How to Save Money on Auto Repair

I’m sad to say that this past year has been rough on my budget. Not because of gadgets, gizmos, or other geeky purchases, but due in part to a series of misfortunes related to our family vehicles. It seems the entire year has been one vehicle breakdown after another. Why is this? Could it be because the warranties expired just a month before the year began?

Either way, mechanics seem to make an arm and a leg off of us on a monthly basis. That is, until I started looking into alternatives and recommendations that have helped lower the price and frequency of repair.

Paying too much for auto repair is like paying too much for insurance. Yes, you get what you pay for, but on the other hand, did you really need to fork over an additional $50 to have someone do what you could do yourself in less than five minutes? Perhaps not.

Here are some tips to help you save money on auto repair.

Check Your Warranty

You might be surprised at just how long certain parts are covered under the manufacturer’s warranty. A power train warranty can extend past the initial bumper-to-bumper coverage available upon buying the vehicle. Even used cars and trucks may still have some existing warranty left from when the car was brand new.

It’s never a bad idea to check your warranty before bringing your car to a repair facility when the problem appears as though it might be covered.

The problem here is that many dealer repair shops that can cover warranty repair also charge for diagnostic services. This means that you are on the hook for the diagnostic fee, even if the repair in question isn’t covered under warranty after all. If it is, this fee is typically waived.

Have Trouble Codes Read for Free

How to Save Money on Auto RepairWhen your check engine light comes on, it could be indicating a variety of different issues ranging from critical problems to sensor misreads. Having these fault codes read can be a great way to determine where a possible fault may appear in your vehicle. Unfortunately, too many shops charge an arm and a leg to plug a simple device in and read the codes provided by your vehicle’s computer.

There are a couple of ways around this problem. One of them can be as simple as taking your car or truck to the nearest AutoZone and having someone there take a look. This service is provided free of charge, and can help you determine what parts you may need to replace. If you don’t have an AutoZone in your area, many other auto parts stores offer similar services.

Another thing you can do to save money here is buying your own. Ray Miller, a member of the LockerGnome community, relayed his experience: “I am not a mechanic, but I have loved my OBD2 scan tool. Cost 100 dollars and you will know in most cases what is wrong with the vehicle before seeing the mechanic.” He continued, “I used mine because of an erratic idle issue… The tool told me it was the idle speed control valve. I replaced it myself within 15 minutes at a cost of 60 dollars.”

In a recent video on the LockerGnome channel, Chris Pirillo reviewed one of these devices. CarMD is a simple device that plugs directly into your car and gives you a progress report directly from the car’s own internal computer. This is a great way to keep updated as to your vehicle’s condition and maintenance needs.

Buy the Shop Manual (Do It Yourself)

Bob O’Bob, a member of the LockerGnome community, suggests: “Get a shop manual. Read it. No matter what your vehicle is, knowing more about it, even if you can’t directly apply the knowledge, will help you manage those who do.”

Believe it or not, the majority of what needs to be done to keep a car running smoothly can be done in a few easy steps. Car manufacturers have taken great strides to engineer vehicles that are easier to work on and maintain. Changing the oil, belts, fluids, air filter, and basic troubleshooting generally doesn’t require a licensed mechanic (if the car is out of warranty).

Learning how to perform basic maintenance tasks on your vehicle can be an extremely helpful and important part of being a responsible driver. Changing a tire isn’t something everyone knows how to do, but this knowledge can save you from being stranded on the side of a country road at night.

Wallace Roberts, a member of the LockerGnome community and former auto technician, suggests: “Check the Internet for videos on a particular repair that you’re considering; if you find a video that makes sense and you think you can do the job yourself, you probably can.”

Perform Regular Maintenance

Cheryl Wireman, an auto technician, suggested, “Complete proper maintenance and do not complain when the car breaks if you don’t. Don’t expect me to repair your car for free.”

Doing things like getting your oil changed, having your belts replaced during recommended intervals, and checking your fluids can mean the difference between a long and trouble-free experience and one riddled with breakdowns and hassle.

Did you know that mechanics recommend checking your belts, battery, air filter, exhaust, fuel filter, hoses, power steering fluid, tire inflation and condition, and lights every three months? Many people drive around on poorly inflated tires unaware that their fuel efficiency and tire longevity can be greatly effected.

When in Doubt, Get a Second Opinion

Taking a mechanic’s word for it when they tell you that you’ve got hundreds of dollars worth of unforeseen repairs ahead of you can be difficult. Your car is possibly in pieces on the shop floor, and you’ve spent whatever the diagnostic fee is, but as with medical issues, you shouldn’t take the first opinion when your life savings is on the line.

Most honest mechanics are absolutely used to customers who seek out a second opinion. It’s good business practice to facilitate this request as it could lead to a long-term relationship with the client should the initial diagnosis prove correct and the estimate be reasonable.

People make mistakes, and mechanics are only able to do what they can with the knowledge they have at their disposal. A certain knock or tick may be easy for one mechanic to diagnose and an entirely new symptom for any other.

Stick to Small Shops

Mom and pop auto repair shops are a great place to get a good deal. These shops, like any small business, depend on customer loyalty, repeat business, and good word of mouth to stay around. Larger stores tend to forget this as loose hiring policies and poor overall ground-up management is an easy side effect of larger corporations. That’s not to say that there aren’t excellent mechanics working at larger chain shops, but you may find that many of them have their hands tied by corporate policy.

Take for advantage a vehicle that needs several different repairs at a given time. A small, locally owned shop owner can work out a deal that helps you get back on the road without breaking your budget.

Repair prices can also vary greatly by region. This may sound unusual, but I can have a radiator repaired for close to $1,000 in Austin, or take my car to a mechanic in a small town and have the same job done by an equally qualified mechanic for hundreds less. Part of what determines a shop’s prices is overhead — including rent and taxes — which tend to be significantly less in a small town.