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  • Everyday Driver

Fix Your Car

Growing up, my parents owned a long line of mostly reliable American sedans, in spite of the reputation of US cars from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. But one thing I never understood was their ability to notice something wrong with a car and then add it to a list of things they planned to fix at some point. There was never a sense of urgency for car repairs, and they generally waited long stretches before bombarding a mechanic with many things to fix at once. I found this impossible to understand until I became an adult and began paying for everything in life. Then I experienced the occasional choice between fixing the car or paying the electric bill. In that moment, if the car’s still rolling and stopping, then you pay to keep your lights on.

But letting car repairs slide can cost you more than you might think. Certainly there are things that break and can be tolerated, but these little things have a way of contributing to wallet-killing issues. I’ve seen bouncing, rusted, oil-burning hulks limping down the road and thought… “how does an owner let a car get to that place?”, but I know it started with a series of little issues the owner decided to tolerate.

Saving money on your car quickly becomes a slippery slope because minor systems are often absorbing the wear of more expensive major devices. This problem was given a new poster-child recently when our very talented camera-man was rear-ended at a stop light. The other driver was clearly at fault, especially when he explained what happened:

This man knew the brakes on his car had gone bad. Not only had he not fixed them, he had decided to compensate by using the car’s transmission to handle all braking. This meant that stoplights now required a sudden shift into “Park”, and sometimes he misjudged the timing.

Sadly. I am not kidding.

Let’s cut to the heart of the problem – if you can’t afford the roughly $200 to get your brakes in working order, then you really can’t afford the $2000 when your transmission obliterates itself at some stoplight in your near future. An automatic transmission was never intended to stop your car for you. Apparently I need to explain that stopping is the singular job of the relatively inexpensive brakes. Believing you’re saving money in this situation is like shooting yourself in the foot to distract from the pain of a paper-cut.

The little things most of us overlook in our cars probably won’t make them dangerous or set us up for a credit-melting list of repairs. But cars are a complex inter-weaving of many simple systems. Disrupting the balance begins a domino effect and in a short time your perfectly good car can descend to jalopy with more “cute quirks” than normal working traits.

I’ve seen this too often. And I know I’m guilty too.

But I also know something else quite surprising: When your car is running well it’s much easier to enjoy, and even love. Even one little quirk can get under your skin and ruin your four-wheeled love-affair. So the Awarning is this: Don't put off fixing your car. Spend that little bit of money making your ride work like it’s supposed to and it will thank you by…. Working. And it will keep you from leaving your transmission at a Stoplight.



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