Have you even brought your vehicle to your local mechanic or dealership for “routine service” only to be bombarded with a never-ending list of “other issues” that the service technician spotted during his inspection. Have you ever wondered, “Do I really need this part?” or “Did they really change this part?” Not all shops and or technicians perform “unnecessary” or premature repairs, but sadly, some do and you pay dearly for them.
As a mechanic, I also work with an automotive ministry with my local church where we conduct vehicle inspections and perform maintenance and repair work for people in need at no charge for labor. It’s my way of giving back for all the good I have in my life. Time after time, I have vehicles coming in with a laundry list of “problems” only to discover that some if not all of them are unnecessary repairs.
One case, my pastor had brought me his vehicle with a $980 repair estimate from the dealership. The estimate included replacing the brakes on all 4 wheels, the engine air and cabin air filter and a “worn axle”. After making an appointment, my pastor showed up on Saturday morning with all the “necessary” replacement parts in hand and had asked if we could do the work. We started with the air filters. I opened the engine air filter compartment and removed what appeared to be a nearly new air filter. There was some debris in the filter (a bug or two) sucked into the intake system from the outside which is why you have the filter in the first place but nowhere near unserviceable. In fact, with a couple of breaths, the debris was removed and we were unable to differentiate between the new filter and the one removed from the vehicle. Certainly not worth the $55 price tag attached by the dealer for replacement of the filter. The cabin air filter (a $75 dollar expenditure for parts and labor) was in even better shape. Next, we placed the vehicle on a lift and removed all 4 tires. To our surprise (well, not really based on the other findings) the pads hardly showed any wear at all. Compared to the replacement pads, it was hard to tell the difference, yet the dealership was kind enough to put an asterisk next to this line on the estimate citing a safety concern next to their nearly $600 price tag. While in the air, we inspected the “worn axle”. There were no signs of wear to the joints themselves, no free play and no drivability issue noted. To their defense, there was a small amount of grease seeping from the axle boot where a clamp seals it to the axle shaft, but that was about it and by no means did it indicate the axle was in need of replacement.
Astonished at what we found, my pastor photographed his vehicle and the parts “in need of repair”. We put his vehicle back together, performing no repairs, and he went back to the service department to inquire why they felt it “necessary” to replace all of these parts. After going back and forth, the service manager explained that “based on the mileage and age of the vehicle, these items are “recommended” to be replaced”. After seeing the pictures, he could offer no explanation as to why they were recommended to be replaced after the vehicle was “inspected”. Had the service just been completed without question, he would have needlessly spent over $900 for unnecessary repairs.
Most people taking their vehicles in for repair are not mechanics and find themselves at the mercy of the shop, hoping that the technician is honest and repairing or replacing what needs to be done. Let’s face it, most shops (and mechanics) have a vested interest in you having repair work done. More work means more money. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, ask to see the parts in need of repair and use some common sense.
Now, I will provide you with a list of items commonly “in need of replacement” during your routine maintenance visits and how to inspect them yourself to see if you really need to replace them or if you’re wasting your money.
When your engine is running, it creates a vacuum to suck fresh air from the outside into the engine to feed the combustion chambers. The air filter is placed in line with this “intake system” in a sealed canister to prevent dirt, bugs and debris from entering inside the engine and causing damage. Think of this like a mask you would wear when working in a hazardous or dirty environment to prevent you from breathing in unhealthy particles. Your engine, like your body, performs better with better air flow. The easier for you to breathe, the more strength and endurance you have. Same goes for your engine. The more air introduced into the engine, the better power and fuel economy is put out. That being said, a little dirt and debris in the air filter won’t prevent your engine from running at its peak performance. If that was the case, your performance would diminish with the first start of your engine and it sucking in that “dirty air” from the outside. A dirty or clogged air filter can result in poor performance and poor fuel economy.
When you’re told you need a new air filter, ask to see the old one. When inspecting the filter, note the color. Most paper filters are white (some are yellow) and are surrounded with a rubber seal. Most filters have two sides, one side is usually smooth with a metal mesh over the paper element, this is the side that the filtered air comes out of. The other side, usually looking like folded paper is where the dirty air is introduced and the debris is captured. This will usually be the side appearing “dirty” and we will refer to this as the filter side. If your filter side was white and is now a dark brown or black, its time to replace it. Open the folds on the filter side and look between them. Is there a lot of dirt or darkness there or just a little. If you are unsure, hold the filter up to a light and see if you can see light through it. If you can and it really doesn’t look too dirty, it can probably go for the next couple of oil changes. Tap the filter on the ground with the filter side down and see if dirt or debris falls from it or not. If not, your probably in good shape. Also, check your engine fuel economy, if you haven’t noticed a drop in MPG, and the filter appears worn but not clogged, you are probably ok. Most manufactures recommend changing your air filter every 30,000 miles.
Cabin Air Filter-
Like the engine air filter, the cabin air filter also filters air particles, only the air filtered is inside your vehicle instead of inside your engine. There are mixed feelings among mechanics as to its use and need inside of your vehicle and what happens when it gets dirty. Not all vehicles are equipped with cabin air filters (unlike the engine air filter mentioned earlier) and inspection is done in the same way that you inspect your engine air filter. When your cabin air filter gets clogged, you might notice a diminished air output from the vents on your dashboard (the air not feeling as if its blowing as hard)Cabin air filters are important for people with allergies as it does trap dust and pollen. People who smoke inside their vehicles might require more frequent replacement. If you are in a financial tight spot and need to save money, this might be the area to consider revisiting on your next service instead of immediate replacement.
This little valve is used to keep the gasses inside the engine flowing in one direction allowing them to be “re-burned” in the combustion chamber allowing the engine to run “cleaner”. A clogged PCV valve can result in pressure buildup on the upper half of the engine and a malfunction of the emission control system. The valve is a check valve which operates with a floating valve allowing airflow to only go one way. If air is pushed the other way, the floating valve seals stopping the airflow. The floating valve which is similar to a marble sized piece of metal floating inside a container is rather easy to inspect. When presented with a PCV valve, you should be handed a small metal or plastic container about the size of your thumb. The bottom of it will have a hole and there will be a place on the top to connect hoses to. If you hold the valve in your hand and shake it up and down, you should hear the valve slapping around inside freely. Inspect the bottom hole for the presence of carbon (hard black residue) around the hole. Most late model cars will throw a DTC or diagnostic trouble code triggering a service engine light on your dashboard. If you inspected the valve and your engine light is not on, chances are, the valve is ok and not in need of replacement.
The above mentioned items are just a few of the “unnecessarily” or prematurely items common to a routine vehicle service. With this knowledge and your own common sense, you can save yourself a lot of money at your next vehicle service.