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How Can I Avoid $$$ Car Maintenance?
Old 03-04-2012, 11:59 AM   #1
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How Can I Avoid $$$ Car Maintenance?

Most of us keep our cars a long time. So the maintenance costs can be important. I'm not talking about the routine stuff here, but 'surprises'. I want to avoid stuff that could cost big bucks 10 years down the road, but I'm having problems identifying what these may be.

One example is a timing belt versus a timing chain. Belts will usually need replacement, versus a chain that is generally good for the life of the car. But some belts are not that expensive to replace, and my Volvo gives a 14 year schedule, and miles beyond what I would put on, so that isn't always a major item.

I've recently seen articles on a Ford engine that has spark plugs with a deep shell. They can get carbon build up on them, and then become impossible to remove w/o breakage, and/or w/o stripping the threads. People are getting a $2,000-$3,000 bill, just for a routine spark plug change! I think I'd go to small claims court over that one.

There was also a car which required removal of the bumper and/or fender to replace the head light bulb. It would run over $800! BTW, this was not the Prius, which I've read can be difficult, but not so bad/$$ - but I can't recall which car it was.

Anyone know of a list like this? I'd like to scratch those cars off my consider list, maybe even write the manufacturer and local dealers why I won;t buy that model.

-ERD50
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Old 03-04-2012, 12:38 PM   #2
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Since I don't buy new cars any more, I use the Consumer Report guide and look at the repair experience for any car I would be interested in purchasing. I have found it to be fairly reliable based on my own experience with cars owned by DW/me and small business. For instance, the particular car I drove for 19 years was down rated for minor electrical problems (bingo) and the brand of van we always chose for the business was a clear loser in the autotrans area (double bingo). Back when a Honda was considered the best car you could buy, we had an 82 that needed new brakes every 10 thousand miles. That one year showed up in CR as having a serious repair issue with brakes. YMMV
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Old 03-04-2012, 02:48 PM   #3
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I don't know of any list. However a trip to a local independent mechanic of good reputation will yield a gold mine of information.

The keeper of the knowledge may be more willing to part with useful info if you are a regular customer. Else offer some $$$ for their knowledge up front.

Sort of like the joke about the art expert charging $5000 for a quick glance at a famous painting to confirm authenticity. The Baroness was aghast at the expense for a quick glance.

The expert explained, Lady you are paying for a lifetime learning and accumulated knowledge in knowing what to look for, not my time for having a look.
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Old 03-04-2012, 02:55 PM   #4
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One of these is what you want:



We had a Toyota Celica, and the few problems we had correlated exactly with the chart.
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Old 03-04-2012, 03:11 PM   #5
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Nothing is foolproof, but another vote for Consumer Report reliability ratings. I haven't bought a car in decades without consulting CR. JD Powers is not useful, what they publish that I've seen is owner satisfaction on the first 90 days, what's the use. I've heard CarMD.com has reliability info too, haven't tried them yet.
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Old 03-04-2012, 04:07 PM   #6
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Another free site to check is True Delta TrueDelta -- Real Car Owners Driving Real Car Information

TrueDelta is a community of more than 76,000+ car owners who share first-hand, real-world car information and experiences. Whether good, bad, or ugly, their candid reports help buyers, sellers, and owners get the most out of their cars.

omni
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Old 03-04-2012, 04:09 PM   #7
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Thanks, before I shop I will look through those sources. I was hoping there was a list of 'avoid these cars with these ridiculous issues', so I could just take those cars off the list before I even start looking.

-ERD50
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Old 03-04-2012, 06:09 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by ERD50 View Post
Thanks, before I shop I will look through those sources. I was hoping there was a list of 'avoid these cars with these ridiculous issues', so I could just take those cars off the list before I even start looking.

-ERD50
There is! It's the Consumer Reports annual car buying guide.
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Old 03-04-2012, 08:46 PM   #9
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I one wrote to consumer reports suggesting that they include some kind of estimated cost of ownership number for each car. Some cars cost much more than others for tires, tuneups, etc
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Old 03-04-2012, 09:28 PM   #10
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I go to repairpal to see what is a reasonable repair by car and location.

http://repairpal.com/
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Old 03-04-2012, 10:01 PM   #11
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I just buy a used Honda and drive it, they last almost forever. I have a mechanic check it out 1st but if it's ok I get it. I just bought another Honda, an Accord vs all the Civics I have owned, and it had 113k miles on it. My last Honda got 304k+ before it rusted out and was unsafe but it run perfect and had the original clutch. That Civic had a 1.6 liter vs this Accord with a 2.2 liter so this engine may last to 400k+.

The most important maintenance IMO is oil and filter changes. Aside from that doing maintenance vs ignoring things goes a long way to keeping a car running and at less cost.
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Old 03-05-2012, 12:52 AM   #12
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I listen to Car Talk on NPR from time to time, and came across this link from their website: Top 10 Cars We Hate the Most - Cars.com

Not sure if it fully answers your questions, but it is an enjoyable read.

Anyway I have heard them mention that some manufacturers are better than others at supplying parts. I think that's probably a key factor to consider, as even if a brand is known to have 'few' problems in certain areas, your particular car may develop that problem for whatever reason. If so you probably don't want an obscure make/model where parts will be hard to find.

