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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….
CHANGE YOUR FREAKING TIMING BELT!
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…
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?