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== 1. Make certain that your car gets regular routine maintenance. Change the oil every 3000 miles no matter what your car manual says. At the same time, get the mechanic to check ALL fluids including the battery, and take a look at the belts and hoses. Have him replace any that are questionable, immediately. When most gas stations were full service, this kind of maintenance was done at every fill-up. Now with self-service, very little gets done on a regular basis.

== 2. Be realistic about repair expenses. Budget at least $600 in maintenance and repairs each year for a car over 5 years old. This means you should save $50 a month. Do not put off repairs! It is both dangerous, and more expensive in the long run. When you have problem, get it fixed as soon as possible.

== 3. When your car malfunctions, pay close attention. How do you know you have a problem? What are the symptoms? For example, did you hear a clunking sound in the rear end? Did you hear it when you speeded up or when you braked? Did you notice any vibration at other times?

== 4. If you are not mechanical, do not try to diagnose the problem! Don't come into the shop and say, "I think my rear axle is about to fall off." Instead, tell the mechanic, clearly and accurately, exactly what you heard, saw, smelled, or felt and when. Pay close attention to fluids leaking under the car. I believe many unnecessary repairs are done in good faith because the mechanic is given the wrong information by the owner. Leave the diagnosis to the professional.

== 5. Come to the shop with a written list of the work you want done, and/or a clear statement of the problems you are having. ALWAYS get a written estimate from the garage. At the bottom of your list leave your name and phone number along with a note that they must call you before the costs go over the estimated amount. Make sure that you can be reached while they are working on your car.

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== 6. Tell them that you want to keep any parts they replace. The parts belong to you; you own them. This is a good way to prevent unnecessary work because you can then determine if a part should have been replaced. You will need several plastic bags as most old parts are oily and greasy.

== 7. When you pick up your car, get the mechanic to explain what he did, and, if possible, point to the parts he replaced. If you listen to a mechanic after each repair, you will gradually learn about your car. After a while you will recognize tell-tale signs before they become major problems (and save a lot of money).

== 8. Look at your bill carefully. Insist that the bill be itemized. Do not accept a bill with a lump sum (for example, Tune up, $78). Politely ask the mechanic to break down the expenses into parts and labor. Have him list all the parts with prices and the labor costs for each job.

== 9. Pay with a credit card. You will have a much better chance of resolving any problems with the repair.

== 10. Save all receipts. Put them in one place. I like to keep them in the glove compartment so that I can refer to them if needed. Not only will this help with future repairs, it also will get you a better price at trade-in time. A prospective owner can see just what repairs and maintenance were done.

== 11. Beware of mechanics who simple install new parts. While the work they do may be okay, they may not really diagnose the problem. Each time they change a part they can make hundreds of dollars but you could still end up with the same problem. Some troubleshooting is hard to do, but generally a mechanic can pinpoint the cause of the problem and replace only those parts that are necessary.

== 12. Although many of you will not follow this last piece of advice, I'll include it anyway. I strongly suggest you buy the manual for your specific car. Each car has a repair manual known as "the book" by mechanics. When a mechanic is explaining to you what he did, have him show you in "the book." You will learn more this way and impress the mechanic as well. (At least he will know you are trying to understand). In addition the book may be useful to a mechanic if he runs into a problem. When you resell the car, the book may impress a buyer.

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