If your vehicle isn’t running right, is making strange noises, or a warning light on your dash has come on, you’re probably about to head into the dealer or repair shop to have them take a look.
* Before you do this, first try AutoMD.com’s easy-to-use, Q & A diagnostic tool. You answer a series of simple questions (What does it sound like? Smell like? What area of vehicle is the problem located in?), and with each answer you narrow down the problem to a few likely diagnoses. When the possible diagnoses are returned, print them out. On that same page, you can click “Inspecting Further.” This sends you to a step-by-step Visual Inspection Guide (with helpful photos, etc.), so you can gather physical proof to hone in further on the right diagnosis. AutoMD.com’s unique “Visual Inspection Guide” explains which tools you may need and exactly what you’ll need to do (i.e., jack the car up, get in under the hood). If you’re not able to do what’s required, ask a friend or family member to help you.
* If the online diagnostic and visual inspection tools have determined what your problem is, the tool will ask you to confirm “Yes” or “No”—and then you can follow one of two channels, depending on whether you plan to repair the vehicle yourself, or take it into a shop.
* If you now KNOW what the problem is, and plan to take it to a dealer/shop, skip to Establishing the Fair Price Repair Cost Estimate.
* If you KNOW what the problem is, and plan to perform the repairs yourself (or need info to determine how hard it would be and how much it would cost), skip to Doing-It-Yourself.
* If, after using the diagnostic tools, you’re still not sure what the problem is, skip to Pre-Screening a Short List of Shops to Get Diagnosis.
General Tips on Diagnosis:
* Performing basic diagnostics before heading to the shop is smart: it shows the repair shop you have a basic understanding of vehicles—and you’ll be a tougher customer if the repair shop attempts to sell you something you don’t need.
* Write down exactly what’s happening, when it happens, how often, if it’s intermittent or constant, and try to establish the area of the vehicle where it’s occurring. The more precise you are in describing your car’s problem, the easier it will be for you and the mechanic to pinpoint and diagnose.
* If you have a friend/family member with experience fixing cars, get his/her opinion (if possible) on what may be wrong before taking it into a dealer/shop.
* Check your owner’s manual for trouble-shooting tips related to your symptoms—and review the recommended maintenance schedule for what repairs to expect at the current age/mileage of your vehicle.