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Car care for beginners

June 3, 2015
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

If you're a "gearhead," which is a newish term for a car enthusiast, you probably looked at this title and felt a rush of superiority. After all, you're not a beginner. You've been taking care of cars for many years, so what could this column hold that would interest you? Feel free to critique it. You may even learn something new.

If you're a teenager with your first car, maybe going off to college with it, maybe not, you are now in charge of taking care of a car. Dad usually did that. There are things to know.

If you're a recent widow or divorcee who is left with a car to care for, you are probably not prepared for the responsibility. Hubby usually did these things. You know how women have advantage taken of them when dealing with mechanical things. It's not rocket science, but there are some expensive mistakes to avoid. You could use some advice.

Here's the first tip. Most necessary operations, like oil changes, tire rotations, alignments, tune-ups and repairs of broken parts are more than anyone can handle on their own today. In your father's and grandfather's day it was different. They could, and did, do many of these things at home. On modern cars, forget about it, and don't feel guilty. It is simply too complicated. (Oxymoron anyone?) Most attempts at "do-it-yourself" usually result in extra damage and more costly repairs. It should be done by professionals. I saw the hairs stand up on your neck when you read that. Yes, you have to pay people to do these things, but it doesn't have to be a lot of money. There are ways to control the expenses, like these dos and don'ts.

Don't assume that you know what is wrong with your car when it acts up, or that any other person knows what is wrong, unless that person is a working, recently trained technician (respectable name for mechanic). Guessing about it only confuses the situation and is not helpful. In fact, it's harmful.

Don't call around shopping for the lowest price for a job before taking it to a technician. Since you don't know what the car needs, and he hasn't even seen it yet, he also can't know what it needs. Asking him to guess, and then give you various estimates only confuses the situation. Let him diagnose it first.

Do try out various shops by taking your routine oil changes to different ones until you find one you like. Then, when you need a repair, you have a relationship established with a shop you like.

Do take your car to that shop for your other services, using your manufacturers suggested schedule. A good shop will help you understand that schedule.

Do, if you have a repair problem, limit yourself to a description of the symptoms you are experiencing. Don't try to diagnose it. Don't tell the shop what you think the problem is. Let them diagnose it. That will be much faster, and by making the diagnosis, they become obligated for the results of the repair they recommend. This is a biggie. If you tell them to do a certain operation and they do it, but it doesn't solve your problem, they have completed their end of the contract by doing your bidding and you owe them for the effort, whether it was needed or not. If you let them diagnose it, they are responsible for the accuracy of that diagnosis. The problem is guaranteed to be fixed.

To avoid hair raising episodes, it's the relationship that matters most. That's been my life in a nutshell.

--Larry DeHays is the author of the book "The Car Care World", a compilation of his most popular columns. It is available now through Amazon, Barnes and Noble,, or at the DeHays Automotive office, 17617 Broadway Ave., Fort Myers Beach. He has been an ASE Certified Technician for 37 years and an arbitrator for the Florida Lemon Law for 16 years. For more information go to or



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