I know you have heard of a used car checklist, but this week I am writing about a NEW car checklist. A new car checklist would be a list of items that you should ask the service department about your prospective new car before you make the purchase. Why should you talk to the service department about a car you have not yet purchased? Let me explain using two actual examples.
Most car owners can check their own engine oil, and probably a vast majority of owners can check their own transmission fluid level, or at least they can locate and examine the transmission fluid dipstick. I learned this week that some of the new Volkswagen models require a special tool to check the transmission fluid level. I am not talking about adding fluid or draining the fluid. What I am talking about is just the simple act of inspecting the transmission fluid level. Unless you or your mechanic owns one of these new Volkswagen tools, you will not be able to perform this simple and crucial task as part of the car's regularly scheduled maintenance. With the purchase of a new Volkswagen, you could automatically be consummating a long-term relationship with their dealership's service department, even for simple regular maintenance.
This type of information would probably not be revealed to you by the salesman when you are tire kicking for new cars. Wouldn't this information be a nice thing to know before you purchased this car? Don't think that the local repair shop or gas station is going to run out and purchase this tool either. I only work on an occasional VW in my shop, so this tool is not on my new tool wish list this year.
Our next example is a really frustrating scenario. My good friend recently bought a new BMW X5 SUV, and she is very pleased with it so far. A few weeks ago she took the BMW on a road trip with her two small boys, and made an unexpected discovery when her youngest son locked the keys inside the vehicle several hundred miles away from home. She picked up her cell phone and called the BWM roadside assistance hotline. They told her that attempting to break into the car was not a viable option because the security system would disable the engine-potentially causing thousands of dollars in damage in the process. Then they went on to explain that it was impossible for her to get a replacement key-not just in the small town she was in-but anywhere in the United States. A replacement key for her BMW would literally have to come from Germany. It took her an entire day and endless frustration to arrange to get her backup key from home.
My friend may or may not have purchased the BMW if she'd known about the "key quandary" in advance, but she sure would have appreciated having this information to enable her to make an informed decision. Had she known about the pickle her beautiful BMW could get her into, she would have taken a spare key with her anytime she went out of town in the car. So it really helps to be an informed consumer.
As I mentioned before, you are not likely to get this type of information about a car from the salesmen. It's not that they are trying to pull the wool over your eyes, but most of the salesmen on the dealership floor aren't going to know much technical service information about the cars…that's someone else's job. That someone is the service manager, and it would really be a good idea to find out everything he can tell you about service "issues" you may encounter.
A few questions that might be helpful to ask would be:
- How do I get a replacement ignition or door key; how much does a key cost; how long does it take to get one if it has to be special ordered?
- What basic and routine maintenance items can I perform myself without having to purchase any special tools or equipment?
- Can most normal tow trucks tow this vehicle in the case of a mechanical breakdown, or will it require special towing equipment and personnel?
- Are there any new electrical components or computer-related devices on the car that are new this year, and that your service department has not had much experience servicing?
I have free maintenance schedules on my Web site that you can print out and take to the service department at the dealership. Ask the service manager if there are any items on the list that do not apply to this model, and are there any items that should be added to the list for this particular car.
Spending some time in the service department before you sign on the dotted line might be very beneficial to you and your car in the long run.
Austin C Davis
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