An honest mechanic is worth his weight in oil

This week I’m departing from my normal routine, which may become part of the routine, depending on how well it’s received. I figure if you’re going to read my opinions here, you may as well benefit from some of the secrets of my success.

I bought my first car when I was 16. It was an immaculate 1975 forest green Audi Fox. It wasn’t exactly the Camaro or Mustang I’d wanted, but when you’re 16 and in the market for your first ride, well, zero impulse control and testosterone go hand in hand. Anyway, the owner, a grandfatherly type who believed in full disclosure, informed me that it needed brakes, but otherwise, it was mechanically sound.

So, OK, I’d just given up about 70 percent of my net worth, but I had my first ride and the freedom that goes with it. I cruised for a week in blissful motoring. Sort of. This was a four-speed, and I’d learned to drive on an automatic transmission.

Then I got it to the dealership for that brake job. The dealer’s estimate for the brake job was $1,600.

Now mind you, that’s $1,600 bucks I didn’t have. Solution? Hit the library, and become an amateur mechanic. The total cost was about $350 for parts and some tools and a shot weekend.

Over time, I got better at tinkering on it and the vehicles that followed. So it’s safe to say I have a good handle on the workings of the internal-combustion engine and cars in general. I have found that helpful when dealing with mechanics who, shall we say, are less than honest about something under the hood that needs replacement—or worse, “embellish” what needs to be done.

Which leads me to Right Hook’s Financial tip #1: Find an honest and ethical mechanic before you need him or her. I usually drain about half the water out of the radiator, take the vehicle to the shop I’m considering and explain that the car is “running hot.” If they tell me it needs a new radiator or a rebuilt “something,” I know to keep looking. On the other hand, if they catch it and charge accordingly, I can probably trust that I’m not being hosed when something really does need something rebuilt or replaced.

Shortly after landing in this burg but before following my own advice, I stopped at one of those 30-minute, multi-service, oil-change places. Sixty minutes later, they couldn’t get the car started. After an overnight stay, they diagnosed the problem as a bad alternator (the thing that charges the battery). Cost of replacement? $550.

Knowing that was a little steep (even for a Cadillac), I let my fingers do the walking. Purely by happenstance, I happened upon my current mechanic extraordinaire. After I explained to him that it may need a new alternator, he went to work.

Now bear in mind he could have confirmed quite easily that “bad alternator” diagnosis and hosed me himself for a nice chunk o’ change.Instead, he charged me like $38 to clean and reconnect my corroded battery cables.

I guess I don’t have to mention it, but being careful with your money is a conservative core value.

When I find someone I trust enough to give them my repeat business, I usually share it with my family and friends. So here goes: Mike Morgan owns Mike’s Automotive Perfection at 5301 Longley Lane, #214, Reno, 827-5600,