Shop Talk

By Ray Miles

Valley Bugler Columnist


As an auto repair business owner, I talk to lots of people about their cars and the high cost of auto repair. So I thought this month I would shed some light on why auto repair is so expensive.

Like almost everything else, inflation has caused the price of parts and labor to rise. But much more than inflation is the complexity of the new vehicles.

It is so easy to remember what a tune up used to cost, for instance. Roughly 100 bucks got you a new set of spark plugs, a set of points and condenser and maybe a new air filter.

That was then, when coils put out 10 thousand volts and no air quality standards were in place. Now, your  vehicle has to meet those air quality standards. The engine cannot mis-fire and fuel injectors have incredibly tiny holes the fuel must pass through, and spark is often created at the spark plug (called coil on plug that can exceed 50 thousand volts) and all these things and many more must be addressed when performing a “tune up”.

In the old days, a mechanic had a volt meter and a set of feeler gauges plus a few wrenches and sockets and was able to fix almost anything with those few tools. Today if you look in a technicians tool box, you most likely will see several thousand dollars of very specialized tools of all kinds and electronic hand held tools that typically cost roughly $10,000 each just so they can perform that tune up.

Look on the office wall for the certifications that any quality tech has, to prove their worth not only to the business owner, but the customer as well.

There is not a single car made today that doesn’t have several computers on board (often more than 20) and knowing how to diagnose and repair this level of complexity is comparable to what a doctor has to know. At least it feels that way.

Add to that the information systems that a business must have since there is not any two vehicles that use the same systems, even among the same manufacturer.

When a person asks me what they can do to reduce the cost of vehicle ownership, my first thought is get a car with the least amount of fancy do dads because they will eventually cost you a lot of money maintaining them.

The second thing I advise is to follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule.

Then I advise them to find a trusted mechanic and have him/her inspect the vehicle at least twice a year. Not the quick lube type of inspection but a certified technician who knows what to inspect and what everything is supposed to be when everything is a OK;  and then follow their recommendations.

As I’ve said many times in the past, the cheapest money you spend is on maintaining your vehicle before it breaks, as catastrophic repair is BIG bucks. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve had people bring a car that lost something like a timing belt that could have been replaced for a few hundred dollars but wasn’t…then see that car hauled to the wrecking yard because now the repair exceeded the value of the car. As the saying goes, pay me now or pay me later; it’s always cheaper now.

Happy Motoring, Ray

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