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Beacon Senior News

My car is broken. Now what?

Jun 06, 2019 01:17PM ● By Beacon Senior News

You’re driving along Patterson, grocery list in hand, when suddenly your car engine dies at a stoplight. You put it in park and restart the engine, but it barely comes to life, sputtering and jerking to the nearest curb. The dash is lit up like a Christmas tree with warning lights and any attempts to restart now are met with zero results. Your car is broken. Now what?

First off, let’s back up to a little history and maintenance. Have there been warning lights on the dash before this happened? Perhaps “Check Engine” or “Service Engine Soon” that have been ignored? It’s true that a check engine light can be triggered by some very small issues (a loose gas cap comes to mind), but it will also illuminate when there is a serious problem.

Ignoring these warnings can leave you frustrated and stranded on the side of the road. The simple solution is to be proactive with your vehicle and you will likely avoid this kind of situation.

Familiarize yourself with your vehicle owner’s manual to better understand its systems, capabilities and warning lights. Understanding your vehicle goes a long way to peace of mind.

My husband, Robert, a career automotive technician and operations manager for MIT Automotive, debunked some of the common misconceptions about automotive repairs.

“Diagnostic equipment does not give all the answers; it just points a technician in the right direction. There is no replacement for diagnostic skill and experience,” he said. “There is also no Magic 8 Ball for when a component will fail. Technicians cannot give exact mileage for how long brakes will last or when that seeping water pump will fail.”

I have fielded many of the same questions from customers about their vehicles. Although each manufacturer has designed its own systems, these basic facts for fuel- driven cars might help you understand yours better.

• Battery life: If your vehicle has a five-year battery, its expected life is just that: five years. If you’ve had a vehicle for five years and never replaced the battery, that may be the cause if your car won’t start. If you suspect your battery is low, turn off all the consumers (radio, heat, wipers, lights, seat heaters) before trying to start again.

• Heat: The heat for your vehicle comes from the engine. If it’s 30 degrees outside and you’ve just started your car, you will not get any heat from the vents until the engine is up to operating temperature.

• Pre-heating: Running your vehicle in cold weather for 10-15 minutes before driving not only allows for comfort in the cabin, it also warms up the engine oil and other fluids, which are needed for proper operation.

• Warning lights: Warning lights should never be ignored. It’s your vehicle’s way of warning you of potential problems. Furthermore, never ignore flashing warning lights, which is your vehicle’s desperate attempt to get your attention. They mean one thing: stop now and drive no more. Call a tow truck.

• Oil changes and maintenance: Manufacturers are quick to want vehicles to appear low cost for maintenance and often push the scheduled service intervals out for 15,000 miles, particularly for vehicles that utilize synthetic oil. The problem is that many drivers won’t cover 15,000 miles in a year. An oil change is also the mechanic’s opportunity to check other systems in the car, therefore heading off potentially expensive problems. Be proactive by taking your vehicle in for service at least once a year regardless of the mileage.

• Choosing a service and repair shop: It’s important to pick a service shop that you trust and where you feel comfortable asking questions. It’s also important to pick a service facility that knows your brand of vehicle. After all, you wouldn’t take a heart problem to a podiatrist. With the complicated electronic systems in most vehicles, aim for some place that has vehicle-specific software. Your mechanic should be able to answer any questions you may have about the workings of your vehicle. If your mechanic is easily stumped, you may want to consider another mechanic.

• Estimates: It’s tempting to phone into a repair shop and ask, “If my brakes need replacing, how much will that cost?” But it’s more complicated than that for the mechanic to answer. Do you need front brakes, rear brakes, just pads, or pads, rotors and sensors? And, do you even need brakes? Take the guesswork out by taking your vehicle in, have the problem diagnosed and get an informed estimate.

• Additional repairs: Sometimes, in the course of repairing an initial problem, additional problems are found. For instance, if the leaking upper radiator hose is being replaced, removing it allows the mechanic to see the condition of other hoses not visible until the first hose is removed. He may recommend replacing additional hoses that are worn, which can save on labor costs and inconvenience down the road. He should be able to explain what he’s found and why he recommends replacing it.

• You are in control: As the car owner, you are always in control of a repair, whether you authorize or decline work. Ask questions to be fully informed as to why a repair is being recommended.

• Can’t be without your car? When faced with a repair, many people think their schedule is way too busy to be without their car—even for a day. Remember that right now, you were able to drive to the shop, get an estimate and decide if a repair should be done. Being broken down on the side of the road becomes an emergency. You’ll definitely be without your car then and whatever plans you had will be interrupted. Save yourself. Be proactive with service and repairs. ■