Car Care: Servicing of older cars can prove expensive
New Zealand roads are full of old vehicles and for many owners these cars continue to provide reliable transport, and they have no intention of moving them on any time soon.
But as reliable as they may be, the older a vehicle becomes the less the likelihood the owners want to spend money on routine service and repair.
Many workshops are also in something of a no-win situation at times, by recommending work that could cost a fair chunk of a vehicle’s total value. And once an expensive repair has been carried out on an older vehicle, owners are often told it doesn’t make the vehicle totally reliable.
One garage I know has reached a point of telling customers with older vehicles to consider two options when expensive work such as cam belt replacement is due. One is to bite the bullet and have the work done, the other is to do nothing immediately and take time to consider other options.
The garage in question is taking this tack in an effort to avoid large repair bills for its valued clients while at the same time being conscious of creating a situation where a vehicle could break down without warning.
While they would never let a vehicle out of their hands in an unsafe condition, there are other jobs where recommended work is based around what may, could or in fact never will happen in the future. Not changing the cam belt, flushing the cooling system or replacing the transmission fluid are a couple of good examples where future problems could arise if those items were left unattended.
Some cam belt jobs are fairly straightforward while others can be a lot more labour intensive. In some cases there is more than one belt to replace and by the time belt tensioners, seals, gaskets and a water pump are thrown in, the costs can soon balloon out.
For owners, there is usually breathing room to mull over options when certain recommendations are made.
When manufacturers stipulate replacement time or distance intervals, they will have made those decisions based on being very conservative. A cam belt is not going to break the day it reaches its fifth anniversary or the minute a vehicle’s odo clicks over 100,000km.
Other factors such as oil leakage or engine oil sludge can shorten a cam belt’s life, but for older vehicles with a known service history, there is often a reasonable amount of time left for owners to go home and weigh up their options.
One of the problems for the trade is the fact that the older fleet was originally designed to require more servicing than newer vehicles. Chains have replaced belts in most petrol engines, while it’s become the norm for service intervals and fluid replacements to be stretched out a lot further than they once were.
The one positive for both owners and garages is that the price of parts has become very competitive for the older fleet while improvements in oil quality mean service intervals can be stretched a little longer than recommended.
The downside is overall business running costs have increased, which has pushed labour rates up, plus the older a vehicle becomes, the harder and more difficult it can be to work on, which means some jobs can take a lot longer.
I applaud the garage for its stance as dropping standards and doing half a job often backfires badly and can become a messy dispute between garage and car owner. To put customers ahead of bottom-line profits will hopefully mean a good, long-term relationship and repeat business.
At the end of the day it’s up to the owner to make the call on recommended work based on the facts presented. They may well go ahead with the repairs or they may look at putting the money towards a more modern and safer vehicle.
The other consideration for owners of older vehicles is this: regardless of how well the vehicle is serviced and how much money is spent on service and repairs, it is still an old vehicle and unexpected problems can and will arise over time.
And you can’t keep ignoring recommended work for ever. One day things will turn nasty and you may be left with scrap metal to dispose of.
Listen to the advice given and weigh up your options carefully.