How often do we put off chores or tasks, always thinking that tomorrow would be the ideal day to get them done? In most cases, the problems will simply remain but not get worse, and certainly not become dangerous. But when it comes to minor car damage repair, it’s a different story.
Minor car damage isn’t uncommon and usually it can be repaired quickly and at a low cost. However, in many cases those seemingly benign issues can either be a symptom of a much larger problem or can grow into a significant repair if left unfixed.
We asked AAA’s Car Doctor John Paul about common minor car damage issues that can wind up costing you major. Here’s what to watch for.
Broken Head and Taillights
Driving without properly functioning lights can be extremely dangerous, which is why nearly every state has laws requiring their use. Many states also specify that you must have two working head and taillights each. So if one breaks, you must get it repaired immediately.
If you break just the lens on the light and not the bulb itself, you may be tempted to simply try to piece it back together yourself. This isn’t going to work. “You cannot legally repair a lens with tape. It must be replaced,” Paul says. “Some headlight assemblies can cost well over $1,500 to replace some taillight lenses can also be quite expensive.”
Wheels can become misaligned if the vehicle is suddenly jarred, such as by driving over a pothole, or if parts of the suspension system wear over time and begin to shift.
You may not even realize that your wheels are not properly aligned and therefore, it might not seem like a major problem. The most common symptom of a misalignment is if your car pulls to one side or if the steering wheel is no longer centered. If you notice that the car pulls or the steering wheel is no longer centered, you need to get it fixed. This misalignment will rapidly wear down your tires. A new set of tires could easily run you several hundred dollars.
Knowing how expensive tire and wheel repairs can be, AAA offers a Tire and Wheel Protection Program. The product covers unlimited repair or replacement of tires and/or wheels due to impact with road hazards such as potholes and road debris.
Once upon a time you could make a quick trip to the local hardware store to duplicate your car keys for just a couple of dollars. But with the introduction of key fobs, that option disappeared and made losing your car keys a significantly more expensive mishap. A key fob can cost anywhere from $50 to $1,500 depending on the vehicle.
The good news for members enrolled in the Tire and Wheel Protection Program is that the program also covers key and key fob replacement. In fact, getting a free replacement fob can pay for the program itself.
Worn Down Brakes and Shocks
Brake grinding occurs when there is extreme wear to the brake pads or rotors, causing the metallic part of the brake pad or brake shoe to come in contact with the brake rotor or drum. The result is a loud grinding sound coming from your wheel whenever you press down on the brake pedal.
If you wait too long to have your brakes serviced, it could result in a significant repair. “Letting your vehicle brakes grind will generally lead to a replacement of the brake rotors or brake drums.” Paul says. “This can easily add hundreds of dollars to the cost of a brake repair.”
Maybe more than anywhere else in the vehicle, an engine’s minor troubles can lead to serious, catastrophic problems, Paul says. “A worn engine drive belt (fan belt) if allowed to fail can cause a discharged battery or the engine to overheat and possible catastrophic failure. In addition, not replacing an engine timing belt can lead to complete engine failure.”
Also be on the lookout for any leaks or drips, no matter how small. “A small drip of engine coolant can be caused by a leaking water pump. Over time, a leaking water pump can cause engine overheating and possibly engine failure. A small oil leak, if ignored, could also result in complete catastrophic engine failure.” These small problems will only get worse over time and certainly not get better by themselves.
Ignoring Warning Lights
Warning lights and gauges are there to protect you and your vehicle. Ignoring them can cause serious problems and put you at risk. These warning lights can tell you about the condition of your engine including if it is low on oil, has low oil pressure, low on coolant or is overheating.
Of particular note, Paul reminds us, is a flashing check engine light. “This flashing light is caused by an engine misfire. This misfire can be the result of something as simple as a faulty spark plug. However, if left untreated, it can lead to a failure of the catalytic convertor and a much more significant repair.”
Warning lights can also alert you to a host of other problems like low tire pressure, airbag and antilock brake issues and hydraulic brake failure. If you address any of these in a timely fashion, it may be an easy fix. However, letting them get worse could result in a serious and costly repair.
Protecting Your Vehicle
No matter how well you maintenance your car, minor car damage repairs are going to be needed. And if that happens after your warranty expires, you’ll be on the hook for the cost.
AAA offers an extended auto warranty that can cover you in times like these. These warranties cover nearly all mechanical and electrical components of the vehicle. For example, in February of this year alone, AAA covered repairs to, amongst others, air conditioners, navigation system and engine actuators. These ranged in price from $420 to $2,940.
The extended warranty is also transferrable. If you’re looking to resell, the new owner will be able to own the coverage until the agreement expires. This adds value to your car and helps you get a better price.