Beating the Post-Warranty BluesPosted on November 10th, 2008
By Nina Russin
The downturn in the economy has everybody thinking about ways to save money, including keeping their cars longer. In addition to saving on car payments, older cars cost less to insure and in some cases, less to license.
The flip side of keeping a vehicle past the warranty period is containing repair costs. Since new car dealerships depend on their service departments as a primary source of income, the cost of service is generally higher than at independent shops.
The question is: how does the car owner find a facility with qualified technicians and reliable service?
Shopping for a Shop
The best time to find a repair shop is before the car needs service. Look for a facility close to home or work: some shops may have shuttle services to help customers get to and from their jobs.
If possible, try to get a recommendation from a friend or colleague who uses the shop. Call the service manager and schedule a time to meet. Avoid visiting the shop early in the morning or late afternoon, since technicians will be busy helping customers who are dropping off or picking up their vehicles.
Find out what types of cars the shop specializes in, and how long it has been in business. Ask the service manager about the shop’s policy for giving customers estimates.
A technician may not be able to anticipate all repair costs before he takes a look at the car. However the service manager should provide a written estimate for parts and service before starting the job.
How Shops Determine Service Costs
Shops use service manuals to determine costs for various services. The manual lists the amount of time it takes a skilled technician to perform a given repair. For example, a water pump replacement might take about forty-five minutes.
Ask the service manager its hourly rate for service. Often, independent service facilities have a lower hourly service rate than new car dealerships. Find out how long the shop will guarantee a repair for, and what the shop will do for the customer if a repair fails.
The mark-up on car parts is typically a hundred percent. A good technician should return any parts he or she has replaced, so the customer can see why the equipment on the car failed.
New cars require specialized diagnostic equipment, including exhaust gas analyzers, scan tools that interface with on-board computers, oscilloscopes and sensitive digital-volt-ohm meters.
Shops that do air conditioning service also need recycling equipment for the refrigerant. Tire and wheel specialists will need alignment racks, and diagnostic equipment for antilock brake systems.
Make sure that the shop has all of the necessary tools and equipment for the types of service it performs. The service bays should be relatively clean, and the shop should have a ventilation system that cycles out toxic fumes from car exhausts.
Hand tools are extremely expensive: a good technician will keep his tools clean and organized.
The National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence, also called ASE, tests and certifies automotive technicians in various aspects of car repair. The purpose of these tests is to ensure that technicians have the education and experience necessary to work on new cars.
In order to become ASE certified, a technician must have a minimum of two years experience working in his or her specialty, and be able to pass a written exam in that area. Tests cover a variety of repair topics, such as tune-ups, brakes, air conditioning, and body repair.
ASE provides technicians with certificates listing the tests they have passed. Shops that employ ASE certified technicians usually display the ASE logo outside or in the customer service area.
Ask the service manager which of the technicians are ASE certified, and find out their areas of specialization. Certificates from additional training programs indicate that technicians are current on emerging technology.
It doesn’t need to be fancy, but a customer waiting area should be clean. A dirty waiting room indicates that the shop doesn’t care about its customers, or perhaps its technicians as well.
Putting It All Together
Even if a repair shop meets all of these requirements, it’s a good idea to check online, and make sure that no customers have filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau or local chamber of commerce.
If possible, schedule the car for a routine maintenance procedure such as a tune-up before bringing it in for a major repair. Did the shop perform the necessary repairs in a timely fashion, and was the written estimate provided accurate? Was the service staff courteous and professional? Was the service manager willing to explain the services performed, and answer any questions after the fact?
Some shops wash customer cars before returning them from service. If the shop doesn’t have the resources to do this, the vehicle should be as clean when it comes back to the customer as it was going into the shop.
A good repair shop helps customers get the most out of their cars by recommending periodic diagnostic work that detects small problems before they become big ones.
Today, most new cars will run up to 100,000 miles with little to no service. But since loan payments last five years or more, buyers find it challenging to keep their vehicles after they are paid off.
A good, independent service facility saves money on repairs, and keeps the car running reliably after the factory warranty period is over.
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