Monday, February 16, 2009

Car-ma: What if you've had it with car repairs on a high mileage vehicle?

Based on my recent post about a nightmare with my insurance company and body shop, one can imagine how easy it is to get fed up and go to bed with dreams of leasing a Honda Civic.

On top of the insanity with my E-class, my wife's car stalled out on her on a highway exit ramp recently. This happened less than 36 hours after we had just picked the car up after an AC clutch replacement and oil change. Turned out in a freak occurrence that a bracket had fallen on top of the fan belt and broken it. That day, when we were taking my car - which still isn't completely fixed yet - to my office to get my laptop, I realized I had run over a nail and needed to get my tire patched.

It's easy to throw my hands up and say, "enough is enough! I want a reliable car where I don't have to always deal with this crap - under warranty so the dealer can handle it all!" I've gone that route before, and here are my general thoughts after getting a nice talking-to by a good friend familiar with these matters (and also relying on my own experience with "buying brand new"):

  • When cars are new, that is typically when they have the most problems, not the least. Very few car companies make unreliable cars, but when new engines are being broken in or new parts are being tested out on you, the consumer, bad things can happen. On a brand new 2006 Accord, the power steering pump went less than 5,000 miles in. Turns out they had a recall on them for every model Honda used that pump on.
  • Not all dealers are fully stocked with morons, but none of us like dealing with salespeople. The car buying process is brutal. You get that nice factory warranty when you're done with that, but you also get service techs who might refuse warranty work or not be willing to work with you over things that are minor to them but important to you, such as noise diagnostics. "Oh, you're hearing a funny sound? I don't hear it, sorry."
  • New cars are expensive...again, you get the warranty, but what about buying the car one year old and saving thousands while also getting the balance of the factory warranty? Or Certified Pre-Owned?

Some car buyers cannot be bothered with maintenance schedules late into a car's life, and having to set aside a budget for things that might happen to a used car without a warranty. It can sure get expensive dealing with tires, brakes, failed electronics, etc. These are the risks you take, but unless you get a lemon, it's a risk you can live with - and you're saving all that money by buying used.

When all is said & done, my particular situations recently are mostly a result of bad luck, almost comedic bad luck. Overall, the cars we have are extremely reliable (knock on wood-grain dash) and any new car could be giving us these issues if it had slipped in the snow or needed some electronic part and the mechanic didn't do a good job putting things back together. I've found some of the least knowledgeable service techs end up being employed by dealerships, believe it or not, because they have no incentive to stay on top of things or know their stuff. Independent mechanics have reputations, which spread like wildfire on the internet these days, even locally (craigslist, yelp, yahoo! local, etc.).

This is not to say one should never buy new, only that if you run into a string of bad luck, take a deep breath and think about what is really causing problems: bad luck, insurance companies, repair work...or a bad car? In most cases it is not the latter.

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