Also I think simplicity in general is something to consider if you're concerned over repair / maintenance costs over the years. A hybrid like the Prius can deliver many good benefits, but after 10 yrs if you need to replace the battery I heard that can be more expensive than replacing a transmission. Not to be anti-hybrid but for now I think I prefer a regular old engine as I do keep my cars for 10+ years.
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Old 03-05-2012, 04:43 AM   #13
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It might be that there's no list of car "maintenance bloopers." The increased costs of such unfortunate design decisions are probably included in the figures in CR, so that's probably a better source. After all, while a $500 tail light change may be maddening, if the car is otherwise a gem and has low maintenance costs over all--maybe it's still worth buying. (When the time comes, drill through the lens, drill through the back reflector, feed in an LED or bulb of the right color, push the wires through the new hole in the reflector and wire them wherever it's convenient. Cover the outside hole with one of those purple faceted bullseye thingees for the custom look).
Perhaps the way to attack this is to go the other way--narrow the list of cars down to just a few, then go to the devotee web sites and see what their gripes are. That's probably where the "gotta remove the back seat to change the tail light" info might be hiding.
My FIL had a Mercury Bobcat that he swore required the AC compressor to be removed in order to change one of the spark plugs. You can bet that spark plug never got serviced.
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Old 03-05-2012, 06:48 AM   #14
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If basing an automobile purchase on anticipated future repair costs it might be wise to consider a base level of one of the biggest selling models. The more bells and whistles on the vehicle the better the chance of higher future repair bills. A model with hundreds of thousands on the road will mean a lot of mechanics will have experience working on your model. After-market parts manufacturers will be able to mass produce common repair parts such as brake rotors, calipers, struts, etc. for your model for many years to come. The more they can make the less expensive the parts will be. Case in point, compare after-market prices for VW parts compared to Honda parts here in USA.
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Old 03-05-2012, 07:17 AM   #15
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Perhaps the way to attack this is to go the other way--narrow the list of cars down to just a few, then go to the devotee web sites and see what their gripes are. That's probably where the "gotta remove the back seat to change the tail light" info might be hiding.
Bingo! That's exactly what I had in my mind. CR is a good source, but it may be lack of details. Some car owner forum with DIY section will be able to fill in this void.

Another good source would be Haynes manual or even better the factory service manual if you can find one. Even if you're not planning on DIY, but just by reading all the steps required for a minor/major repair, you can get a pretty good idea if the quotes given to you are ripoff or not. Also you can see how logical some cars are designed. Sometime, a car design is as it is not because it should be done, just because it can be done. For example, if a vehicle's high pressure fuel pump grenades and you will be ended with a 7k+ bill, or a DPF get clogged and its replacement might require disassembly it from subframe, then you'd better to think very hard before even opening your wallet. Also some trivial tasks in some time proven design might not be that trivial at all. Like spark plugs replacement in some Toyota truck. The air intake manifold is just above some spark plug holes, and there's no way you can replace them without taking the whole manifold piece off, which subsequently would require removal of the intake resonance damper box (like an intake muffler) which is mounted in a very tight space. So in this case, it's probably a good idea to put in some spark plugs which can last up to 80k+ miles instead.

The NHTSA site also provides vehicle recall and defects investigation results. You can search the makes and modes you're interested there to see how bad the ramification will be if something major turns up.

If you really want a peace of mind, you can also try the NAPA online parts store, and search some common breakdown parts availability and cost for the makes and models you're interested, such as struts/shocks, radiator, drive axles, alternator, fuel filter, lamp assembly, etc. You will get some basic idea about long term ownership cost from there.
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Old 03-05-2012, 07:34 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by samclem View Post
Perhaps the way to attack this is to go the other way--narrow the list of cars down to just a few, then go to the devotee web sites and see what their gripes are. That's probably where the "gotta remove the back seat to change the tail light" info might be hiding.
Also a great suggestion that I've used and forgot to mention earlier. I was planning to buy a Prius in 2010, but after spending a couple of months on PriusChat | Toyota Prius Forums, News, and Accessories, I decided against it.
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Old 03-05-2012, 08:23 AM   #17
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Just to add that if you are retired, you may find that you only drive a fraction of what you did during your early/employed years.

Since retiring five years ago, I only drive my "primary" car less than 5K/year, and my "toy" (02' Mustang vert) only around 1K/year.

While I do maintenance on each car (change the oil/filter every year, even though they don't require it), I've found my incidence of repair vs. my wor*ing years are much less.

And today? We don't use our cars for travel, as we did in the past. Most is done by flying and even our trips to the airport (90 miles one-way) is done by a limo service rather than have the hassles of using our own cars.

It's not only the vehicle, but also the stage of life that may impact maintenance issues.
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Old 03-05-2012, 08:40 AM   #18
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FYI - the Consumer Reports annual car guide is in April and is supposed to come out tomorros (March 6).
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Old 03-05-2012, 10:23 AM   #19
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Three words: BUY A HONDA!
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Old 03-05-2012, 10:44 AM   #20
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Three words: BUY A HONDA!
For us it's been buy a Honda or a Toyota for most of the last 30 years. That said, I would love to buy a great, reliable American small car. They're getting more competitive all the time - hopefully before I die...
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