Some things on a car get more attention than they deserve. That might sound like excellent care is being provided, but in fact it has a negative impact. The reason is that money spent on frivolous things leaves less in the kitty for more important repairs. No one budgets for repair expenses, and no one has unlimited repair money, so let's see if we can use what little we have in a more productive manner.
In some cases, the word "frivolous" is a matter of opinion. Some kids put thousands of dollars into a stereo system or special lights or loud mufflers and can't afford new brakes. To them the boom box or whatever is more important than being able to stop. We technicians probably prefer to put function before form more often than not. It's called running good first, looking good second.
Leaving the cosmetics aside for a moment, there are often functional, mechanical repairs done without being necessary, usually at the urging of an overly aggressive repairman. For instance.
- Annually scheduled front-end alignments. In fact alignment changes very little with normal driving. If the tires are wearing evenly across the tread, you probably don't need re-alignment. If your dealer offers it free every year, he's just trying to get you in to sell you something else every year. If, however, you are in the habit of running into or over curbs, bushes, rocks or smaller cars, you might want to get it checked more often.
- Annual tire balance. If you have no vibration at 55 to 75 miles per hour, you have no tire balance problem. The free deal is the same as for the alignment, a good chance to inspect your brakes and shocks to see if you will buy anything. If it vibrates at speeds above 75 MPH, you should start saving for your traffic citation.
- Fuel system cleaning. Modern gasoline is chock-full of cleaners right out of the pump. It changed radically when cars went from using carburetors to fuel injectors. Unless you have ticked off somebody who might have put something into your gas tank, you won't need this service.
- Complete flushing of the transmission. It's better to have the pan removed and the filter changed to remove the grit and residue it holds. You don't quite get all of the old fluid out, but you get all of the dirt. However, there are some Toyotas, Mazdas, Mercedes and BMWs, among others, which have no oil pans, so they have to be flushed or disassembled to service. Take a guess what that costs.
- Routine tune-ups with new spark plugs. New style spark plugs are made with exotic materials that hold up for one hundred thousand miles, in almost all cars. There is very little to be gained by changing them prematurely, and they are very expensive. Use that money to change the air and fuel filters more often. They will pay off with better mileage.
- Burning premium gasoline in cars made for regular. This is a waste of money and natural resources. If your car isn't designed for high octane, it will not burn it efficiently, giving poorer results for more expense. If that sounds like your government in action, it's purely a coincidence.
- Larry DeHays owns DeHays Automotive Inc, of Fort Myers Beach. He has been an ASE Certified Technician for 35 years, and is an arbitrator for the Florida Lemon Law program under the Florida Attorney General. For more information go to www.dehaysautomotive.com or see them on facebook.