Auto repairs you can put off

In the first two months of 2010, repair shop traffic was substantially down in just about all sectors; dealerships, national chains, mid-size facilities, and independent garages. A lot of this can be traced to a mild winter, some of it to improved reliability in newer vehicles.

But it’s the recession hangover that must take the most blame. Many cash strapped drivers are putting off repairs and refusing when service reps present maintenance and reconditioning estimates. But what can you really put off without risking higher expenses down the road or breaking down on a crowded morning commute to work?

1. Exhaust Leaks

Most drivers don’t need a professional to tell them when their car has an exhaust problem. They hear it as soon as they turn the ignition key.

Smelling toxic gases inside your car should be enough for most drivers to sit up and take action. But what else could go wrong by simply waiting till next month to get that muffler replaced? What many car owners don’t realize is that when any part of the exhaust system is broken or rusted to the point where the system is louder than normal, the flow of gases through the system increases in speed due to the lack of back-pressure. This increase can cause the exhaust valves in the cylinder heads to overheat, and very quickly the valve edges can deteriorate, causing a drop in engine compression. So a $300 or $400 muffler replacement can balloon to a $1500 cylinder head overhaul.

2. Brake Linings

You’ve taken your vehicle in for a routine oil change and tire rotation and the tech tells you your front brake pads are down to five per cent. What’s the problem with waiting until they start grinding?

Well you certainly aren’t going to have to worry about saving money on brake rotors due to the fact that almost all shops recommend replacing these now disposable brake components any time the linings are replaced. So what’s the big deal? When brake pads completely wear out, the brake calipers will extend their pistons to make up for the lack of brake lining thickness. If this continues for any period of time, the exposed surface of the piston can rust or expand from heat leading to the need for the assembly’s replacement along with the pads and rotors.

3. Oil or Coolant Leaks

If either of these conditions are slight, many people will opt to wait, living with checking these vital fluid levels on a more frequent basis and learning to top them up on their own. They may be willing to live with the damage an oil leak can cause to a paved driveway. But what happens when you’re parked on someone else’s lane? Will you be saddled with the cleanup? Besides, while it may be easy to check and adjust engine oil levels, engine coolant is another matter. The engine has to be completely cooled down before the pressure cap can be removed safely, and coolant (whether normal green or long-life red) is toxic to any living creature and often fatal to small animals.

4. Check or Service Engine Lights

While this is certainly the most annoying item on most driver’s top 10 list of things they don’t like about their cars, ignoring one is really a roll of the dice. On most modern fuel-injected vehicles there can be up to 200 different trouble codes that will light up this instrument panel icon. Some can be harmless nuisances, such as a random ignition misfire that occurs during a -30 degree February startup and goes away within seconds. But some –such as catalyst efficiency or rich running fuel — can mean the end of a very expensive catalytic converter if not rectified soon.

5. Worn Steering and Suspension Parts

Almost every vehicle owner understands the relationship between safety and a solid steering and suspension system. But there are a lot of grey areas. For example, while no automaker shop manuals list any permissible amount of looseness in a tie rod end, some do allow vertical movement in ball joints. With steering tie rod ends, any play will cause the alignment specs to be out of tolerance and this will inevitably lead to premature tire wear.

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