REPAIR CHARGES: UNLOCKING THE MYSTERY
What should be included in an estimate?
* Always get and keep a signed written cost estimate for the work to be
performed. Make sure the estimate specifically identifies the condition to be
repaired, the parts needed and the anticipated labor charge.
* Make sure the estimate states that the shop will contact you for approval
before performing any work exceeding a specified amount of time and money. Your
state may require this; check with your state Attorney General's office to
determine your rights.
* Some shops charge a flat rate for labor on auto repairs. This published
rate is based on an independent or manufacturer's estimate of the time required
to complete repairs. Other shops charge on the basis of the actual time the
technician worked on the repair. Before having any work performed, ask which
cost method the shop uses.
When should you get a second opinion?
* Even though you bring in your car with a specific problem, additional
repairs may be recommended. If you are uncertain whether the work needs to be
done, you may want to consult your owner's manual or get a second opinion.
* On expensive or complicated repairs, or if you have questions about
suggested repair work, get a second opinion or estimate.
* Ask if there will be a diagnostic charge if you decide to have the work
performed elsewhere. Many repair shops charge for diagnostic time.
* Shops that do only diagnostic work and do not sell parts or repairs may be
able to give you an objective opinion about which repairs are necessary.
After your repair is done, what do you need?
* After repairs are finished, get a completed repair order describing the
work done. This should list each repair, all parts supplied, the cost of each
part, labor charges and the vehicle's odometer reading when the vehicle entered
the shop and when the repair order was prepared. Your state may require that the
shop provide this; check with your state Attorney General's office or local
consumer protection agency.
* Get back all replaced parts. Your state may require this; check with your
state Attorney General's office or local consumer protection agency.
What should you know about the parts to be repaired or replaced on your
Parts are classified as:
* New auto parts - These parts are generally made to
original manufacturer's specifications, either by the vehicle manufacturer or an
independent company. Your state may require repair shops to tell you if
non-original equipment will be used in the repair. Prices and quality of these
parts can vary widely.
* Remanufactured, rebuilt and reconditioned parts - These
terms generally mean the same thing: parts have been restored to a sound working
condition. Many manufacturers offer a warranty covering replacement parts, but
not the labor to install them.
* Salvage parts - These are used parts taken from another
vehicle without alteration. Salvage parts may be the only source for certain
items, though their reliability is seldom guaranteed.
What are the consequences of postponing maintenance?
* Since many parts of your vehicle are inter-related, ignoring maintenance
can lead to failure of other parts or an entire system. Neglecting even simple
preventive maintenance, such as changing the oil or checking the coolant, can
lead to poor fuel economy, unreliability, or costly breakdowns, and could
invalidate your warranty.
What maintenance guidelines should you follow to avoid costly repairs?
* The best way to keep a vehicle in good condition is to follow the
manufacturer's maintenance schedule in your owner's manual for your type of
driving. If you do not have an owner's manual, contact the manufacturer to
obtain one or to get a recommended maintenance schedule.
* Some repair shops create their own maintenance schedules, which call for
more frequent servicing than the manufacturer's recommendations. Compare shop
maintenance schedules with those recommended in your owner's manual. Ask the
repair shop to explain - and make sure you understand - why it recommends
service beyond the recommended schedule.
PROTECTING YOUR AUTO REPAIR INVESTMENT
What warranties and service contracts apply to vehicle repairs?
* There is no such thing as a "standard warranty" on repairs. Make sure you
understand what is covered under your warranty and get it in writing.
* Check with the Federal Trade Commission or your state or local consumer
protection agency for information about your warranty rights.
* Warranties may be subject to limitations, including time, mileage,
deductibles, businesses authorized to perform warranty work or special
procedures required to obtain reimbursement. Make sure you understand these
* Compare warranty policies when selecting a repair shop.
* Many vehicle dealers and others sell optional contracts, called service
contracts, issued by vehicle manufacturers or independent companies. Not all
service contracts are the same; prices vary and are usually negotiable. To help
decide whether to purchase a service contract, consider the following:
- The cost of the service contract.
- The repairs to be covered.
