March 22, 2009 in News

Everyday Economy: Mechanics see uptick

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photo

After repairing a transmission on a Ford Explorer, Mike Frederico Jr. with Mechanics Pride replaces the skid plate last week. Local mechanics and dealer service centers say they’ve stayed busy during the recession, as car owners keep their cars longer and fix them instead of trading them in.
(Full-size photo)

Here are suggestions for extending the life of your car, gathered from a range of sources. Every car is different, so consult your owner’s manual and mechanic for specific guidance. 1: Watch the oil. Change your oil regularly. For years, the conventional wisdom called for changes every 3,000 miles; a famous Consumer Reports study of New York City taxicabs about 10 years ago found no disadvantage to doubling that interval. But regular changes of oil and oil filter are universally cited as a key to long engine life. 2: Check and change. You also want to check your transmission, brake and other fluids – or have them checked – along with belts and hoses regularly, and change them promptly. Rotate the tires every 6,000 miles or six months; and flush radiator, replace anti-freeze and replace air filters on an annual basis. 3: Air ’em up. Experts say running your car on improperly inflated tires can cost you 10 percent or more in terms of engine efficiency, so check them regularly with a gauge. And don’t forget maintenance for the body: regular washing and waxing will help keep the exterior in good shape. 4: Ease up on the gas pedal. The way you drive can put extra wear on your engine. Jackrabbit starts and stops, racing the engine, and revving a cold car – all of these put extra stress on the motor and use more gas. Avoid riding the brakes or the clutch. 5: Get reliable help. Some people can do a lot of this stuff themselves. For everyone else, finding a good mechanic and forging a good relationship is important.

Car sales may be down, but car repairs have been a growth industry in the past year.

Drivers are sticking with their cars longer – putting off trade-ins and trying to squeeze another year out of their rides, local mechanics say.

“People are holding on to their cars,” said Rick Rielly, general manager of Foothills Lincoln Mercury Mazda. “The service side of things has been good this last 12 months, whereas the sales side has dipped.”

And while dealers typically are servicing newer cars, mechanic shops are seeing more people just trying to keep their 10- or 15-year-old cars – or older – running.

Mike Federico Sr., owner of Mechanics Pride, said his business has remained strong even as the recession has settled in. The shop at Third and Monroe in Spokane is about to mark its 20th anniversary.

“Some people are doing just the minimum to get the car back and forth from work,” Federico said. “If the tires are three-quarters of the way gone, they won’t replace them unless they’re all gone. If the brakes aren’t quite down to the metal, they may have to wait.”

It’s been a brutal year for the auto industry, and billions in federal assistance has been directed toward auto manufacturers in an effort to prop it up. Dealerships are going out of business, and the latest government money is being directed toward auto-parts manufacturers.

Eve Knudtsen, president of Knudtsen Chevrolet in Post Falls, said her dealership has seen a slight uptick in service business – nothing like the more dramatic shift she’s heard others talking about.

She said a lot of people are having their cars repaired rather than replaced – but that they’re also taking a pass on routine maintenance, something that can be costly in the long run. More people are “McGuyvering their cars together,” and trying to do repairs themselves, too, she said.

Mechanics and dealers say that skipping maintenance may be a false savings – something that costs you more in the long run. Federico said that when people skip the big maintenance points, like 60,000 or 90,000 miles, they can make it more likely that a timing belt might break, for example. On many cars, that can lead to a repair that costs several thousand dollars.

Reporter Shawn Vestal can be contacted at (509) 459-5431 or by e-mail at shawnv@spokesman.com.


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