Reader Question: I took my 1991 Honda Accord to a new mechanic because I heard a funny noise in the brakes and I needed an oil change. An hour or two after I dropped off my car, I get a call from the repair shop. They tell me my car will need a front brake job, two tires, and a timing belt, all for $689.56. I just wanted the shop to look at the brakes and change the oil, should I sense something fishy? Could this other stuff be bad?
Dear concerned car owner,
This could be what happened:
For the shop to inspect the brakes they had to remove the wheels, thus a tire inspection was gratis. The shop also made note of the mileage of your vehicle, and suspects that the timing belt is original. The vehicle manufacturer recommends the timing belt be replaced at 60,000 miles. If the timing belt breaks, the car stops and you are on foot. Major engine damage could also occur. The timing belt on most cars is not accessible for visual inspection, so good maintenance records could help you make the decision to replace the belt or give it a few miles. Not sure if your car has a timing belt? GatesBelts.com has a great part locator on their Website.
In this example the shop could be doing a great job. They apparently failed to build your confidence and discuss the reasons for their recommendations. Worn out tires can be a safety issue, and depending on the pattern of the tire wear, could indicate worn parts or alignment problems. There is usually no way to tell with the naked eye if your car is out of alignment; so periodic front-end alignments are needed. A front-end alignment should always be performed when there is a tire wear problem or when replacing the tires due to normal wear and tear. Symptoms of out-of-alignment are: pulling to one side, uneven or premature tire wear, and looseness or excessive play in the steering wheel. Shimmy, vibrations, or bouncing are usually not caused by an alignment problem.
A broken timing belt could cost you a tow bill, a good walk to a pay phone for help, and possible internal engine damage that can cost big bucks and take days to repair. The timing belt is not visible and should be replaced by the mileage on the car and not what the belt looks like. If the owners manual says to replace the timing belt at 60,000 miles then don't wait any longer. If you bought the car second hand and do not have the invoice for the timing belt replacement my advise would be to have it replaced at the mileage the manufacture recommends and not to take a chance on replacement by the previous owner.
If you are on a serious budget, you might ask the shop "what do I have to have today, and how much time do I have left on the remainder of the work?" If the shop says that you have been on thin ice too long, park the car and take the bus! I mean it! All car owners should have a car repair fund or allowance set aside for situations like this.
Most repair shops that I know of do not possess a crystal ball to see into your car's future, so do not hold them accountable for making precise time estimates for how long things will last if you neglect them. I get asked everyday, "if I don't replace the timing belt today how many miles do you think I can get out of it?" In 1987 the makers of the space shuttle fuel rocket o-rings were probably asked the same question.
A few good questions to ask in this situation would be:
- Are the replacement tires the same as my old ones, and do they have the same warranty?
- What is the expected tread life in terms of miles?
- Do they come with road hazard warranty? Road hazards are anything that may be found on the road and can cause damage to the tire (i.e., nails, screws, sometimes curbs, etc).
- When replacing the timing belt should I replace the other belts too? The remaining fan belts have to come off to gain access to the timing belt. You have already paid the mechanic to remove them; this would be a great time to have them replaced as well if needed.
- If it is time for a front brake job, you should have them look at the rear brakes as well. You need to know what percentage of the rear brake lining is left, and when you should have them looked at again. You might as well take advantage of the down time now if the back brakes are worn out and have them replaced too. I would hate to have to come back to the shop a week later for something that could have been taken care of on the first go around.
Let the repair shop do their job. My primary goal as a shop owner is to keep your car running and keep you happy. Hopefully, this shop is doing the same, and you will tell your friends about the wonderful service you get at this great shop you've found.
Austin C Davis
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