 600 at the dealer, or 250-350 at an independent shop.

(Note: I work at an independent shop, and just yesterday had a customer who'd gone to the dealer for her "check engine" light, to pay $80 to be told that the repair would cost $550. We would have charged nothing for the diagnosis, and about 300 for the repair)
posted by notsnot at 7:15 PM on December 13, 2013

In addition to these repairs, I hear a scrapey sound when the car runs, and a squeeky sound as it turns. What could this be?

In the nicest possible way, there is so little information here that asking is pointless. Anyone that gives you answer is guessing and it's stab in the dark. Different people's perception of what a 'scrapey' or 'squeaky' noise is is incredibly subjective and not at all useful from a diagnostic viewpoint.

Should I just ask him to check it out?

if you hear a noise with your car you aren't comfortable with, you need to ask someone who knows better to check it out. As mentioned here, you just need someone you trust to actually be that person.

regular maintenance like replacing your oil every 3,000 miles / 3 months

No car needs the oil changed at 3000 miles unless it is a very high performance car (think race car on the road) or a car that someone has put cooking oil in. Any engine oil suitable for a car should last a minimum of 5000 miles, likely much more. Check your service manual.
posted by Brockles at 8:04 PM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

They may have done a few things to it over the years when I took it in for necessary repairs but I don't know exactly what's done (premature parenthetical question---is there somewhere online where I can see exactly which repairs have been done?)

Your mechanic may have this info logged in their system. It's fine to ask him.

But from here on out, it will be useful for you to keep track of this stuff -- keep copies of the paperwork your shop gives you -- in case you want to sell the car and the buyer wants to see a paper trail of maintenance/repairs.
posted by nacho fries at 8:05 PM on December 13, 2013

I think you're worrying too much about this. Sure, there are lots of unscrupulous mechanics out there but with online reviews, forums, etc. it's not too hard to find a decent one that services your car. And believe me, you won't be the first person to skimp on or ignore maintenance -- I certainly have and I've never been lectured. If I were you, I'd take it to your existing mechanic or a volvo specialist and just tell them your budget and give them a list of the things you're pretty sure should be done/diagnosed and ask how much of that you can get done for that price.

From my experience with a couple of volvos ten+ years older yours and other decrepit european cars, I'd ballpark about $250 for the mass air flow sensor, $500ish for brakes, $100 for a fan/aux belt (this may also be the cause of the squeaking as this belt typically runs the power steering pump), $500 for a timing belt, $60-$100 to change fluids (oil, radiator, transmission, etc.). Depending on how you drive, conditions, etc. there could be other things -- leaking hoses, gaskets or oil seals, etc. -- that a mechanic will find. They should be able to assess which of those are urgent and which can wait for another time.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:50 PM on December 13, 2013

notsnot: Assume that you should use the "severe duty" schedule recommended by Volvo.

This is worth reiterating. If you aren't very knowledgeable about cars, you may not understand that most of the strain and wear occurs during engine startup, acceleration and braking. A car with low mileage for its age has often been used for lots of short trips, with frequent cold starts and constant acceleration and braking. Conversely, a high-mileage car is likely to have accumulated that mileage over long, easy highway trips at relatively constant speeds, with fewer cold starts.
posted by jon1270 at 5:31 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

What jon1270 said, plus tell your mechanic that you want to discuss what the problems are and what will happen if you don't fix things immediately--how long might xyz continue to function, what are the ramifications of letting it go a month/year, etc. -Make sure he understands that he needs to give you estimates and get an approval from you before he does anything other than what you've specified. Try to get some opinion from him regarding 'in an ideal world' we'd do this, in 'joe McWorkerbee's world' we'll do that. You want to know three things: what needs to be fixed, what's going to need fixing eventually, and what is each item to fix going to cost.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:11 PM on December 14, 2013

Best answer: If you haven't gotten an oil change at all in ~70k miles, you could be in for some nasty surprises. That's really not good. I'm hoping that oil changes are just assumed on some semblance of a regular schedule, perhaps just not as often as recommended (which with good oil may actually be okay, you can start a good argument about this).

There's lots of good advice above, but in addition to it, you need to start keeping track of what gets done to your car and when. At the very least, get some sort of file folder, perhaps even kept in the car, and put the invoices from various maintenance activities in the folder. Note the mileage if it's not on the invoice before you put it in there. At least that way you know (and more importantly, can demonstrate to a buyer if you ever go to sell this thing) what was done when. It's very hard to do any sort of preventative maintenance if you don't keep track of it. The only time maintenance is tracked online is if you do it via the dealer at some higher-end car brands; otherwise, it's up to you as the owner.

