Car-care routes merge to one lane

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Every so often, my Honda dealer sends a postcard inviting me to swing by with my six-year-old Odyssey for some 28-point check or other.

On it, the service department earnestly lists such tasks as "check washer-fluid level," and "examine tires for wear."

I'm no mechanic, but I think I can handle that myself. I'll leave it to Jiffy Lube or the corner garage to change my oil and the occasional filter. Their waiting rooms offer the same burnt decaf as the dealer's, but you're done in 15 minutes – and usually out a lot less money.

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For brake jobs, it's Midas or Speedy, wherever the line is shorter.

I save dealer visits for coping with part-replacement advisories, for a new timing belt (every 90,000 miles!), or to report a mysterious noise. Those are rare. You buy a Honda, and you can pretty much weld the hood shut.

To counter that boring reliability, my summer car, celebrated in this space before, is a 1979 Fiat Spider.

The Italian automaker pulled its dealers out of the US sometime in the 1980s. So when the Spider needs work, it goes up the road to my man Nino. He alone can make sense of the old roadster's pot-of-vermicelli wiring.

When Nino yanks worn parts, he saves them for me in a bucket and dumps them at my feet. Then he explains, half in Italian, what he has done. The cost often depends on how many "new" parts have come from another Fiat out back.

For different vehicles, different upkeep strategies. Many car owners use some combination of those two approaches. But as they buy newer models, their maintenance choices will become more limited. New components call for technicians. Regular mechanics – even specialists like Nino – face a rough road.

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