My son is obsessive about brushing his teeth and having his car serviced, I've always suspected its largely because I pay for the toothpaste and his visits to our nearest dealership. Last month his beloved Hyundai Atos graduated from its warranty period and I felt released from the tyranny of that smug service manual in the cubby hole.
As I shared with my friend Gloria, "I know it's important to have a good service record if we decide to sell, but even a non-petrolhead like me can work out that it's in the dealership's interest to recommend far more than the car really needs.
Smugly sipping a good Pinotage, we agreed that there'd be no harm in skipping a service or two. By the second bottle we were wondering why modern cars need to be serviced at all. Surely that's what those funny little warning lights on the dashboard are all about?
Next morning, I thought said son was going to have an apoplexy over his Weetabix and I was reminded how a mother's authority diminishes in relation to the number of times a man shaves in a week. We both had things to do and places to go but agreed to talk over supper.
My morning was spent Googling the likes of AA, MotorHappy, Liquid Capital, Bidvest et al. I discovered that, unlike the Kinsey Report of my youth, the modern one has nothing to do with sexual behaviour. Every year it lists car part prices in South Africa. But I digress.......
I also chatted to friends who either have backyard mechanics they swear by or tales of horror that made me afraid, very afraid. Long story short: I am now convinced that motor car servicing and regular dental checks are in the same category. If you don't do them, the pain will be excruciating.
Let me share what I learned in a nutshell:
1) The service manual that sits so smugly in the cubbyhole, demanding service stamps like a hungry baby bird is more important that I had ever dreamed. For starters, it's written by the people who designed and built your car - not the dealerships.
Besides, telling you how often to get your car serviced, it will highlight replaceable parts that may need changing and regular maintenance such as oil changes.
2) It makes sense to shop around for a workshop and even better sense to deal with an accredited one. (The Motor Traders Organisation will help)
3) I was interested to learn that, with higher overheads and staff commission, dealerships are nearly always a more expensive choice for servicing and repairs than independent garages. But (there's always a but), a dealership with a franchise for your make of car could have a better understanding of the faults it tends to develop.
4) Ever heard of a cambelt? I hadn't. Apparently, it's the engine timing thingamajig. I still haven't found it but now I know that it's the most important maintenance item in your car. It tends to give up the ghost after 100 000 kilometres but it seems to be a good idea to have it checked sooner. Ask any comedian - timing is everything.
5) If you think your dealership is going overboard. RFM (read the flipping manual)
6) Some of those dashboard messages are important enough for you to pull off the road, switch the engine off and RFM.
7) I don't know about you, but I hate the added delay of checking oil levels and tyre pressure when I fill up. Thanks to good old Google, I'll take more care in future.
8) If your new garage gives you a long list of extra work that needs doing. Get a second opinion.
9) I you think you've been scammed speak to the Motor Traders Organisation.
10) Always remember the difference between an estimate and a quotation - the former is a guess, the latter is a promise to do the work at the quoted price.
Of course, if you are like my friend Gloria, you could opt for a maintenance plan or to extend your existing one. I suspect hers is about to end, more about that in my next blog.
Keep safe and resist the temptation to miss a service to save money.