- Coverage of the service contract and whether it overlaps that provided by any
- The deductible.
- Where the repairs are to be performed.
- Procedures required to file a claim, such as getting prior authorization for
specific repairs or meeting required vehicle maintenance schedules.
- Whether repair costs are paid directly by the company to the repair shop or
whether you will have to pay first and get reimbursed.
- The reputation of the service contract company, which can be checked with your
state Attorney General's office or the local consumer protection agency.
How do you resolve a dispute regarding billing, quality of repairs or
* Be prepared to take action if something goes wrong. Keep records of all
transactions. Write down your experiences, dates, times, expenses and the names
of people you dealt with. Keep copies of all written materials you receive, such
as bills and estimates.
* If there is a dispute over a repair or charge, first try to settle the
problem with the shop manager or owner. Some businesses have programs for
handling disputes. You may then want to seek help from your state Attorney
General's office or local consumer protection agency. These groups also can tell
you if low-cost alternative dispute resolution programs are available in your
community. In addition, you may want to consider filing a claim with a local
small claims court, where you do not need a lawyer to represent you.
* Many states have laws regulating how a repair shop operates, spelling out
each party's obligations. You may wish to contact your state Attorney General's
office or consumer protection agency for specific information about your rights
and options for recourse.
HEADING OFF PROBLEMS
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The more you know about your vehicle, the more likely it is you can
head off problems.
Many common vehicle problems can be spotted by using your senses. You
a lot by inspecting the area around your vehicle, listening for
strange noises, sensing
a difference in the way your vehicle handles, or even noting unusual
LOOKS LIKE TROUBLE
Identifying the cause of a puddle of fluid under your vehicle may save you
serious trouble down the road. Small stains or an occasional drop may be of
little concern. But wet spots deserve attention and bigger puddles should be
checked immediately by the nearest service station.
Fluids can be identified by their color and consistency:
* Yellowish green, pastel blue or florescent orange
colors indicate an overheated engine or an antifreeze leak caused by a
bad hose, water pump or leaking radiator.
* Dark brown or black oily fluid means the
engine is leaking oil. The leak could be caused by a bad seal or gasket.
* A red oily spot indicates a transmission
or power-steering fluid leak.
* A puddle of clear water is usually no problem. It may be
normal condensation from your vehicle air conditioner.
SMELLS LIKE TROUBLE
Some problems can be detected simply by following your nose. Consider these
causes if you smell something unusual about your vehicle:
* Burned toast or a light, sharp odor often signals an
electrical short and burning insulation. To be safe, try not to drive the
vehicle until the problem is diagnosed.
* Rotten eggs or a continuous burning-sulphur smell usually
indicates a problem in the catalytic converter or other emission control
devices. Do not delay diagnosis and repair.
* A thick acrid odor usually means burning oil. Look for
signs of a leak.
* If you smell gasoline vapors after a
failed start, you may have flooded the engine. Wait a few minutes before trying
again. If you constantly smell gas, you probably have a leak in the fuel system.
This is a potentially dangerous problem that should be repaired immediately.
* Burning resin or an acrid chemical odor may signal
overheated brakes or clutch. Check the parking brake. Stop and allow the brakes
to cool after repeated hard braking on mountain roads. Light smoke coming from a
wheel indicates a stuck brake. The vehicle should be towed for repair.
* A sweet, steamy odor indicates a coolant leak. If the
temperature gauge or warning light does not indicate overheating, drive
carefully to the nearest service station, keeping an eye on your gauge. If the
odor is accompanied by a hot, metallic scent and steam from
under the hood, your engine has overheated. Pull over immediately. Continued
driving could cause severe engine damage. The vehicle should be towed for
SOUNDS LIKE TROUBLE
Squeaks, squeals, rattles, rumbles and other sounds can provide valuable
clues about problems and maintenance needs. Here are a number of the more common
noises and what they may mean:
Squeal - A shrill, sharp noise, usually related to engine
* Loose or worn power steering, fan or air conditioning belt.
Click - A slight sharp noise, related to either engine speed
or vehicle speed.
