Consumer Car Tips
These consumer tips are intended to provide a useful resource to help people get some basic orientation on various car-related issues. If you-as a private party or as another shop-would like us to address these or any other concerns please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to address it if we think we have useful comments that might be generally useful to a wider audience. If you are aware of other websites that provide useful consumer resources, please send us a link and we'll most likely be pleased to make those sites available to others as well.
General discussion of car care tips with service and repair issues to keep in mind.
Service and repairs fall into three basic approaches:
- Routine preventative maintenance which is done on the basis of mileage or time in order to prevent undue wear or loss of performance.
- Repairs that are performed preemptively to replace parts that are worn and showing signs of failure but haven't failed entirely yet.
- Repairs that performed due to a failed part that is no longer functioning.
The significance of a failed part varies:
- It may make a vehicle unsafe
- It may result in damaging other related parts, increasing the cost of the repairs.
- It may reduce the car's efficiency and/or performance
- Or it may simply be a nuisance and decrease your comfort or the pleasure of your driving experience.
Some failures that are often thought of as a matter of mere inconvenience may at times become unsafe and put the driver and passengers directly in harms way. For instance, with most Toyotas, the engine isn't damaged if the timing belt breaks, and in contrast to, say, brake failure, the car doesn't suddenly react in some unsafe manner when the engine's timing belt breaks. However, when it breaks your engine quits directly. If it breaks when you're in traffic, it may cause you to be hit by another vehicle if you're not able to coast out of their way. Or, alternatively, it could put you in a vulnerable position if it were to die at night in some remote area or in the wrong part of town.
Not too uncommonly we will be asked if some sort of preventative maintenance or repair "has to be done." It never seems quite the right question, because while there are very few things that we absolutely "have to do," there remain quite a few things that would be prudent and would best serve our long-term interests to do. Many things in life aren't urgent--they are simply important. But because they aren't urgent, we have to make deliberate decisions to take action in a timely manner before what was simply important becomes a crisis due to inattention.
For most services and repairs, when you look at the continuum that stretches from brand new to absolutely broken and won't run anymore, it's difficult to pick an exact point along that line and say "if you don't perform this service today it's going to create a problem for you tomorrow." So, rather than that, standards are established whereby fluids and other items (like spark plugs) are allowed to serve their purposes for some predetermined number of miles, and then they are replaced preemptively.
The intent is to strike a useful balance between replacing things too soon-where they're still like new- and too late-where they've failed and/or are damaging other components. On a personal note, 30-something years ago my wife and I got stranded on our honeymoon with car problems. An axle bearing failed, which then caused our brakes to fail. We were lucky it didn't fail as we were crossing over the coast range at nighttime during the middle of a heavy rainstorm. We survived without any mishap other than the inconvenience and extra costs incurred, but a little forethought on my part could have saved us a lot of trouble and greatly reduced our risk.
The timely maintenance you give to your car can enable it to give you years of pleasant, reliable service. At Integrity Auto, we take your concerns to heart and strive to assure that your car is not only safe and reliable, but that it's a pleasure to drive as well. If you have any questions or concerns, call and speak with either Duke or Bob at 503-408-6385 or email email@example.com.
Should you repair your car, or replace it?
The question of whether a vehicle should be repaired or replaced is a common one. We've found that if the right factors are in place, repairing your vehicle can be justifiable even in instances where the cost of the repair rivals the selling value of the car. If you were to pump that kind of money into a vehicle that you intended to sell immediately, then it almost certainly wouldn't be justifiable. If, on the other hand, you ask yourself whether the repair would be a cost-effective manner in which to get reliable transportation of this particular style—then quite possibly it can be justified. Some of that depends on what you'd come up with as an alternative if you were to sell it and turn around and buy another. Will buying another car cost less and be more reliable? If so, then that clearly serves your purposes. If you take this route, you'll want to be sure to have a thoroughgoing pre-purchase inspection done to minimize your risk; otherwise it's too easy to buy into fresh problems when you buy another used vehicle. Will fixing your car cost less and result in a reliable vehicle? If so, then that clearly serves your purposes. When asking if fixing your car will result in reliable transportation, you need to keep in mind, of course, the broader condition of the vehicle and any other known needs that are on the horizon.
One line of thinking is to calculate what the known repairs will cost per mile of use if amortized over some reasonable number of miles you expect you might drive it. A $2500 repair amortized over 50,000 miles only costs 5 cents per mile. The same cost divided over half that distance still only costs 10 cents per mile. Since the federal government allows 51 cents per mile when claiming business expenses, 5 to 10 cents per mile seems like a pretty reasonable level of investment in your transportation. This still leaves plenty of room for oil changes, gasoline, and even the possibility of other repairs that might be needed. A longtime customer of ours (10 years so far) recently commented that in the 21-years he's owned his car, the total cost of its maintainance and repairs averages out to only $40 per month--that's less than the cost of most cell phone plans!
