Protocall for getting estimates

I need a lot of work done on my old car with 270,000 miles on it but don’t want it all done, just the necessary stuff that will leave me stranded somewhere. Is it possible to go to a mechanic and ask them for an estimate and then drive away without having the work done? I am partly trying to figure out what needs fixing and what I can wait on until it breaks. Do mechanics charge for this sort of thing and if they do, what is a typical cost?

You are under no obligation to have a mechanic do work to your car, even if he gives you an estimate. They’ll charge for evaluations, yes. Usually around $100, but your mileage there may vary - tell them to evaluate it as though you were thinking of buying it, and to tell you everything that’s wrong with it. They should discuss what needs to be done from a safety/not getting stranded standpoint and what can be put off till later.

Don’t take it to the dealership, or a chain store like Meineke, etc. Take it to an independent shop.

Some will do it for free, some will charge $65, some will charge by the hour. Most will deduct the estimate cost from final repairs, and all I have ever dealt with will prioritize repairs. You can always post here the list of items, and get community input. Don’t be afraid to call and ask their policy, though I called a shop I use anonymously asking about analysis as an experiment and was told x price, but being a regular customer went in, no estimate cost and they fixed bad clunking sound, floating muffler clamp for free.

You Get Oil Changes, Right ?

Do you have a shop that does your repairs ? I’d schedule an oil change at a full-service repair shop, not just a few minute oil change place.

The first priority before worrying about reliability, is safety.

Most of these shops are looking for more work and very often a reputable shop will do a “safety check” on the car while it’s in for the oil change, often without additional charge. They are underneath and can wiggle suspension components, look at tires, etcetera, and make sure it’s not going to fall apart.

Once the car is deemed or made safe, then you can work on reliability. If there’s something you know of that is now making the car unreliable (won’t stop, won’t start, for example) then you can inquire specifically about that.

"I need a lot of work done on my old car with 270,000 miles on it but don’t want it all done . . . " That’s good because with that mileage you don’t want to put a lot into this one. In fact, before putting money into, see if it’s worth doing any of it.

Please tell make, model, model-year, miles.


Perhaps if you can tell us your maintenance history and issues you are experiencing we can point you in the right direction. Let me guess, car running poorly, shifting improperly, pulls to one side and blue smoke?

I will only add that at 270k miles that there are a lot of things that could fail at any time and there is simply no way of inspecting them beforehand to make sure they’re good for, in this case, the longer haul.

The basic building blocks can be checked but things like ignition modules, fuel pumps, alternators, water pumps, and possibly even an automatic transmission are subject to failure at any time.
An inspection can give you a general idea of what you’re dealing with and may point out the obvious but as a guarantee against being stranded it cannot be done.

It depends. I don’t charge to go out and look at your tires and say “Oh, they’re shot.” or to open your hood and look and see that your radiator tank has ruptured. But you need more than that. We do a vehicle maintenance and safety inspection, primarily for folks looking to buy a used car and want it inspected. It sounds like that’s what you need. Takes us 40-60 minutes and we charge $90. It also includes price estimates for any repairs/maintenance needed and we’ll prioritize them for you.

At 270,000 miles, unless the car has been meticulously maintained, don’t be surprised if the cost of the found work far exceeds the value of the car.

First let me commed you for wanting to get the car thoroughly checked over. It’s a prudent and rare action.

Typical charge in my area for a thorough look-see is around $100. That gives you a detailed report of everything the mechanic finds wrong. Typically a shop will devote most of the time to the chassis, because that’s where the safety related stuff is. They’lll check the brake system, articulating joints like the tie rod ends and ball joints, check for leaks and signs of impending leaks in the critical systems including the power steering system, the cooling system, tranny and its cooling system (if you have an automatic), and especially the brake system.They’ll check for needed engine work, but won;t generally do in depth testing with fancy equipment unless they sense a problem. They’ll also check safety inspection items like the lighting system.

Once you get the detailed report you can discuss with them what’s critical and what’s not.

Thanks all. I’ve kept up on routine maintenance (oil changes of course) and have practically replaced most everything on the car (even down to the doors handles that broke and the fuel tank which rusted out!!) I keep thinking that with 270,000 miles on the car that it’ll just stop working one day or it’ll need a huge repair that just isn’t worth doing. But, the darn thing keeps on going!!!It’s actually my first and only car that I’ve ever had and I’ve had it since I was 20 years old (I’m 36 now). I am lucky enough to have knowledgable mechanics as friends, brothers, and boyfriends that can usually pin point what the problem is but sometimes they aren’t positively sure. And rather then make them do work on a rusty car that isn’t worth anything, I’d like to have a reliable means of pin pointing the problem. So it sounds like I just need to get a safety check. Makes sense!! Thanks for your help!!

Sincere congratulations. Clearly you’re doing something right.

Happy motoring.

Asking some auto mechanics to tell you what your aged car needs to keep you from being stranded is giving him/her complete freedom to keep their shop busy for whatever time that they want and for how long they believe that your patience and money will last. As OK said, it is impossible to predict what component will fail next. For this undefined situation I suggest that you ask to have the work list prioritized with the most important work to be done first if you should ask for estimates. I’d ask more than one mechanic for an estimate to see how their opinions match. You might even ignore the last portion of the list.

Being stranded in a broken car is not the worst thing to happen to a person. Keep your cell phone battery charged and keep a phone list of towing people in the area where you will travel. That is doing something rather than nothing to give you some comfort.

Make sure they look over the body/chassis for rust, that could make for a real problem in case of an accident or if a suspension part fails.

Please Tell Make, Model, And Model-Year.

Did I miss that somewhere ?