23 May 2004

Every 3000 miles-Revisited

It's 4:45 a.m. on Long Island and I'm awake. Not unusual in this house, Mrs. Fixer regularly gets up at 4 to catch a train to NYC and the Princess (our Australian Cattle Dog, Shayna) doesn't know about weekends, so we're all up. The good part is that my brain actually works pretty well at this time of day and I remembered something.

The point of getting your car serviced (oil change, but we'll go into the differences between oil changes and service later on) EVERY 3000 MILES is not so much to change the oil (it's very important never the less) but it's a chance for your mechanic to get to know your car.

Doctors will take offense, but just as an MD wants you to come in for regular check ups, your mechanic can see if anything is out of the ordinary. If he sees you every 3000 miles, he'll know your car, it's quirks, and he'll be able to warn you of impending problems.

Important note: There is a BIG difference between your local mechanic and your quickie oil change place. Your local repair shop is generally staffed with career men, guys who've been fixing cars since they were young, guys who've gone to the schools and received the latest training. The guy who makes minimum wage at an oil change place generally isn't, and sure won't tell you if your brakes are getting low or some other impending problem. Hint: Look for the blue and white ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) symbol hanging in the shop. If the guys took and passed the tests, they're probably serious about their vocation. You could go to a quickie place for 10 years and they probably wouldn't recognize you or your car if they fell over both of you in the street. Come to me twice and I'll greet you by name and know all about your car. (Well, maybe not ALL about it, the short-term memory thing I spoke about.)

I spoke of this earlier. Find a guy you like and stick with him. He might cost more than the quickie places, but he'll save you grief and money in the long run. He'll spot potential problems before they leave you stranded and in an emergency, he'll probably give you priority ahead of someone he doesn't know.

Service vs. Oil Change: An oil change is just that, remove the drain plug, drop the oil, change the filter, refill the oil, $9.95 please, have a good day, lady. Period. A service means, check the wipers, drive belts, coolant hoses, lights, signals, and tires BEFORE the oil gets drained. While it's draining, the brakes, front end, exhaust, and suspension get the look-see, checking for any defects or signs of impending doom. A service might run you close to 50 bucks, but your quickie oil change weenie won't come up to you and say, "Mrs. Jones, you car looks fine, but your brake pads are getting low. Why don't you make an appointment to get them changed before they ruin the rotors?" Yeah, Mrs. Jones got hit with a $45 bill for the service, but I just saved her about $150 on a brake job if I don't have to replace her rotors because I noticed her low brakes before she did. And she'd notice when she heard this horrible grinding sound when she hit the brakes a few weeks hence. (Pardon me while I pat myself on the back)

The quickie places are good, if you're driving on vacation and your oil change comes due. That's about it. The best is to have a regular guy you trust at a repair shop, just as you have a primary care physician. I'll post more later on what to look for when searching for a shop in your area. In the interim, EVERY 3000 MILES.

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