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Avoiding car repairs at main dealers can reap rewards. Courtesy of istockphoto
Avoiding car repairs at main dealers can reap rewards. Courtesy of istockphoto

Used car repairs can be cheaper with advice from fellow owners

There are more cost-effective ways of getting your second-hand car repaired than taking it to a main dealer.

A few years ago, my father made the maddening decision to buy a used, second-generation Land Rover Discovery V8. He reasoned that, as it had been converted to run on LPG, it would be cheap to run - a line of logic that many of us have been caught out by - and that the big, lazy engine would be unstressed and therefore more reliable. He was wrong.

That car, as lovely to drive as it was, almost proved ruinous to him, but one of the most salient lessons I learnt from his epic judgement error was that when the on-board computer tells you that there's something wrong, a main dealer should not necessarily be your first port of call.

What happened was that the ABS warning light in the instrument panel would not extinguish, which resulted in an annual test failure. Which meant that he couldn't legally drive it. So he took it to Land Rover, where the diagnostics equipment was attached (he had to pay roughly Dh600 for this) and a fault report that looked more like a manuscript for War and Peace emerged from the printer. The technician totted up the work required to put out the infernal ABS light, and it was going to cost more than 3,000 (Dh16,923), which was almost half what he'd paid for the car in the first place.

What to do? Fortunately, he remembered that a local, time-served mechanic operated his own, cash-in-hand business. When he took the Disco to him, a second opinion was immediately forthcoming. It turned out that a simple electrical switch in the system was notorious for playing up and the result was always the same: an ABS warning lamp illumination. He'd seen this plenty of times, he said, and sure enough, the replacement switch cost pennies to source and, when fitted, the warning light disappeared.

No doubt you can recall similar tales, but the fact remains that, when it comes to maintaining older cars (not just the classic supercars that we talked about last week), it's wise to seek the opinions of people who actually know their stuff, rather than rely on computer diagnostics. You're probably scratching your head, wondering if there is, indeed, anyone that you can turn to in the UAE for unbiased, factually correct advice and reliable, quality service.

Most drivers are fully able to check tyre pressures and fluid levels, topping up when necessary, without needing to pay someone else, and this can actually save money on worn components and worn-before-their-time tyres. But when it comes to the oily bits that lurk underneath, you might be out of your depth. This is when membership of an owners' club can pay dividends.

Because, in the same way as internet forums are able to save us money by pointing us in the direction of cheaper but identical spares, owners' and enthusiasts' clubs are usually populated by people who know their cars inside out. And they're only too willing to help anyone who cares to ask a relevant question.

For instance, I know an owner of an elderly Porsche Boxster who recently needed a new alternator. Porsche quoted him about Dh4,500 for a replacement, but he discovered that it was a part manufactured by Lucas. "I knew there's a Lucas shop in Al Quoz in Dubai," he told me, "so I popped along and they refurbished it, with a 12-month warranty, for a fraction of what Porsche was asking."

Owners' clubs are overflowing with such knowledgeable people, many of whom, like my father, have either had their hands badly burnt or have narrowly escaped. They'll tell you what the dealers and main agents would rather you did not know.

The old saying that knowledge is power has never been truer than when it comes to running an older car. So find out if your favoured car company has a local owners' club or, at the very least, ask other owners who they trust to carry out timely and cost-efficient repairs. We have the talent here, no matter the problem; it's just that often we don't know where to turn for help.

khackett@thenational.ae

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