Car trouble is double in winter

Heather Fors

During Minnesota winters, cars break down all the time. And University students sometimes have to spend several hours and hundreds of dollars grudgingly seeking the best quality in price, service and parts.
But many automotive experts say researching is still the best advice they can give because auto repair in general is a fierce and dishonest business.
“It’s just an unpleasant thing to deal with,” said Ryan Stelzner, a senior in the Carlson School of Management. “It’s just like anything else you have to shell out a lot of money for.” Stelzner said he had trouble finding a repair shop that could fix his car quickly and cheaply.
As is the case with many college students, time and money are major constraints. “I was sort of in a pinch, Stelzner said. “I may have (paid more) just because I couldn’t do it myself.”
The Minnesota Attorney General Consumer Connection Web page advises shopping around for the best price, but also not letting price be the only consideration.
The Consumer Connection Web site recommends consulting friends and family to find a reliable shop. Once a shop is found, it recommends calling the Better Business Bureau for information about the store.
Another concern is whether the shop can make the necessary repairs. Most mechanics are certified by Automotive Service of Excellence. Automakers advise avoiding mechanics who are not certified.
Mechanics who are certified have experience in repair and have passed at least one certification test — there are different tests for different categories of repair. A master technician will have passed all of the exams.
“A second opinion is real important,” said Jim Fabiano, central manager of Aamco Transmission. “It’s like going to the doctor.
“In the auto business there are a lot of yahoos out there,” he added. “People do get taken advantage of.”
Fabiano recommended consulting about five service centers before allowing any repairs.
Mechanics agree that prices can sometimes be high and service can be low.
“It’s worse now than it’s ever been. The competition is fairly fierce in the auto business,” warned Bill Sachs of Minnehaha Auto Repair.
For instance, the cost of replacing shocks and struts on a 1985 Chevrolet Cavalier at five Twin Cities auto shops ranged from $250 to about $485 – tax and labor included.
The time estimate for the same repair ranged from two to three and one-half hours.
In addition to these varied costs, some stores charge extra for consultations.
While some consumers said the consultation fee is unfair, Fabiano explained that the diagnostic tests done by many stores cost them quite a bit.
When considering the details involved in the process, the cost to the shop adds up, he said.
Many people come in to find out what is wrong and then fix it themselves, Fabiano said. By charging for a consultation, the mechanic is at least paid for his or her time and effort.
Most automotive stores charge a minimal amount for consulting, though some waive the fee if the work is done by their store.
Some experts said regardless of costs, it is still important for students to take care of their cars.
Certain car parts may need more attention because they wear out faster. Breaks, tires and exhaust are notorious for this, said Gary Sassen, a University fleet service mechanic.
Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Barney Klamecki added that the parts in the engine such as the drive train, connecting rods and crank shafts are also heavily worn.