CLICK & CLACK : How Trouble Creeps In

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dear Tom and Ray:

I was driving my 2007 Forester to work the other day when the check engine light came on (the car has about 15,000 miles on it). I brought it in to the dealer, and they cleaned a spider web out of the charcoal canister hose. Does this sound right, or am I getting hosed? (It was covered by the warranty -- but I am suspicious that something else might actually be wrong with the vehicle ). -- Mary

TOM: Believe it or not, Mary, this is said to be a pretty common problem.

RAY: We've seen a number of service bulletins over the years alerting us to the problem. In your case, there probably was a bunch of webby stuff in the fresh-air intake line to the evaporative emissions canister. That was preventing the fuel tank from breathing properly (fresh air has to enter the gas tank to fill up the space left by the used gasoline; otherwise, the tank will slowly implode). That set off your check engine light.

Dear Tom and Ray:

We have a 2005 Nissan Sentra, and it's time for its scheduled 30,000-mile checkup. Because we still have the warranty, I prefer we go to the dealer and have this routine maintenance done (I hear doing it at an outside garage could cause the warranty to be voided); he thinks we'll get ripped off, and would rather take it outside the dealer network. Help! -- Preethi

TOM: We hate to be critical of dealerships. But regularly scheduled maintenance (the 30,000-, 60,000-, 90,000-mile services) is one of those areas where they absolutely hook up the vacuum to your wallet and let it rip.

RAY: We should point out that there are plenty of things for which you absolutely should go to your dealer. Warranty work, recalls and service actions are some obvious ones.

RAY: But scheduled service is something that a lot of dealerships still charge way too much for, in our opinion.

TOM: Most 30,000-mile services involve changing the oil and filter, changing the air filter and checking a bunch of stuff. All of the required maintenance items are listed in the back of your owner's manual.

RAY: But it's not unusual, in our experience, for dealerships to add lots of unnecessary services to that list. We've seen 30,000-mile services that cost $400, $500 or $600 when they really should cost only $200 to $300 -- at most.

TOM: Dealers may argue that there are things that should be done that aren't listed in the owner's manual. In our experience, that's unusual. They may argue that they use genuine original manufacturer's parts. But your independent mechanic can get those parts for you from the dealership.

RAY: Whatever you decide, having your scheduled maintenance done by a nondealership mechanic will not void your warranty. As long as you can demonstrate that you have done the maintenance listed in the back of your owner's manual (your receipt from any repair shop, or receipts for parts if you do the work yourself, will suffice), your warranty will remain in full force.

TOM: Here's what we suggest: Take your owner's manual and go to the garage of your choice. Show the mechanic the list of required maintenance and ask for an estimate of what it will cost to have all of that work done, using Nissan parts.

RAY: Then call the dealership and ask for its price on the 30,000-mile service. If the prices are the same or similar, then why not go to the dealer? But I think you'll be shocked by the difference in price.

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Copyright 2007 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman

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