How to break an auto tech’s heart

When your car conks out, whom do you blame? Yourself? Of course not! You

Hand it over!

Hand it over!

blame whoever made it or whoever takes care of it under the hood.

Let me tell you, whoever takes care of it says choice things about you, too. I once was assigned to find out which problems auto techs felt were most inflicted on them by owners. You may be surprised that it wasn’t customers who demand an over-the-phone diagnosis; owners whose cars are so dirty, they could plant grass on the hood; or customers who curse them when a tired, old car needs a major fix.

To be sure, from the customer’s perspective, maintenance and repairs aren’t cheap. So neglect and avoidance kick in. Little problems become big, the costs go up — sometimes way up, until the customer nearly believes the mechanic moonlights in the garage of the devil himself.

Most auto techs have hearts, however, and here are a few of the ways customers break them. Here, too, are ways to keep your wallet intact while loving the person who looks after your wheels’ welfare.

Never change or check the motor oil.

What it is: Motor oil lubricates the engine and removes contaminants, such as teeny-weeny bits of metal that can cause big damage over time. Engines do bad things when they have low or no oil.

What to do: Change the oil yourself or have it changed at the mileage suggested in the car’s owners manual – usually 3,500 miles. Check the oil level every week by pulling out the dipstick, wiping it with a clean rag, reinserting it and pulling it out again, and checking that the oil on it comes to the “full” line; if it doesn’t, add oil a little at a time through the oil filler hole, not the dipstick hole – check the owners manual for locations. Use name-brand motor oil of the type the manual recommends. Allergic to auto-supply stores? Usually you can pick up a quart of oil wherever you buy a quart of milk.

Drive with the needle on “H” on the dashboard’s temperature gauge.

What it is: The temperature gauge indicates when the engine runs too hot. It’s not fooling. Driving with a gauge on “H” may fry the engine.

What to do: When the gauge goes up, pull off the road as soon as possible and call for help. Never open the hood of a car if steam is flowing from beneath it, andWrench never remove the radiator cap when the engine is hot, because hot steam and coolant could burn you.

Never take in the car for scheduled maintenance.

What it is: Auto manufacturers recommend service checkups at regular intervals, such as every 3,000, 15,000 and 30,000 miles – or a number of months.

What to do: By following the schedule, you’ll know your car most likely won’t leave you flat. When choosing between a period of months or miles, err on the side of more-frequent maintenance. Owners manuals list maintenance schedules, and schedules can be found online at the manufacturer’s Web site.

Look pitifully at the auto tech when you bring in a car with a new noise.

What it is: You picture yourself as a beagle or a beggar when you take your car for service, and you plead extreme poverty. This time, it’s a little rattling sound in a wheel. You’re certain that noises from parts as important as a wheel mean the repair will cost lots of plastic money.

What to do: Accept that your car requires maintenance, and that professional service requires money. Come with a list of problems and when they occur, and be patient while the tech examines the car. Diagnosis: It’s just a stone caught behind the wheel cover.

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