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Car Maintenance Dilemma---Private Person or Auto Shop?

I am on a really tight budget and need to get new front and rear brakes (my front brakes were at 30 and my rear brakes were at 40 in May of last year) and I need a major service ie tune-up (last tune up was March 2007).

I have a 2000 Honda civic dx coupe, drum brakes, basemodel, 147,000 miles and she has been through a few bang-ups, but still runs good and when washed, looks pretty nice.:slight_smile:

The dilemma is that the shop I go to will charge about $735 for both procedures combined, not including tax, and with the use of coupons. they also warranty their work for 3 years.

My boyfriend’s relative will do the job of 400 or less. He is a former auto mechanic who now works on the side as a mechanic, earns decent money, but doesn’t work out of a shop.

I thought that if I get my car fixed at a shop, i have more protection if something goes wrong in my car due to the repair. is that true? If i go to a private person, am i more responsible for problems than if I go to a dealership?

Absolutely, because you may or may not be able to enforce anything than the parts warranty, outside going to court. If this mechanic is a trusted friend, you can take a chance.

I have difficulty arriving at $735 for the work you lay out; you may need to be more specific about the tune up plugs, plug wires, air and gas filter, or more, or less?

On the brakes, rotor/drum replacement included?

Suggest you get a couple of more estimates detailing exact parts lists unless you really, really trust the friend/acquaintance.

Like Jayhawk, I don’t see $735 in work. First, you need to have your brakes checked. If they were at 30/40% in May '08, they still may be OK, but you need to check. And there’s not much to ‘tune up’ on cars, follow your manual regarding spark plugs, etc. Many shops over-sell what’s needed, let your manual be your guide.

The major service includes:

engine oil
oil filster
oil drain plug gasket
check and adjust all flidid levels
adjust tire psi
rotate tires
inspect brake
adjust brakes
inspect allignment needs
inspect wiper blades
inspect external belts and hoses
inspect for leaks
lubricate door and hinges
premium engine supplement
add windshield washer solvent
reset maintenance indicator
inspect engine idle speed
inspect exhaust system
inspect axels and cv boots
inspect suspension
inspect fuel lines
inspect cooling
drain and fill cooling
inspect transmission operation
replace air filter
replace in-cabin air filter
drain and refill transmission fluid
clean and service battery cables
test battery road test

This appears to be a standard 120/150/180K service for many cars, and given your mileage, it may be needed.

Note above is missing spark plug costs for tune up. What is recommendedspark plug change interval for your car, and when were they last changed?

If you are not maintenance/mechanically inclined, many of the inspections are useful. I would recommend that you use CarTalk mechanics files on the home page to identify two more independent mechanics and get estimates from them, for the work you cannot do.

I have also included some estimates to have a shop do certain items, using some midwest pricing. Some you may do yourself, and many will be done for free by some independent shops, because a fault generally translates into additional work and profit (like belts and hose inspection). I think you may need to take an “ala carte” approach, because some of the inspections/replacements you can probably do yourself…so here goes:

engine oil, oil filter, oil drain plug gasket approx $30. (DIY =$15 or so).
check and adjust all fluiid levels DIY with owner’s manual help or can be free at some garages.
adjust tire psi DIY with owner’s manual/tire pressure placard/tire gauge
rotate tires $20-30; $15-20 at walmart.
inspect brake, adjust brakes $30 or so if no parts replacement done. Plan on $150 per axle for pads/shoes, and no new rotors, but resurface old.
inspect allignment needs Go for 4 whl alignment if you haven’t had one in a year or so, $75-100
inspect wiper blades – change yourself for $15 or less
inspect external belts and hoses, inspect for leaks Many independents do this for free
lubricate door and hinges DIY with appropriate aerosol grease/fluid
premium engine supplement DO NOT NEED, Probably ever
add windshield washer solvent DIY for $2 or less.

reset maintenance indicator
inspect engine idle speed
inspect exhaust system
inspect axels and cv boots
inspect suspension
inspect fuel lines
inspect cooling
drain and fill cooling $50-75
inspect transmission operation
replace air filter approx $15 DIY
replace in-cabin air filter approx $15-45 depending on filter type
drain and refill transmission fluid $100 or so
clean and service battery cables
test battery road test not a bad idea, but not necessarily an extra cost item.

