When To Take Your Car To A Mechanic

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Hmmm....might be a problem here...
Hmmm….might be a problem here…

As you might know, I think new cars are the downfall of the middle class. If you didn’t know, now you do. 🙂

And I have written about how to buy a used car, and more recently, how to learn basic car maintenance to save you EVEN MORE MONEY over your lifetime. Today, I want to make sure that I don’t sound like someone who is immune to car frustrations, issues, and problems that I cannot solve. I want to recognize that there are times when you SHOULD take your car to a reputable mechanic……and maybe even I should….


I’ve told everyone my tales of success with our pair of old Hondas. My daily driver is a 1994 Accord with 296,000+ miles on it currently, and it drives great! I have had minimal issues with it, mostly basic maintenance, and still get 30 MPG highway and all the options I could ever want (leather, sunroof, A/C, etc…). Before switching to this Honda, it was my wife’s daily driver. With a kid, one on the way and a dog, we decided to get a 4runner and switch me to the Accord as a daily driver. So I decided (sadly) to sell my Honda Civic that I had driven for 7 years. It has about 275,000 miles, with about 120,000 on the motor I installed.

We lined up a buyer, and because she was a friend, let her drive it around to test it out and see if it would fit her needs. I had all the confidence in the world, because of course, Hondas are impervious to any issues…..right?….WRONG! After 7 years of flawless driving, I forgot to do the one thing that you should NEVER FORGET to do. I did not change the timing belt at 100,000 miles (recommended for most vehicles with a belt) and the belt snapped while she was (luckily) coming off the freeway. She called, I apologized profusely, and I had it towed back to my house. I didn’t know what the issue was, but after some troubleshooting, found that the belt had snapped. DOH!

I did a little reading online (because the internet has all of the answers!) and found out that my motor was most likely shot, with a top-end rebuild at a minimum! UGH! There goes all my theories of self-reliance and owning older cars, right?! WRONG! This could have all been prevented by understanding that there are maintenance schedules (cars have moving parts that wear out), and just wishing that nothing will happen is not good enough. I could have just done the friggin’ timing belt at 100k miles and been done with it. But I didn’t, the belt blew, and I was probably out $700+ to fix my $2,000 car.

When To Take Your Car To A Mechanic

Now, being the avid DIY’er and car enthusiast that I am, of course I started to rip into the motor, search online for “Timing Belt How-To” videos and step-by-step instructions, and priced out the replacement parts. Because of course, it’s ALWAYS a waste of money to take your car to a mechanic…..right? RIGHT?! WRONG AGAIN!! (I’m just talking to myself at this point). There are times when you (I) should put down the wrench and slowly back away from the vehicle. And this was possibly one of those times…

I do think it’s a good idea to diagnose what you can and know as much as possible about your vehicle, because if you don’t, you are susceptible to get ripped off. Not all mechanics want to rip you off, but many times they may suggest doing work that is not needed, and if you don’t know what’s going on, you might end up dropping hundreds more than you need to. So I ripped into the motor a bit, and by a miracle of God, my valves weren’t bent (confirmed by a leakdown test). So I just need to do the timing belt job and be on my way. Little did I know what horror I had in store…

Broken Harmonic Balancer

I spent a total of maybe 10-12 hours over 3 days to change the belt, which should have taken only about 3 hours, according to the repair manuals I found online. I did everything AT LEAST TWICE, and got stuck at every stage along the way. I also managed to break a $107 part by unnecessarily torquing down the crank bolt too much. UGH! So all in all, I spent a little over $300 to replace the belt and water pump, along with flushing the coolant and changing the oil. From the quotes I found online, this job could have been done for about $500, with zero headaches, no cuts or bruises, and my sanity intact. And honestly, that is what I plan on doing with my Honda accord, because I’ve put just about 100,000 miles on it since I’ve owned it. Saving $175 was probably not worth the lost weekend and frustrations, plus the fact that my timing is still just a ~little~ off on the civic. Another thing I need to troubleshoot and fix.

Find A Good, Local Mechanic

So, even for someone who loves saving cash on car maintenance, there needs to be a line in the sand where I realize the time-value and frustrations involved make some jobs not worth it. Professionals are much more efficient, have WAY BETTER tools, and do this all day, every day. They can take care of business while you sleep in and eat more bacon, because that is time well spent. So the best thing I can do is develop a relationship with a good, local mechanic that has a great reputation and competitive prices. What I DON’T want to do is go to a “Stealership”, because I will have the shirt ripped off my back with their ridiculous fees and prices for the service.

As with anything, I’m going to take to the local car forums and review sites to get some advice on local mechanics that I can contact. I’ll reach out to a handful of them and see where the quotes for the job land, as well as how they handle my questions. I want someone who can simply explain to me what the job is and answer my questions about what they will be charging for. I’ll pick the one that does well with all of the above and have them take care of the job. Hopefully from there I have a good relationship with the mechanic, and can continue reaching out to him/her if I have another job that needs a mechanic (honestly not sure what else I would use a mechanic for, though. Maybe transmission work??).

You Shouldn’t Do Everything

I will never recant on the fact that I think people WASTE SO MUCH MONEY on cars it makes me sick. I will always advocate for DIY over hiring out maintenance and hard work, and think education is the key to curing people’s irrational fear of motor vehicles. But you shouldn’t do everything, and sometimes you can weigh the options and realize some things should be left to a professional. Changing my oil is crazy cheap (with a coupon), so I don’t do that anymore. I’m also going to outsource my Honda Accord timing belt job. I won’t say that my time is better spent elsewhere, because I also do believe in self-education through doing, but for this specific job, I am choosing to spend another $150 or so to have it done quickly and professionally. Again, I recommend evaluating everything on a case-by-case basis, and most everything you should be able to do yourself.

