Over the years folks have come to me with car problems that, though they were truly problems, did not need immediate attention. I know I always harp on getting the job done as soon as possible and having it done correctly by someone who knows what they are doing. However, sometimes it’s just not in the budget or it isn’t timely for a different reason.
Here’s a list of five repairs that can usually wait.
1. Oil Leaks
Oil often leaks from your engine’s rear and front main oil pan seals, which necessitates an expensive engine-out repair. Oil can also leak from the timing cover seals, valve cover gaskets, and intake plenum, all of which necessitate some amount of engine disassembly and a resultant hefty repair bill.
Engine oil leaks can lead to major damage if you ignore them and continue to drive the vehicle. But when faced with an oil leak that you simply cannot pay for, you can always try gingerly tightening up a compromised gasket by “snugging up” the mounting bolts. Sometimes the bolts have backed off by virtue of engine vibration, and by gently tightening the bolts you can stop the leak without replacing the gasket.
You must be careful though -- don’t over-tighten them because you may split the gasket and create a bigger problem. If tightening them still doesn’t stop the leak, then simply keep an eye on the oil level and fill as necessary until you are able to pay for the fix.
2. Engine Knocks
This is an area that is subjective. If an automotive repair tech is sure that the knock is due to something like a wrist pin, piston slap, or main bearing, these are the kinds of knocking that can go a long time before repair. So if you’re financially strapped, go ahead and drive it. Just understand that if your budget is strained now, it will be even more so if and when the engine fails.
If the knock is due to a rod bearing, then the engine will probably fail immediately and your decision will be made for you. When it comes to engine knocks, it’s all about proper diagnosis before driving. If you know what you’re dealing with, you can make an informed decision as to wait, fix, or junk.
3. Body Repairs
Body damage is another subjective area. If the damage causes a safety issue, then repair is necessary -- even if it’s only a temporary fix.
Here’s a personal example: Years ago, I owned a ‘68 Dodge that was hit hard in a parking lot and the front fender was jammed so hard that the driver’s door would not open. However, I was able to drive it. I took it to a shop where I worked and I peeled the fender back from the door hinge with a wrecking bar so that the door would open and close. There was a lot of sharp metal jutting out from the body, but I was able to curl it back so that the exposed metal edges were smooth to the touch and I could drive the car safely. At the time, I didn’t have the money to repair the vehicle, nor was the car worth putting so much money into body repair. I drove the car in this condition for another five years until I could afford another vehicle.
4. Paint Jobs
I get this question all the time: “Tom, I have a 2001 Ford Taurus with 200 thousand miles on it. The body is good but the paint has faded. I can’t afford a new car and I want it to look nice. Should I repaint it? The paint job will cost $3,500. What do you think?”
I am usually tactful when I answer such questions so that I don’t insult the questioner, but I hope you can see the idiocy here. Why would you spend $3,500 on a car that’s worth about half that? You would be much better off putting that money into another vehicle with lower mileage.
Obviously the motivating factor here is pride. They want the vehicle to appear better to other drivers. To which I would say, be careful, pride has cost many people excessive amounts of money in this arena.
An old, wise car salesman once told me, “Logic rides on the horse of emotion.” In other words, if the sales person can get the customer’s emotion to line up with the purchase, then the customer will buy on the logic that he arrived at based on manipulated emotion. Lesson? Keep your emotions in check when making such decisions.
With respect to paint that has faded, there are actually many ways to restore the luster of your car exterior that don’t involve a visit to Earl Scheib, such as rubbing compound, a good wax job, and special exterior conditioners. All will work, some better and easier than others.
5. Torn Seats
When seats get torn or faded, people often want to replace them. Don’t.
There are a few different options you can explore before busting the bank on new seats. First, look at seat covers. Before you balk, understand that seat covers have come a long way and today you can find seat covers for specific models that are tightly form fitting in an array of wonderful fabrics.If the vehicle is worth it, you can even check into a vehicle re-upholsterer. Such shops can re-cover your vehicle’s seats so that they look like new. In addition, they can replace broken springs and repair worn-out stuffing and that’s a lot cheaper than replacing the seats.