Dear Car Talk: Of all the “how to deal with the pandemic” advice I’ve read so far, no one has recommended that we periodically start our cars. I’m afraid that if people aren’t going out at all, the first time they try to start their cars, there will be a lot of dead batteries – and no one to jump them.
I plan to take my car for a ride once a week until the COVID-19 crisis is over. Is that a good idea and, if so, how long or far or fast should I drive? – Cecily
RAY: I think that’s good advice, Cecily. I do recommend you take your car out for a ride once a week.
There are several good reasons for this. First, running your car for 15 or 20 minutes will keep the battery charged up. That way the car is ready for use should you ever need it. If you drive for 15-30 minutes at moderate speeds once a week, that ought to be enough to keep your battery in good shape.
Second, when you drive the car, you’ll keep your moving parts lubricated. Not just the stuff under the hood, but even things like your shifter linkage and parking brake cable.
Third, by moving the car occasionally, you’ll avoid creating flat spots on your tires. Even if you just move it 1 foot in either direction, you’d address that. But certainly, taking a ride once a week will do the trick.
Fourth, when you take the car out, you disturb any rodents or Murder Hornets who’ve been taking up residence in your engine compartment, reading Dwell magazine and working on their midcentury modern air filter decor.
Rodent damage can be significant. And expensive. So, actually, if you live in an area where you’re particularly susceptible to that, you might even consider using some rodent traps around the tires. We prefer the humane variety, but to each his own.
Finally, taking a ride once a week is good for your mental health when you’re otherwise stuck at home. It changes the scenery a little bit, and reminds you that there’s more to life than your four walls and “Better Call Saul.”
Even more crucially, it gives you and your spouse a much-needed break from each other, thus reducing the chances you’ll get divorced, and lose the car entirely in the settlement.
Enjoy your weekly ride, Cecily.
Does my mechanic owe me a refund?
Dear Car Talk:
How much of a refund does a garage owe when they screw up? My 2006 Honda Civic’s wipers would stop after 30 minutes. A local garage replaced an electronic control box for $750, parts and labor. The next time it rained, the wipers failed again. I then took it to the Honda dealer, who found several problems with the wiper motor, replaced it and the car is fine now.
I don’t think the local garage was dishonest, just incompetent. I feel they owe me the labor charges, plus whatever markup they took on the new part. They don’t think they owe me anything since they did their best. – Robert
RAY: I can tell you what we’d do in a case like this. We’d give the customer their money back. Then we’d put the part back on our shelf. And it would sit there, glaring at us every day, as a reminder not to guess – but to actually figure out what’s wrong.
Then we’d pray another ’06 Civic would come in needing a body control module, so the part would stop mocking us.
These days, every shop has access to all kinds of online diagnostic tools and mechanics forums to help eliminate a lot of guesswork. And shame on any shop that doesn’t avail themselves of those resources.
When you come across something unusual, it’s often possible to find a post from another mechanic who had a car with the same problem and can tell you what fixed it. Or what he tried that didn’t fix it.
If you’d come into our shop, I probably would have suspected your wiper motor first, because I know from experience that they tend to overheat and conk out like that due to an open circuit. But let’s assume I didn’t know, and I was stumped. And I couldn’t find anything definitive online to help me.
The first thing I’d do is let you know that I didn’t know the answer, so you could make an informed decision about whether you wanted me to take an educated guess. Maybe you wanted to go to the dealer instead. Or take it to someone smarter than me (which wouldn’t be hard!).
Then, with your knowledge and assent, if there were several options, I’d guess the cheapest part first. So I would have proposed that we get a rebuilt wiper motor from my regular auto parts supplier for about $150. Since I do a ton of business with him every day, I know he’d take the motor back and put it back on his shelf if need be.
I would have installed the wiper motor and told you to report back after the next rainstorm. If that fixed it, great. If not, I would have put you your old wiper motor back and refunded the money or applied it to our next guess.
The next guess might have been that body control module, depending on what information I found. But I might have looked for a used one first, instead of a new one. Why? On a 2006 car, everything’s used. So why not save you some money, especially if it might not work, and we can’t return it?
Unfortunately, the mechanic you went to guessed, and guessed wrong. That happens. But unless you gave your consent to that, knowing it was a guess, he really should take responsibility for the error.
Giving back a customer’s money and eating your diagnostic time and labor hurts. But we tend to assume that any business we lose with a refund gets more than made up for over time by having repeat, loyal customers. Plus, that way, we can always overcharge them and make it up next time they come in.
So you might try him one more time, Robert, and see if he’ll compromise and give you half your money back. If he says no, never go back there again.
If he says yes, take it, and then never go back there again. Good luck.
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