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Best free car-repair advice

Trading in a car every 3 years is passé, a new survey says, and cars on the road are older than they used to be. That means we're more in need of good, free advice.

By Karen Datko Jul 23, 2012 6:51PM

Image: Calling for roadside assistance (© Tom Merton/Photolibrary/Photolibrary)Remember the uncle/neighbor/friend who bragged every two or three years about upgrading to a brand-new car? According to results of a new online poll, that guy no longer exists.


Says a press release:

Reports of the death of the two- to three-year vehicle purchasing cycle have not been exaggerated, according to a new survey of nearly 4,000 car owners by 
Three in four respondents agreed that buying a vehicle every two to three years is a thing of the past, and 78% now say that 10+ years (or until it dies) is the appropriate vehicle lifespan.

According to the survey, 60% of respondents are routinely driving a vehicle that has more than 100,000 miles on it. (Post continues below.)

Results of the online survey are confirmed by other recent reports. Among them:

  • Automotive information firm Polk announced in January that the average age of cars, pickups and SUVs on U.S. roads had reached 10.8 years, up from 8.4 years in 1995, and it's even higher for cars alone.
  • NDP Group said in April that 19% of people who paid for car parts and repairs were servicing a car 15 years old or older, up from 15% in 2007.
  • Last month, Experian Automotive said there "were 17.3 million more light-duty vehicles seven years and older on the road in the United States than there were three years ago." Also, 21% were over 15 years old. Experian said the average age of passenger vehicles is 11 years.

So, if the majority of us are driving older cars and expect to keep them longer, we need access to reliable -- and preferably free -- sources of information about repair and upkeep, especially if you don't have an expert mechanic who has earned your trust. Here are some recommendations:

  • Ray and Tom Magliozzi may be stepping down from the NPR microphone in October, but 25 years of "Car Talk" wisdom will be recycled into new shows. You just won't be able to call Click and Clack with your problem. Plus, they'll still have their newspaper column and Web presence.
  • AutoMD has plenty of solid information, plus a forum to peruse and post questions and answers.
  • Many other online car-repair forums exist. Given that there are so many, try using a search engine to research your particular problem. The first time my key wouldn't turn in my 1999 van, I quickly found the answer online for my make and model: Insert key and lightly strike the top with a rubber mallet. It's worked every time since. 
  • Your automaker's or model's website and/or Facebook page may provide help. I posted a question on my vehicle model's Facebook page and got a very quick response from a customer service rep. However, the rep didn't follow up with a phone call as promised and didn't answer when I reached out again. Maybe you'll have better luck.
  • You can find videos on YouTube for repairing just about anything that can break, including your vehicle.
  • Proper maintenance can pre-empt expensive repairs. You really need to review the maintenance schedule in your owner's manual.

Why are we driving older cars? The experts say the trend began when the economy headed south. Now we've realized that it makes good personal finance sense, particularly because cars are better made than they used to be.


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