My other standard suggestion is that I think that having a bunch of things done to a car at once tends to be bad both mechanically and financially. It's bad mechanically, because it doesn't necessarily tell you which of several repairs might have fixed a particular problem in an interrelated system (which is important to know, because ideally you always want to know why something broke), and it's also bad financially because it doesn't provide you as much control and negotiating power over the cost of each service. It's easy to shop around for a particular repair — you can call various shops and ask, "how much for a timing belt job on 2004 Volvo?" — but not when you have a whole list; you'll get shops refusing to quote you without bringing the car in. OTOH, don't necessarily go with the lowest bidder, and it's worth building a relationship with a good shop. Still: trust, but verify. (I've had "good" shops rip me off after years of good, trustworthy service for no reason. Or worse, claim they did service without actually doing it.)

If possible, I'd do the repairs one at a time. Get the MAF sensor replaced, and perhaps an oil change and tire rotation (tire rota is always good in my book, and cheap) if you've been lax about that, and while you're there, ask what the % remaining is on the brake pads and what the rotors look like. If they're not low, I wouldn't mess with them. Different driving styles wear brakes at very different levels. Get a price quote on the timing belt — that's a big ticket item so I'd call around a little, if it were me. Again, it's good to trust, but how do you know if you should trust the mechanic if you have no idea if he's being square with you? Prices vary depending on where you are, local labor rates, etc. I'd want to at least know that the shop was giving me a reasonable estimate before I wrote them a fat check.

I'd check all your fluid levels yourself (there are lots of Youtube videos if you don't know how to do that) and top them off if needed, and see if that eliminates the weird sounds ... and I'd do that before asking someone to go on a fishing expedition for repairs based on the weird sounds. The sound when turning could be lack of power steering fluid, or a slipping belt, or it could be a bad pump or something more expensive. It makes sense to eliminate the really cheap option before opening up the possibility of the more expensive one. The other sound when running is harder, but if you haven't changed the oil recently ... well, it could be nothing or it could be chunks of your engine floating around in your oil pan, it's hard to say.

But even in that situation, I'd never give a mechanic carte blanche to give me a list of repairs on a car and let them go nuts. There's trusting them, and then there's appearing to be a fool who wants to be parted with their money as quickly as possible. IMO: You need to at least attempt some minimal standard of self-diagnosis and self-help, or you're basically just throwing money at the person across the counter and hoping they're ethical enough to give you some of it back.

If the car has really severe problems, I'd expect to hear about it without asking. So if you bring it in for the MAF and an oil change and nobody mentions the weird sound until you bring it up, that's sort of interesting to know. Just as a sanity check if nothing else. Not conclusive of anything, but a data point. So that's a reason to not mention too many things right off the bat. If the shop doesn't mention it, then sure, bring it up — "did you guys happen to notice a weird sound when you were moving it around?" — but it's a slight indication that maybe it's not a critical issue.

Anyway, people have a lot of theories about car maintenance. That's mine; YMM-literally-V. I know other people who are much more risk-averse and also don't want to think about their car, and just take it to the dealer every 5,000 miles and write checks as necessary. It's an option. (There's the other extreme, of repairing it yourself, of course.) Between those is a spectrum in which you spend more time learning about and generally diagnosing the car yourself and generally end up paying less. At some point you'll have to make a judgement call where you want to put yourself in the hands of someone else and trust them to do the right thing.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:44 AM on December 15, 2013

My other standard suggestion is that I think that having a bunch of things done to a car at once tends to be bad both mechanically and financially.

I don't agree with this. Financially it can make sense if you have a trusted mechanic as some jobs can be done at the same service in a manner that saves time - the car is already on the ramp with the wheels off so doing something else means it is halfway there.

Also, you don't lose your car for several periods.

It's bad mechanically, because it doesn't necessarily tell you which of several repairs might have fixed a particular problem in an interrelated system (which is important to know, because ideally you always want to know why something broke)

In principle this makes sense, but there really isn't too much information there. There are not many interconnected systems with insufficient information to pinpoint the issue. Besides, if you replace two things that might have caused the issue then (honestly) who cares what it was because both problem sources have been removed. You don't need to know WHY something broke as long as the guy fixing it does in order to make sure it doesn't happen again. Any good mechanic will have done sufficient diagnostics to pinpoint the issue when they fixed the car.

If you haven't gotten an oil change at all in ~70k miles, you could be in for some nasty surprises.

Yeah, I REALLY hope that's not the case or your engine may not last past 100K.
posted by Brockles at 7:48 AM on December 15, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, folks. I have an appointment with my mechanic tomorrow, and your answers have helped me form my idea of what to say to him. I should have mentioned---I have gotten my oil changed regularly! I'm not that bad with cars!
posted by Hennimore at 12:16 AM on January 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

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