Put on the brakes? How to gauge when you need additional auto services
You take your car in for routine maintenance like an oil change or what you think will be a minor repair, but soon find yourself having a conversation with the mechanic about a bigger job.
The brakes need replacing, or hidden danger looms under the hood. As things accelerate, how do you know you’re not being sold a bill of goods?
Reputable mechanics like Brad Fred, manager of highly rated Coppell Tire & Auto in Coppell, Texas, say doomsday scenarios painted by auto shops routinely amount to a hard sell rather than imminent peril.
“If you have a question about an auto shop, get a second opinion,” Fred says.
Experts say that many times additional suggested repairs have merit, and require careful consideration, so it’s imperative to develop a relationship with a mechanic you trust. Often there’s wiggle room that allows time to budget for repairs, and an aggressive push to do them right away may prove a red flag, just like a reluctance to answer questions or provide options, highly rated service providers say.
Here are some considerations for additional services that mechanics may suggest when you roll in:
Ceramic brake pad install
Why you might need them: “There’s a huge difference in the quality of brakes out there,” says Doug Brooks, owner of highly rated Brooks Automotive in Burnsville, Minnesota. Increasingly, manufacturers make cars with this type of high performance pad that tends to wear well.
Cost: “Ceramics have a very low amount of dust and are very good at suppressing noise,” Brooks says. He estimates cost at about $90 to $100 for two wheels/per axle, or four pads (two for each wheel).
Other considerations: When deciding on the type of pad to use, experts say consider first what pads your car’s maker put on at the factory. Some vehicles built with less expensive semi-metallic pads don’t see the same benefit from ceramic pads.
If you only use your car to commute and it was built with less expensive organic or semi-metallic brakes, you may do fine to stick with those. However, don’t settle for an advertised cheaper brake job that automatically includes those if your car uses ceramic pads, he adds. If it’s not specified what type the shop plans to install, make sure to ask. If you do a lot of stop-and-go driving — even if you use semi-metallic pads currently — you may benefit from an upgrade, Brooks says.
Hub bearing replacement
Why you might need it: The rattling in your wheel may lead a mechanic to suggest a new hub bearing, which holds the wheel to the axle and keeps you spinning smoothly.
Cost: Replacing the hub assembly can easily cost $400 to $500, Fred says. “Usually you can hear a metallic rub, a rotational noise when the hub is bad,” he says. “If you’ve never heard any unusual noises, you probably don’t need a [new] hub.”
Other considerations: At the mechanic shop, feel free to ask to check out your car when it’s up on the car lift. If the wheel makes a clunking sound when the mechanic shakes it back and forth, that’s another indication you may need a hub bearing. Fred says frequently he speaks to customers who say another mechanic told them they needed a new hub bearing, only to look at the car and determine they don’t.
If you feel pressed by an auto shop to get a new hub bearing on the spot — as with any hard sell — experts say to strongly consider seeking a second opinion.
Seep versus leak
How can you tell? So, what’s the difference between these two issues often detected during routine maintenance and inspection of a vehicle? The first, says Fred, involves tiny amounts of fluid seeping out, such as onto valve covers or gaskets, while the second involves fluid — from oil to antifreeze — dripping out of cracks or holes and onto the ground beneath your car.
Cost: A leak needs to be fixed. That can cost from around $10 for a patch to hundreds to replace parts, such as a leaky radiator or a cracked oil pan. However, neglecting leaks — such as oil running out and ruining an engine — can prove even costlier. On the other hand, you don’t need to replace parts because of seepage, which can happen in well-functioning vehicles, Fred says.
Other considerations: If it’s leaking at all, you’re adding fluid, or you can see a crack or hole — feel free to ask the mechanic to show you — you need to make repairs, he says. If not, don’t let anyone drain your wallet.
“We’re always seeing people who are being told they need to replace things [but] it’s seeping, not leaking,” Fred says.
Finding a mechanic you trust
Member Carter Wall says she likes highly rated Boston Volvo Village in Allston, Massachusetts, because they reliably tell her if she does — or doesn’t — need additional work done when she takes her 2007 Volvo S60 sedan in for routine maintenance. They gave her a heads up at one oil change that she needed to replace her tires after she drove an additional 1,000 miles. While on another visit, the shop personnel advised she could wait to replace her front brakes, allowing her to get another year of life out of them without resulting in the need for additional maintenance, such as replacing rotors.
“They’ll be very thorough about checking something out, but they’ll also give me a straight scoop on it, which is a nice combination,” she says.