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Seven Days: Vermont Car Blog

March 12, 2009

An Ounce Of Prevention

It’s no secret that the economy is in tatters and consumers aren’t buying very many new cars. Instead, they’re hanging on to their older rides and putting many more miles on them. This shift in use requires a shift in care. If you rely on an automobile for transportation, then you absolutely need to take care of it to ensure it stays in excellent running order. As Benjamin Franklin said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Last week I paid a visit to two well-respected local auto shops — Advantage Automotive and the Twisted Wrench — and spoke with Denver Webb and Eric Provost, respectively, to get some tips.

BOB KILPATRICK: What should people be doing to take care of their cars?
DENVER WEBB: My key suggestion is that if you can see your mechanic every 3000 miles or three months, that is the absolute best way to keep your car in good condition. Developing the right relationship between you, your car and your mechanic can lead to longevity and cost savings. I have a customer’s Jetta out front. She bought it new in ’94. It’s got 277,000 miles on it. She’s changed her oil every three months. She was trying to decide whether to put money into it this year or get a new car. Her total repair bill was $500. Break that down and it comes to about two months of car payments. So that repair is paying for itself in just a few months.

BK: So it’s a numbers game.
DW: I guess it can go either way right now. I have another customer who drives down from Nova Scotia once a month for school. She puts on a ridiculous number of miles. She had a Dodge Neon with 104,000 kilometers on it. The repairs that the car needed were well over $1500. Instead, she was able to trade the car in and got a new Hyundai Elantra for $11,000 that gets almost twice the gas mileage. All things considered, she lowered her monthly costs. For her it made perfect sense to buy a new car.

Twisted_wrench BOB KILPATRICK: Eric, what wisdom could you share with our readers to help them keep their cars on the road?
ERIC PROVOST: It all starts with trying to keep the salt off your car. Wash your vehicle regularly, especially the rear wheel wells. That’s where it really seems to hammer on your car. That’s not about us fixing things. That’s about me not having to tell you that your car is shot. If you look under any car this time of year, it will be just covered with a film of salt that is chewing away at the car. That’s what kills cars in Vermont.
What we also often see, especially with young people, is that they finally come in and their car needs $2000 worth of stuff because they’ve just been waiting and waiting and waiting. That’s not good for your car’s long-term health, and that’s not good for your wallet. Regular maintenance is the key. Part of regular maintenance is getting your car checked out once in a while and working with someone who is trustworthy.

BK: Have you seen any trends in the last year?

EP: We’ve seen three cars this year that were driven way past the oil-change interval and the engine seized. Now [they are] basically valueless. The auto manufacturers are saying, because of the CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations, set by the federal government] standards, what I think are ridiculous things, like waiting 7000 miles between oil changes.

BK: How does that relate to the CAFE standards?
EP: My understanding is they get a better rating on their overall environmental impact that way. Well, oil is oil and metal is metal, and it’s just not good in the long run for the car. Can you do that when the car has 30,000 miles on it? Sure you can. Can you do it when the car has 130,000 miles? It’s probably not a good idea. My opinion is that this actually has a negative effect [on the environment] when a perfectly good car blows up because you didn’t change the oil often enough. Now they’ve got to build another car. You basically just lost thousands of dollars because you didn’t spend $30 or $40 on an oil change.
Other people are, like, “Argh, I’m 10 miles over my oil change! I’ve got to get it done!” That’s way better than neglecting it. When I was a kid, you couldn’t drive 5 miles without seeing somebody broken down on the side of the road. It’s not like that anymore, so I think people just think, you put gas in it, you drive it, and that’s it. And with age comes wisdom, because the younger you are, the more likely you are to ignore your car completely until it’s right in your face. 
Around here, there’s not a lot of public transportation; if you don’t live and work in Burlington, you’re probably not going to take the bus, [so] you’ve got to have your car and your car has got to work. There’s no getting around that.

Advantage Automotive
82 Winter Sport Ln # 150
Williston, VT 05495
(802) 865-3618

Twisted Wrench
60 Ethan Allen Dr
South Burlington, VT 05403
(802) 660-0838

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