Comments: Where do you draw the line for car maintenance? Would you suffer to save $175? Do you still think I’m a crazy used-car lover with no grasp of reality?

Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade has been a nationally-recognized personal finance expert for the past decade. He has written professionally for The Balance, The Spruce, LendingTree, Investing Answers, and other widely-followed sites. 
He’s also been a featured expert on CBS News, MSN Money, Forbes, Nasdaq, Yahoo! Finance, Go Banking Rates, and AOL Finance.

In 2018, Jacob quit his job and his family decided to sell everything (including their home) to take off on an adventure. They traveled the country in an RV for nearly 3 years, visiting over 38 states, 20+ national parks and eventually settling in the sunshine state!

31 thoughts on “When To Take Your Car To A Mechanic”

    • Haha, it was frustrating, that’s for sure. But I DID learn more than I ever wanted to know about how my car works 🙂 All in the ol’ brain now.

  1. I do still think you’re a little crazy but….

    I do have an actual question. We have a 1999 Civic that I’ll do a post on at some point. I has just over 200K miles and was bought a little over a year ago. How do I know if the former owner changed the timing belt or if it’s a time bomb waiting to go off?

  2. I would pay to get this done. I could probably take it apart, but putting it back together in proper working order wouldn’t likely happen. Plus I would be very frusterated and would probably be cursing like crazy due to my mechanical ineptitude.

  3. I routinely have my oil changed on my cars! It avoids many more serious problems. My cars were 17 years old, but less mileage. I sold my (95) Honda Accord last summer. I still have a (97) Honda Prelude. I have a good local mechanic. Los Angeles is definitely a car town.

  4. Pingback: Know Your DIY Limits – When is it Time to Call the Mechanic?
  5. You’re voice is loud and clear, I love it! Sometimes people bring their car to the mechanic for the easiest of tasks but in reality these people have clue. I’d rather see them go to a mechanic then risk killing themselves or others trying to mcchamp! I fix my own vehicle as I’m fairly comfortable with everything but like anything else if I don’t know you call in a professional. Cheers!

  6. Haha, you’re a crazy man! No, actually you and a few other people inspired me to learn some basic car maintenance skills, so thanks. I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who’s immune to asking for help. None of us can be experts on everything, even in our area of expertise, and honestly the mark of a real expert is knowing when you need help. To me, you’ve got the approach right on.

    • Reading the post now, nice work! And yes, if you can’t ask for help, you will make a lot of unnecessary mistakes and be seen as an arrogant jerk. I have no shame in admitting defeat (though I will try like heck before that happens!)

  7. This is kind’ve unrelated…but I have to tell you something. I recently took Greg’s Prius to get an oil change at Jiffy Lube and the guy told me that an oil change would be $79 since it was a hybrid!!!! =)

    Obviously, I went somewhere else…but still. Isn’t that funny?

  8. Sometimes it is smart to let the professionals do the job. This post reminds me that I need to check and see if my car has a timing belt that needs to be replaced. I was going to do that right after I bought it and then totally forgot about it.

    This isn’t something I should forget since I’ve had timing belts break on two previous cars. One car was okay after $500 for a new timing belt. The other one was not and I ended up selling it for parts.

  9. How did you move it when you snapped? The old panty-hose trick? On that note, I’ve heard that the timing belt is Honda’s only kryptonite from that era

    When I drove across the county in my older Saab, we brought new boxes of panty hose suspecting that a belt would break 100 miles from civilization. Nope, but our A/C did fall apart 3 miles from our destination in California. Irony?

    • I’ve got towing on my auto policy for a reason. Have had to use it a few times, definitely worth $1 a month!

      Hmmm, no A/C in Cali = no good! Was it at least a convertible?

  10. Car is one thing we have not really tried any DIY stuff. Our honda only has 105k miles but I am afraid it is going to go down anytime soon. I have done all the recommended maintenance but it still scares me. Finding a good mechanic is something we should have done a long time ago. It is very difficult to find someone honest and affordable.

    • If it’s a Honda, I highly doubt it’s life is even HALF over at 105k miles. I definitely do recommend finding a good mechanic, though. Worth their weight in Gold, but so is research 🙂

  11. Cars are definitely the downfall of the middle class, I can agree with you there. Honestly, I drove my car without air conditioning in the desert summer for years because I didn’t want to fork up the cash to repair it. So I get it!

    • Haha, don’t know if I would do that! Well, I would, but my family wouldn’t. Need to cool it down with babies in the car. But we live near Seattle, so much cooler here 🙂

  12. Pingback: Know Your DIY Limits - When is it Time to Call the Mechanic?
  13. Sometimes you don’t need to go to mechanic. You can check and replace your car parts at home easily. All you need to do is analysis, analyze the problem causing part and change it yourself. It will help you in saving money and time as well.

  14. My oldest son recently moved out to go to college in a different city, and he mentioned to me that his car has been having some problems. When I was his age I did not own my personal car, so I decided that I would love to help him get this resolved so he does not have to walk everywhere. I loved reading that you should review sites to be able to find advice on local mechanics that you can contact.


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