You know that oil changes and maintenance on your car are important, but why is it even more important this coming year?
If you own a car, you know that gas prices are going up, along with the prices of just about everything, including the cost of buying a new car - or even a used one for that matter. With the cost of getting a new car out of reach for many, more and more people are choosing to keep their current vehicles and pay the cost of some of the more expensive repairs they may have foregone back when trading in and buying a different car was a more affordable option.
So why does this matter? Well, first of all, it means that automotive repair shops are a lot busier than before with all of these additional repairs. The schedule at your local repair facility is filled up with people replacing motors and transmissions and head gaskets. And for you, that means if your vehicle breaks down suddenly, you don't have a place in the shop's current week schedule. There is a list of people who have been waiting to get their vehicles looked at. If you had been the one waiting, you would not take kindly to having their sudden vehicle emergency put ahead of yours no matter how much "they really need their vehicle" (so do you) or whether "they know the owner" (don't we all).
Your emergency is likely going to have to wait.
So where does routine maintenance come in? You may or may not know that most shops have different levels of technicians. There are what they call the "A" and "B" techs who can perform diagnostics, fix electrical issues, and do the more in depth, lengthy repairs mentioned above, and you also have the lube and oil techs who do oil changes, brake jobs, serpentine belts, etc. Those first technicians are the ones who are booked out two weeks, the ones who will fix your vehicle if there is a major issue or breakdown. The oil technicians, however, are not booked up, and this is good news for you. These are the technicians who can keep your vehicle in optimum condition so you are much less likely to have an emergency breakdown on the side of the road, and they can do this in several ways.
1. Oil Changes
It's in the name: oil tech. They do oil changes. I know we've said it many times, and you know it to be true, but I'll say it again. Oil changes are so important. Oil gets dirty. It turns from a clear, smooth liquid into a dark, sludge-like substance over time. This fluid runs over and in and between all of the metal parts in your engine, keeping them running smoothly.
When the fluid that lubricates them gets thicker, these parts cannot operate as efficiently, causing added stress to your vehicle, and ultimately this can lead to early breakdown of these parts. This is one of the most inexpensive things you can do for your vehicle.
2. Vehicle Inspections
All techs can and do perform inspections, but these oil technicians are doing them multiple times a day, every day. They look over your vehicle, checking lights, wipers, brake life, and tire tread depth and wear; looking for loose, rusted, or worn parts; measuring fluid levels, and assessing leaks. In short, they can help you see a problem before it becomes a bigger problem. When you get your inspection results, you can see what things might soon be an issue and choose to schedule them at a convenient time for you, rather than waiting at the mercy of your shop's full schedule when a part breaks. Without regular inspections, you might not know there is a problem until it is already broken.
3. Suggested Maintenance Schedules
If you have ever picked up your vehicle's user manual for a little light reading, you may have noticed that there is a manufacturer's suggested schedule for routine maintenance. This schedule varies widely by vehicle, but it lists when to replace parts that wear out like brakes, belts, spark plugs, filters, and fluids. These are guidelines that many people don't follow too closely (do you change your spark plugs every 30K-90K miles?), but it might be worth your time to consider them right now. Oil techs can not only help recommend these on time, but they can also handle a lot of your routine transmission, coolant, and brake fluid flushes, belt replacements, and filter changes. And what they can't do can be scheduled in advance with the other technicians.
Scheduling a timing belt replacement at the stated mileage interval will fit your budget and your schedule better than waiting for a broken one to leave you on the side of the road with a now also broken engine. Replacing spark plugs before they start misfiring can prevent damage to your ignition coils, your catalytic converter, and your bank account. You get the picture. While all of these things cost money, you can budget for them, and schedule them, and prevent other repairs that cost a lot more money.
Make the Shift
We know these suggestions are a radical shift away from the "if it's not broke, don't fix it" mentality that a lot of us have always had. But if a new car isn't an option financially, you don't have multiple vehicles to drive when one is out of commission, and your vehicle is essential to your job day to day, you need to make the shift towards preventative maintenance. It will save you so much time, worry, and money.
What About the Non-Routine?
Now, we know that even with the best inspections and the most diligent routine maintenance, there are still going to be other things that come up. Our best advice is:
The moment your check engine light comes on, call and get an appointment for an engine code diagnosis. The moment you notice a strange noise coming from your vehicle, call and get an appointment. The moment your car starts cranking more slowly, you notice a spot of fluid on your driveway, or anything out of the ordinary happens, call and get an appointment. Don't wait several weeks, or months, until the lone light turns into the vehicle running rough, the small noise turns into a loud grinding, the slow cranking stops altogether, or the spot turns into a puddle.
Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on our part.
Don't wait. Get it scheduled before it becomes an emergency. We want to be able to help everyone, and we hate having to tell people that we can't get them in when they need us. We're telling you now that it might take longer to get an appointment - please plan accordingly.
On Beyond 2022
A lot of our advice above is good advice no matter what happens next with inflation, and supply chain issues, and car prices. As vehicles become more affordable again, there may be less of a wait in the schedule at the repair shop, but it will still be good practice to plan ahead rather than waiting for emergencies to affect your schedule and your wallet.