How to Save Money on Car Repairs and Maintenance.

Car repairs and maintenance can be costly and often happen at the worst possible times. Here are a few tips that can help save money on both repairs and maintenance.

Find an Honest Mechanic.

For repairs, find an honest mechanic with reasonable rates. This can either be an easy or a difficult task depending on your knowledge of the auto repair industry. There are plenty of honest mechanics out there, and there are also plenty of mechanics that take advantage of their customers. Here are a few ways to help with your search.

Ask family, friends, and co-workers. Usually when someone finds a really good mechanic that charges reasonable rates they are happy to recommend them.

You can also call a few places near you and ask for the cost of the repair; then compare the costs. Ask if they charge a separate fee just to look at the vehicle; if they do the bill will likely be pricey.

If you find yourself looking at an estimate that just doesn’t seem right don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.

Buy you own parts.

If possible, buy your own parts. The mark up on parts can be significant, often as much as 100%.  By purchasing your own parts you can cut your bill in half in some cases.  This is usually only possible if you diagnose the problem yourself (or have someone diagnose it for you). Some mechanics let you buy your own parts, some do not.

If you are not sure what is wrong with the vehicle and the mechanic has to diagnose and repair it, they will likely want to purchase the parts themselves. This is understandable. If you find yourself in this position you can always ask for a discount on the parts markup.

Don’t Procrastinate.

Fix small issues before they become big issues. A few examples: Your brakes start to make noise, usually indicating your brake pads need replacing. If you wait until the pads are down to bare metal and damage the rotors, your repair just got bigger. If you have a front end issue (alignment, ball joint, etc.) and wait too long you may find yourself replace your front tires. Your car overheats frequently because of the thermostat. If you wait too long and a simple repair may require a new water pump, radiator, and possibly more.  Fixing small issues before they become big can save you a lot of money.

Maintain your Vehicle.

Perform regular preventative maintenance. This includes oil changes, air filter changes, transmission fluid changes, etc. Preventative maintenance can save you a lot in the long run. Find the maintenance schedule in the owners manual and do your best to keep up with it.  Using synthetic oil can also extend the life of your engine.

The 3 Month 3,000 Rule no longer applies.

For decades the general rule for oil changes for years was every 3 months or 3,000 miles.  Oil quality has improved and the 3 month or 3,000 mile interval is rare today. Most manufacturers have longer intervals anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 miles. Follow the manufacturers recommendations.  Don’t waste money changing the oil more often than needed.  However, make sure to change the oil as directed by the manufacturer.

Plan when you can.

Try to anticipate an auto expense and prepare for it. Tires are a good example. If your tires are getting worn, start saving for new ones and look for specials. Many tire shops run specials that can provide a big discount. The same goes for alignment, brakes, and other maintenance items.

The Check Engine Light.

Don’t rush to the nearest repair shop when your Check Engine light comes on. Most auto parts stores will scan your vehicle for free and let you know why the light came on. In many cases the reason for the light is something simple. Don’t confuse this with an “Oil”, “Brake”, “Airbag”, or other light. Read your owners manual and understand what each one means and how urgent they are.

Check your Fluids.

Check your fluids and check your tire pressure often. Having the correct fluid levels and tire pressure will help ensure parts don’t wear out faster than normal.  Do this once a month and if you notice your frequently adding oil, antifreeze, or other fluids, have it diagnosed before the problem gets worse.