What to ask when you take your car to the shop

A visit to your garage, tire shop, dealership or repair shop can be uncomfortable or even intimidating. Not knowing what’s wrong with your vehicle, how much it is going to cost or how long you will be without your vehicle can cause a lot of stress.

Whether you’re just taking your vehicle in for regular maintenance or a major repair, you need to understand the questions they ask and the details of the issues they find. Then you can make appropriate and prudent decisions about what repairs.

Here are some tips to help ensure it is easier and less stressful.

If you’re bringing your vehicle in for a repair, it’s really important to be as specific as possible to help them pinpoint the issue. When you identify an issue, deliberately take the time to focus on the various attributes of the problem. Come prepared with these five bits of information:

Where is the problem located? Try to be as specific as possible as to where on your vehicle the issue seems to be. Is it coming from under the hood or near the rear driver’s side? Is it in the front of your vehicle or the rear?

When does it happen? What other things are happening when it happens? For example, does it happen when you’re braking or accelerating? Turning a certain direction? Going uphill or downhill? Does it seem to happen only when you first start up your vehicle?

What warning lights on the dashboard are coming on, and when? Are there any other visual warnings, such as the lights dimming? Are there any signs of leaks under the vehicle? Is there any smoke happening? When and what colour is the smoke? What does it smell like? Where is it coming from?

What sounds do you hear when the problem happens? Be prepared to describe the sounds. Are they clunking, thuds or rumbles? Do they sound metallic, tinny or hollow? Are they loud or soft? Are they consistent or intermittent?

What odours do you smell that are associated with the issue? Be prepared to describe them to your service advisor. For example, does it smell burnt, sweet, or like rotten eggs?

Before you agree to any work on your vehicle, make sure you know what your warranty coverage is. Most manufacturers offer two types of warranties, a bumper-to-bumper and a powertrain. The length of these warranties and the exact items covered varies from one manufacturer to another.

You can find your warranty information in your owner’s manual or if you purchased an extended warranty you can find that information in the original paperwork from when you bought the vehicle. If you can’t find any of this information check with the local dealership.

Before you sign the repair order, be sure to read it carefully to make sure it covers everything that you wanted done. Make sure the service advisor has written down accurately the description of your issue. Once you sign the repair order, you are authorizing work to be completed on your vehicle as the document describes. It may also include a cost estimate.

If you are simply going in for a regular maintenance like an oil change or a 20,000-km service, check your owner’s manual to see what work is recommended. Check with the shop to see if they recommend anything else based on your driving conditions.

It’s fairly common for a repair shop to suggest items that are above and beyond what’s in your owner’s manual. These extras could be important to the health of your vehicle. Many manufacturers recommend oil changes at 5,000- or 8,000-km intervals. Your repair shop however, may recommend changing the oil sooner than this to match your driving conditions.

If you mostly drive around town versus on the highway, or if you frequently use your vehicle for towing they may recommend doing services more often.

Your service advisor may also suggest you invest in higher quality with certain parts, like brake components. Ask them what the reasoning is, then use your own judgment. Cheaper is not always better.

Your service advisor will always make the right recommendation for your vehicle and not necessarily for your current budget. Ask them to break down recommended work to your vehicle by: must do, should do or will need to do soon. Then formulate a plan together that works best.

If you follow these steps it will help ensure that you obtain the service or repairs you need and provide you with a thorough understanding of what will be performed and why, and for what price. That will make the whole process a lot less stressful.

Catch Driving With Jens on CHON FM Thursdays at 8:15. If you have any questions or comments you can reach out to Jens Nielsen at drivingwithjens@gmail.com, Facebook or Twitter: @drivingwithjens.

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