I hope this helps out a bit. I have found researching and telling a mechanic exactly what I want done, and then figuring out how to do the rest of the items myself keeps my maintenance costs down. Many of these inspection services become “free” as you develop a good, steady relationship with an good independent mechanic and the shop. I advocate that approach, unless you really, really trust the relative. It is entirely possible the relative can do a quality job for these service items, but you will generally be on the hook for his good will if something goes wrong after the work is done. Not sure how a three year warranty comes into play, unless the brake pads are replaced, but that (like the spark plugs) is not exactly on the list above, either.

Thank you, everybody. This is so frustrating as I don’t know how to do this myself and I am on a budget and just want my car to 1) be safe and 2) reliable. I am not picky about the ride, I just want to keep her running for as long as I can, or until I pay off the car note, whichever comes first.

I called around for the brakes and every place is giving me an estimate of around $300. I think I will just get the brakes done this weekend, and shop around more for the tune up issues.

According to your owner’s manual and the service you’ve had done on the car, does it need all of these things? When is the last time you had the coolant changed and the trans. fluid changed?

If money is really tight have the brakes fixed only at the place you are most comfortable with.

Major maintenance’s are important for longevity however you may not keep this thing as long as it will last.

Of all those items listed for the major maintenance just the transmission change(if automatic only) is very prudent.

The radiator will likely fall apart within the next 50k miles so don’t bother with coolant. I had a 95 Civic and performed 5 radiator fluid changes before 180k when it failed. My wife had a 96 Civic(similar to yours) that she changed the radiator fluid once at 100k(only major maintenance) and it also failed around 185k miles.

Print out this string of posts for later reference. Get the brake work done only if an inspection shows that it is necessary. None of us can see what is needed in that area.

Prioritize your other services. For example, I would prioritize the transmission service above the coolant replacement, until at least next fall at the latest. Look at your treadwear on all the tires, or the brake guys can check also. This will tell you if you have alignment issues.

New spark plugs may not be needed, although if you are averaging 16K per year, it may be time (unless plug interval is 60K). Filters can be done as you have money and I would prioritize the air filter way above the cabin air filter. Keep your oil changes up (around 5K or so per oil change interval) and your engine should keep going for a long time. The alignment check may bring in suspension issues to deal with due to 147K miles on your car, and some extra costs to plan for.

Thank you everybody. I forgot to add that my car is:

base model, drum brakes, no air conditioning, no anti-lock brakes and I have a cracked rear bushing AND my car has been in previous accidents. So she rides a bit bumpy. I did buy new tires about a year ago.

I will get my brakes done, and then the transmission and oil changed.

My sisters neighbor is a Ex Nascar mechanic. Worked for 10 years. While doing so he went to school part time and got his BS in mechanical engineering. Then worked for GM as a engineer for many years. Now 55 and retired and fixes cars on the side. Now who do you think is more qualified to do the work…this guy or some guy who’s been working as a mechanic for 3 years???

I have no doubt in my bf’s relatives ability. I am just worried that is something went wrong, I have no recourse as I would if I take my car to a reputable shop.

You really don’t have a LEGAL recourse??? But that doesn’t mean it won’t be solved. I gave up working on friends cars years ago (no more time). But when I did…if there was ever a problem…they just brought it back and I would straighten it (or them) out.

I figure if your boyfriend offered to let his relative do the work, he is probably more than able to do it. Because you BF will be the one getting flak if it is not done correctly.

I can’t beleive those prices. The parts should only be around 150 or less, I just don’t get it.

When you start out with “I’m on a tight budget”, that sort of frames everything else. If you want premium service, then you have to pay the premium price. So for what you are talking about, if the guy is reasonably reliable, I wouldn’t hesitate to use him, and I have used private guys. There really is not much risk involved, and you really don’t have anymore recourse with a regular shop depending on their level of competence.

Most of the stuff on that list really amounts to not much time or effort. If you need a tune up though, that should include plugs, and I believe on that car, it should include the rotor, cap, and maybe wires. Those parts are not necessarily cheap. Also the gas filter as part of the tune up.

Considering the small difference in price, the shop should be much quicker. Don’t go with the unknown because the size of the jobs will leave you wide open to slacking and skipping. You want to drive, not wait. I wouldn’t want to do that amount of work for $400 or less unless I was going to fake half of it. Sorry, more than half of it.