Car troubles? How to get the service you need in Indy

Car troubles? How to get the service you need in Indy

While vehicles driven by Indy-area residents don’t require the precision and fast speeds of those racing around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, most owners want a dependable ride and often rely on local mechanics to keep them out of the pits.

But how do motorists know when vehicles really need suggested services, or when to put the brakes on an unnecessary repair?

“Cars need to be inspected on a regular basis, and customers should feel comfortable with whatever garage they take it to,” says Chris Fox, managing partner at highly rated Indy Tire Centers in Greenwood, Indiana. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions until you feel comfortable.”

Fox says he tries to help customers know which repairs rank most important. For example, he says functioning brakes are more important than shocks and struts.

Castleton members Brad and Ellen Harvey say they take their Buicks to highly rated Hopkins Automotive on Indy’s Northeastside for everything from general maintenance, such as oil changes, to major work, including a manifold intake replacement. “Their labor rates are fair, and they’ve never tried to upsell us on something that wasn’t needed,” Brad says, adding that he and his wife have used Hopkins for a decade and often agree to additional fixes suggested by their trusted mechanics.

Brad says he previously used other shops for minor work, but says employees unnecessarily recommended other services, such as muffler or tire replacement.

Customers who feel uncomfortable should get a written estimate and take the vehicle to another mechanic for a second opinion, says Kevin Potter, manager at highly rated Ralph’s Muffler & Brakes Service, which operates five Indianapolis-area shops. “You should always make sure you have no fuel leaks and the brakes are working,” he says. “Those are the emergency ones. If the car’s noisy, it’s not that critical.”

Potter says his mechanics outline which repairs a vehicle needs and then lets the customer decide what they can afford. He also offers free estimates.

Experts say getting auto problems fixed as soon as possible generally costs less in the long run, but don’t let shop employees intimidate or scare you into immediate service. “Of all the cars throughout all the years, I’ve only ever seen one I was amazed they ever made it here,” Potter says.

Passwater’s Auto Specialists in Broad Ripple repairs vehicles damaged in accidents, but also does general maintenance, says manager John DeFosse. After an accident, most vehicles require an alignment, he says, and his shop charges $75 per hour. DeFosse says he tries to assure customers by showing them the damage. If a mechanic rushes you to approve work, consider it a red flag, he says.

Before you hire

If you find yourself needing a trusted auto mechanic, here are some of the most common services rendered — including an average price gathered from service providers in the Indianapolis area — and some unforeseen issues that might increase the overall cost:

Service: Brake pad replacement

Cost: $40 to $200

Pros and cons: More expensive charges should include premium parts and labor, Fox says. The cheaper fix might work if you plan to sell or trade in your car, but the less expensive pads won’t last as long.

Tip: Grinding indicates brake pads are worn through, and mechanics recommend replacement at 2 mm thick, which generally happens between 30,000 and 70,000 miles.

If you think it’s too soon for brake pad replacement, ask your mechanic to compare your car’s pads to new ones.

Service: Alignment

Cost: $30 to $75 for two wheels and up to $150 for four wheels.

Pros and cons: A proper alignment keeps the car on a straight path. Misalignment can occur following an accident, landing in a pothole or bumping against a curb. Putting this repair off can lead to shaky steering, the vehicle pulling to the left or right, and uneven wear on the tires.

Tip: Some shops offer long-term alignment prices for a set fee of $170 to $190. Mechanics align the vehicle every few thousand miles or as necessary during its lifetime. Cost varies based on the vehicle.

Service: Muffler repair

Cost: $150 to $400

Pros and cons: A properly working muffler keeps your vehicle running quietly, but it also keeps exhaust fumes out of the cabin, helps maintain optimum fuel efficiency, and reduces polluting emissions.

Delaying needed repairs can end up costing more later if you need to replace an otherwise usable component, such as exhaust pipe, catalytic converter or muffler because it fell from your car.

Tip: Exposure to the elements can cause the muffler to deteriorate faster than other emissions parts. Generally, it’s better to get it fixed sooner because the damage will only get worse.


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Josh Reader, a painter's assistant at Passwater's Auto Specialists in Broad Ripple, prepares a car bumper for work. (Photo by Brandon Smith)
Josh Reader, a painter's assistant at Passwater's Auto Specialists in Broad Ripple, prepares a car bumper for work. (Photo by Brandon Smith)

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