* Loose wheel cover.
* Loose or bent fan blade.
* Stuck valve lifter or low engine oil.
Screech - A high-pitched, piercing metallic sound, usually
occurs while the vehicle is in motion.
* It is caused by brake wear indicators to alert the driver that brake
maintenance is needed.
Rumble - A low-pitched rhythmic sound.
* Defective exhaust pipe, converter or muffler.
* Worn universal joint or other drive-line component.
Ping - A high-pitched metallic tapping sound, related to
* Usually caused by fuel with a lower octane rating than recommended. Check
your owner's manual for the proper octane rating. You may want to switch to a
different gas octane or gas station. If the problem persists, engine ignition
timing could be the culprit.
Heavy Knock - A rhythmic pounding sound.
* Worn crankshaft or connecting rod bearings.
* Loose transmission torque converter.
Clunk - A random thumping sound.
* Loose shock absorber or other suspension component.
* Loose exhaust pipe or muffler.
FEELS LIKE TROUBLE
Difficult handling, a rough ride, vibration and poor performance are the
kinds of symptoms you can feel. When the driving experience doesn't feel quite
right, look for:
* Wandering of difficulty steering in a straight line can be caused by
misaligned front wheels and/or worn steering components such as the idler arm or
* Pulling, the vehicle's tendency to steer to the left or right, can be caused
by something as simple as under-inflated tires, or as serious as a damaged or
misaligned front end.
Ride and Handling
* Worn shock absorbers or other suspension components can contribute to poor
cornering characteristics. Also check for proper tire inflation.
* While there is no hard and fast rule about when to replace shock absorbers or
struts, try this test: bounce the vehicle up and down hard at each wheel and
then let go. See how many times the vehicle bounces. Weak shocks will allow the
vehicle to bounce twice or more.
* Springs do not normally wear out and do not need replacement unless one corner
of the vehicle is lower than the others. Overloading your vehicle can damage
* Tires always should be balanced properly. An unbalanced or improperly balanced
tire will cause the vehicle to vibrate and may prematurely wear steering and
The following symptoms indicate problems with your brakes. Diagnosis and
repair should be scheduled.
* The vehicle pulls to the left or right when the brakes are applied.
* The brake pedal sinks to the floor when braking pressure is maintained.
* Scraping or grinding is heard or felt during braking.
* The "brake" light on the instrument panel is lit.
All of the following symptoms indicate problems with your engine. Diagnosis
and repair are needed.
* Difficulty starting the engine.
* Rough idling or stalling.
* Poor acceleration.
* Poor fuel economy.
* Excessive oil use (more than one quart between changes).
* The "check engine" light on the instrument panel is lit.
Poor transmission performance may come from actual component failure or a
simple disconnected hose or plugged filter. Make sure the technician checks the
simple items first; transmission repairs are normally expensive. Some of the
most common symptoms of transmission problems are:
* Abrupt or hard shifts between gears.
* Delayed or no response when shifting from neutral to drive or reverse.
* Failure to shift during normal acceleration.
* Slippage during acceleration. The engine speeds up, but the vehicle does not
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Sometimes problems may require a simple repair, not a major overhaul.
Here are a few common repair tips:
Loose wiring can make your alternator appear defective. Make sure the
technician checks for loose connections and performs an output test before
Corroded or loose battery terminals can make the battery appear dead or
defective. Make sure the technician cleans the terminals and tests battery
function before replacing it.
What appears to be a defective starter may actually be a dead battery or poor
connection. Ask your technician to check all connections and test the battery
before repairing the starter.
A loud rumbling noise under your vehicle indicates the need for a new muffler
or exhaust pipe. Quality replacement parts obviously cost more. Low-priced parts
are seldom a good buy unless you keep the vehicle less than a year. Make sure
you understand exactly what the warranty covers, because many exhaust system
warranties have serious exceptions and limitations.
The old-fashioned "tune-up" may not apply to your vehicle. Fewer parts need
to be replaced on newer vehicles other than belts, spark plugs, hoses and
filters. Follow recommendations in your owner's manual.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Matthew Means 714-870-5996