An (Almost) Horror Story About Car Repair

Today, I’d like to recount a story about my recent car repair experience, and how it almost cost me over $1,000 in unnecessary repairs. It’s a testament to the power of the Internet, independent research, and staying in control of decisions concerning your money. The story begins a few months ago when my 9-year-old American-made family sedan began to show the “oil warning” light at idle. Because it had only occurred once or twice, I decided to wait until my regular oil change to have it checked out.

During the oil change a few weeks later, my regular mechanic shop called and informed me that I needed to replace a sensing unit to fix the problem. The repair cost was reasonable, about $100, so I gave the go-ahead without giving it too much thought. However, a few minutes after I drove off the mechanic’s lot, I knew something was wrong. As soon as the engine had warmed up, the light was now coming on at every stop sign and red light!

I did the prudent thing and took the car back to the shop the same afternoon (what a waste of half a working day, by the way). While I waited for my car, the gentleman at the front was nice enough to explain the final alternative to my problem if the solutions they were working on failedĀ – replacing the oil pump.

As it happens, that’s a very time-consuming car repair, and would have cost over $1,000. After an hour of poking, prodding, driving around, and replacing random parts having to do with the oil system in the “hopes” that it would work, the mechanic determined that the problem had been fixed once again and handed me the keys. I was thrilled!

I drove the car off the lot for the second time that day and within 10 minutes, the light was at it again. By this point, however, I began picking up on the symptoms and patterns of the problem. Just as I usually have a feeling of what’s wrong with my own body when I go to the doctor, I can pretty accurately tell what is wrong with my car (even if the mechanic’s ego wants to think he knows best).

If you have any sense of observation, I’m sure that you can do the same. After all, you drive the car every single day, and even the smallest change in sounds or behavior should be readily apparent. The mechanic is getting in your car for the first time.

What I quickly deduced was that the light was only coming on once the engine was fully warm, and only doing so while idle at an intersection. In the next 20 minutes at the office, and through the beauty of the Internet, I discovered that my problem was actually very common for the type of engine in my car, and that a simple fix would run under $50.

It turns out that the sensing unit which controls the light would get too hot with no airflow over it (when the car was not moving), and send false signals. I took the car to the dealer (as the problem was more specialized) to be sure, and they confirmed my suspicion and fixed the problem in one hour.

The moral of the story? I saved $950 by doing my homework, getting a second opinion, and not settling for the first thing someone told me. The mechanic at the shop didn’t have the time or the incentive to research my problem, but I did. And the time I took to stop and think through the problem saved me a bundle.

Photo by Axel-D