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SATURDAY, NOV. 15, 2008

Car repair companies are reaping the benefits of a scaled-down economy as people patch up aging vehicles instead of splurging on newer ones.

“When times are really good, business is not good,” said Ken Kirkpartrick, part owner of Ken’s Muffler Shop in Dallas. “When people are making a lot of money, they’re not repairing cars.”

As the country settles into an economic slowdown, repairs at his shop have been bumped up 15 percent, Kirkpartrick said. The small garage is filled with late-’90s and early-2000s models.

Scott Ahrens’ North Dallas Auto Care holds similar aging vehicles with worn brake pads and failing transmissions.

“People are fixing things they wouldn’t fix a year ago,” he said. “They would have just gone and traded it in. Now they are scared about what tomorrow is going to bring.”

He said he’s doing twice as many major repairs this year as people stretch the miles out of their Hondas and Fords.

Car and light-truck sales fell to their lowest level in 25 years last month, according to industry figures from Autodata Corp.

When Keith Baxter started adding up his financial responsibilities – sending one child to college, relocating his mother-in-law, renovating his house – he realized he couldn’t afford to replace his royal blue Suburban and its dying engine with a new set of wheels.

“It comes to the point of a cost benefit,” said the Carrolton, Texas, resident about his 2000 model with 150,000 miles. He paid $2,200 to replace the engine instead of purchasing a new SUV.

And he’s learned to pay attention to the vehicle’s screeches or jerks. “Now I run it over to … (the mechanic) when anything smells or sounds bad,” he said.

Keeping your vehicle fit:

•Follow the schedule in your owner’s manual, including changing the oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles and checking all fluids.

•Check hoses, belts and filters about every 10,000 miles.

•Check tire inflation monthly. Underinflated tires affect fuel efficiency.

•Don’t let your gas tank get below a quarter full.

•Don’t ignore weird noises. They won’t go away on their own and could cause major damage.

•Ask around and visit repair shops until you find a mechanic you trust.

The Dallas Morning News


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