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Planning to drive to your vacation destination this year? There’s one last thing to consider after you’ve made reservations, packed, and bought snacks for the trip: your car. In the recent economic downturn, many people have opted to hang onto older vehicles instead of buying new ones. Older cars require more maintenance and repair, so make sure your car is in top shape before you begin your journey.

Check tires for wear. If tires are worn, you may not have good traction, especially in wet weather. If your car battery is close to its designed lifetime (usually about five years), consider replacing it before it dies on its own, potentially in the middle of your trip. Visually check your engine for leaking fluids. Summer driving puts extreme heat loads on your cooling system, so make sure that rubber radiator hoses are flexible and show no visible cracks or wear.

If you do need repairs—select the appropriate repair shop. Cars that need specific repairs may fare better at a specialty repair shop rather than a general full-service repair facility. If your car is covered under the manufacturer’s warranty, repairs must be done by a dealer. If you must select a repair shop, get recommendations from friends, relatives, or coworkers. Many people know a good mechanic;but most people know a bad one. When you take your car for service:
 
Describe the symptoms of the problem to the mechanic. Let the mechanic diagnose your problem. Don’t suggest what needs to be fixed or replaced.

Get a written estimate for parts and labor. Verbal estimates that aren’t accurate can easily be disputed. Check the written repair order for blanket statements to “fix whatever is wrong” that could result in costly repairs you didn’t anticipate.
 
Insist that the repair shop call you if repair costs will exceed the estimate or if additional problems are found.Estimates are estimates—but the repair shop should let you know if costs will exceed the estimate by more than 10%. Insist that the shop contact you before performing any non-authorized work. As a mechanic repairs a problem, they may find other items that have failed or are about to. If these repairs are costly, you may want to get a second opinion. Unless the shop can clearly justify the need to make repairs immediately, consider waiting until a later visit.

Review the work order when work is completed. Request itemized charges for parts and labor. Verify the warranty terms on the work performed and make sure you have it in writing.

Have a safe trip!

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