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Neglecting small car repairs can turn costly

March 15, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Getting your car worked on is an expense, but delaying maintenance and small repairs can be a costly mistake.

"Well, the spark plugs can go up to 100,000 miles. And so people think, 'I don't have to do anything for 100,000 miles.' No, that's not true," said Wayne Thompson.

Thompson is a master auto technician, and works with Irvine-based Car MD. Their digital tool helps car owners check up on a vehicle's computer-related systems.

The company in turn keeps a database of what's specifically gone wrong with their customers' cars.

Car MD's techs have been able to confirm that ignoring one problem can lead to bigger ones.

"A misfire could be as simple as a spark plug. That could be $10 or $15 for the part. And if we don't take care of that, then it could degrade our ignition coil," Thompson said. And then you could be talking several hundred dollars.

A misfire is something you might be able to actually feel as a slight twitch while accelerating through the steering wheel or the seat of your pants. Part of the problem is cars are so reliable today that many owners never even bother to open the hood or stay on a recommended service schedule.

Yes, you need to check your oil regularly, but don't forget other things.

A new air filter is less than $20, but if you don't replace it and it gets clogged, then you could be talking about having to replace the oxygen sensor. This part can cost $80 to $100 or more. If a bad oxygen sensor gets out of control, then you're talking about maybe needing a new catalytic converter, which can cost around $1,000 just for the part.

The Auto Club's staff technicians also remind us that letting problems under the car go too long can hurt you in the wallet as well. Wheel alignment is a good example.

To find out if you have good wheel alignment, drive down a flat, level, straight piece of road with no other cars around. Briefly take your hands off the steering wheel rim, and if the car tries to drive to the right or the left by itself, you probably need an alignment. The logo on your steering wheel should also be level as you're going down the road. If it's tilted one way or the other, have the alignment checked.

"Ignoring the alignment's not good. It can tear up the tires very quickly when the car's not aligned properly. Now you're spending an extra $500 to $1000 to put a set of tires on your car," said Dave Skaien, a technician with AAA.

AAA keeps stats that back up the rule of taking care of small problems early.

"When a motorist drives their car in for service or repairs in Southern California, they spend about $450 on the average visit. If they let their car break down, and they get towed into a repair shop, the average visit goes up to about $725," said Skaien.

A quality brake job isn't cheap, that's just replacing the pads. But if you let the pads wear down too much, that can make a brake job a lot more expensive.

"On average, it's going to cost you $200 to $250 extra to replace the rotors from not changing the pads," said Skaien.

Experts say a modern car can last a long time.

"They're becoming more efficient. They're becoming more reliable. But that means that we have to be somewhat on top of what goes on under the hood," said Thompson.

"Cars are as dependable as they've ever been. But what that means is that the fewer times you have to go into a shop, you do need to go in, because a lot of things need to be inspected and confirmed that they're in proper condition," said Skaien.

So check under the hood, read the maintenance schedule in the owner's manual, and most importantly, don't delay small repairs. The larger ones that can result can mean larger repair bills.


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