10 things your car mechanic won’t tell you

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mechanic

  • Everybody needs a trustworthy auto mechanic with all the required professional certifications to keep a car in tip-top shape.
  • But there are some things mechanics avoid telling customers.
  • It never hurts to be educated when dealing with car mechanics.

Unless your car is brand new and under warranty, it’s likely to need some maintenance during a given year. This could range from minor stuff, such as a routine oil change, to deeper dish repairs.

Most car mechanics — independent or employed by a dealer or repair chain — are ethical people who won’t steer you toward needless work. But they might also insist that you hire them to perform maintenance that isn’t entirely necessary.

Their arguments are sound: Why wait until a small problem becomes a big one?

But it’s also your money, and you should know about the things your mechanic will never tell you. 

For the record, I had a mechanic in Los Angeles for years who was a model of being up front about what absolutely needed to be fixed on my cars — and what could wait, or even be ignored. But such a mechanic is quite rare. So the best thing you can do is educate yourself.

Here are ten tips about what even the best mechanic might not tell you:

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1. You can change your oil yourself.

An oil change is to a skilled mechanic what making brunch omelettes is to a talented chef — something of an insult. That said, oil changes are the most common maintenance need for cars. You can buy an oil-change kit at an auto parts store for less than $40, while having a mechanic do it will run you around $75 (yes, I know some shops are much cheaper, but I don’t think you should expect a mechanic to do the dirty work effectively for free just to keep your business).

Oil changes are easy money for repair shops and dealers, so not only will they steer you toward them, they’ll endorse the "every 3,000 miles" standard, even though modern oil can last much longer, with some synthetics requiring a change ever 10,000-20,000 miles.

You CAN stick to the tighter schedule — and to be honest, fastidious oil changes in certain cars can help with resale value down the road, as some buyers want records to fussy prior ownership.

However, in my book, if you don’t mind getting dirty and having to deal with disposing of the used oil, an oil change twice a year is the classic DIY option.

2. You can probably ignore that check engine light for now (unless it’s flashing)

The check engine light strikes fear in the hearts of inexperienced owners, but it usually just indicates a non-serious problem with the vehicle’s exhaust system. 

In many cases, you can ignore it, unless you have a very old car whose emission components could be wearing out. 

You can’t ignore it forever; a trip to mechanic is warranted at some point. But you car isn’t going to blow up if you wait.

There is one exception to this guideline: if the check engine light is flashing, you need to get to your mechanic as soon as possible.

 

3. You should do your own brake job.

Once you start changing your own oil, you might think about doing your own brake jobs. This is one that mechanics often don’t like talking about, because changing brake pads and rotors for them is like printing money. It’s easy to do, but it takes while, so the labor costs bring in serious coin.

You can do it yourself, but it’s both tricky and dirty — not to mention a bit exhausting if you don’t have a repair-shop hydraulic lift. Using a jack, it will consumer several hours, and that’s if you don’t encounter any problems and are dealing only with swapping worn brake pads.

Do it once, however, and you might do it yourself forever.

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