When considering whether it will be cost-effective to keep your car, any known needs that you believe will have to be addressed in the near future should count directly into your calculations. Past needs that have already been successfully addressed don't count against the car, and in fact, should weigh in favorably as issues that won't have to be addressed again. There's an emotional tendency to look at past repairs and think "the car's costing too much-it's a money pit" based on those repairs, but the only objectively valid question is whether the car will be cost-effective from this day forward. Unless there have been poorly done repairs that compromise it's future, the fact that you've spent money in the past shouldn't count against it in the future. That only holds true of vehicles that were statistically well made vehicles, of course. With vehicles that statistically were prone to repeated failures you should assume the same expenses will be coming around again.
Another thought to keep in mind when considering a major repair is that when you're finished, you will have the ongoing benefit of that repaired portion of the car. In the instance of an engine overhaul, you will have an engine that is for most practical purposes new. In most cases you won't have that advantage if you opt to instead go out and buy a different used vehicle.
If those questions can be answered to your satisfaction, then I'm not at all uncomfortable with performing major repairs on older vehicles. That's not always the case. We've had people come in that clearly needed to disconnect from their car rather than enter into some major repair. Most of these people will back off from doing the repair when we urge them that they ought to find something else. Occasionally, however, someone will be so emotionally invested in their vehicle that they will continue on maintaining and repairing it for years past when we've had earnest heart-to-heart conversations that they ought disconnect and start all over.
One last thought through an anecdote: Some years ago we had a customer come in and lay his keys on the counter and tell us to look his 1990 truck over, fix whatever was needed, and call him when we were done. I told him that we needed to have some parameters more clearly defined before we started, and asked him if he had any price constraints. He said he was comfortable going up to $1500-2000 without our calling him. We inspected his truck, made up a list of possible repairs that totaled $2700. We called him, and he went right down the list with us saying to do each and every item. When we finished and he came to pick it up, he told us that he had priced new trucks out and the trucks he was looking at cost $30,000. He went on to tell us that the money spent repairing his truck amounted to about 3 months of payments, and that if the truck only lasted 3 months he'd figure he'd broken even. As it turned out, he drove it for 2 3/4 years before he eventually sold it and bought a 1994 truck to replace it.
I've heard and read repeatedly that more often than not the most economic vehicle to own is the one you already own. Although that's not always the case, it is so often enough that it bears considering rather than reflexively moving toward replacement when faced with needed repairs.
Toyota parts versus aftermarket parts
Toyota makes good parts, and that's what we want to use. Our biggest supplier of parts is a Toyota dealership. Our next biggest supplier is a company that sells us the same parts that were made by the original Toyota parts suppliers. The result is that the vast majority of the parts we use either come from Toyota direct (through a dealership) or from the original suppliers of the Toyota parts. To give you an example, Nippon makes Toyota's fuel filters. The Nippon fuel filters look identical to the Toyota filters, and in fact, if we care to peel off the strip of black tape that Nippon has applied to the filters they sell us, underneath the tape is the original Toyota parts sticker with it's Toyota part number. It's the exact same part whether we buy it from Toyota or from Nippon. Same way with clutches. A company with the name Aisin/Asco makes clutches and water pumps for Toyota. They used to sell those same parts to us new, in a Toyota box, at a price competitive with the same thing remanufactured from Toyota. There wasn't any question in my mind-I preferred the new to the remanufactured. Since then, Toyota has prevented them from selling those parts in Toyota packaging, but the parts still have all of the same casting marks and look identical, except the water pumps have had the word "Toyota" ground off and replaced with other company markings.
Again, I have a strong preference for Toyota parts. I've just seen too many poor quality alternatives. As a side note, it's not an uncommon strategy for some aftermarket suppliers to offer a lifetime warranty on their products. This is strictly a marketing tool and usually seems to have no relationship to the quality of their product. Over and over I've met people who have gotten stuck with poor quality parts that repeatedly fail prematurely, and eventually they would get worn out with doing repeat repairs and decide that the better quality Toyota part was the better deal after all. Other times the life-time warranty was handled in such a slippery fashion and it was so difficult to manage their way through the hurdles set before them that the life-time warranty was effectively a lie.
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ASE Certified Independent Toyota, Lexus & Scion automotive service and repair specialists serving PDX, Portland, Gresham, Beaverton, Clackamas, Oregon City, Fairview, Gladstone, Milwaukie, Oak Grove, Troutdale.