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12 Smart Ways to Save Money on Car Repairs and Maintenance

12 smart ways to save money on car repairs and maintenance header

By Andy Jensen on July 12, 2021 in Life Hacks

The do-it-yourself movement taught us we could do anything, from recreating fast-food takeout in our kitchens to replacing a bathroom sink. DIY helps us feel accomplished and it can save money. This is especially true with car repairs, where Consumer Reports says the average 10-year-old car costs $458 in repairs each year. Labor makes up a lot of that expense, so the DIY route will help save your bank account. However taking care of certain tasks on your own isn’t the only way to spare your hard-earned cash. Read on for our list of smart ways to save money on car repairs and maintenance.

Read the Owner’s Manual

While your owner’s manual may be buried in the glove box, it provides hundreds of pages of useful information, from how to operate the confusing infotainment system to the jack point locations and tire rotation schedule. By perusing your manual, you’ll find what serve as cheat codes for scheduled maintenance specific to your vehicle. It’s in your best interest to follow the maintenance schedule and other recommendations listed in your manual to prevent costly repairs. For instance, a $30 oil change prevents thousands of dollars in engine damage, and a $100 alignment will prevent damage to your $600 set of tires. Can’t find your manual? You can find inexpensive used ones online.

Use the Warranty

If that high-pressure salesperson talked you into the optional warranty, make sure to get your money’s worth by using it every chance you get. Covered repairs should cost you nothing so long as your warranty is still in effect. Note: If your car has a recall, the dealer has to perform the associated work at no cost — warranty or not.

Teach Yourself the Basics

If you know absolutely nothing about vehicle maintenance, but want to save money, learn what you can for free. A total beginner with the right mindset can likely change their car’s oil, filters, battery, brake pads, and even swap out spark plugs. Talk to people in your friend and family circle and ask if anyone is willing to show you the basics. If formal instruction is your jam, head to your local community college or tech school and seek out an intro to auto repair course.

Head Over to YouTube

If you’re a visual learner, YouTube can assist beyond homework help and makeup tutorials. YouTube mechanics like ChrisFix and Scotty Kilmer have millions of followers due to their detailed and positive videos explaining every single step in a repair.

Bargain Hunt Online

If you enjoy searching for the best deal, apply the same approach to car parts. Rock Auto, Parts Geek, and other discount parts websites offer dramatically lower prices than the dealership parts counter. If you find what you’re looking for, hit coupon code sites like RetailMeNot to stack your savings!

Consider Used or Rebuilt

Would you consider buying a used car? If so — or if you already have — every single part on it is used, so why not shop used replacement parts? Granted, buying used doesn’t work for items like batteries and wiper blades, but a used door or window could be in perfect shape for less than half the price of new. For important engine parts, such as fuel injectors or alternators, consider rebuilt parts instead of used. Similar to certified pre-owned cars, rebuilt parts have been examined and offer a warranty with a price tag that’s typically 20 to 40% less than new.

Invest in Basic Tools

Still going the DIY route? Good for you! However, there’s only a tiny bit of maintenance you can accomplish without the proper tools. If you do not own the basics such as a jack, jack stands, and wrenches, check out a discount tool chain such as Harbor Freight Tools or Northern Tool + Equipment. Even better, buy used tools at a pawn shop, swap meet, flea market, yard sale, or Facebook marketplace.

Find a Trusty Mechanic

Not interested in DIY repairs? That’s a-okay. Just make sure to do your research in order to avoid a hefty service bill. Specialized chains (think Jiffy Lube, Midas, etc.) will likely have a lower shop rate than dealerships but can’t perform every repair. Your local independent mechanic will likely offer the lowest rates. Call ahead for an appointment and quote.

Get a Second Opinion

It’s a good idea to ask for quotes from a few different shops. Explain what vehicle you have and what part needs replacing. It doesn’t hurt to mention your first quote. Try something like, “Jimmy’s Auto said they could replace my alternator for $200. Can you beat that?” You may be surprised by a lower price or reassured you’re getting a fair deal.

Ask for Recommendations

Everyone loves to offer their opinion on social media, so go ahead and ask for it! Write a post asking for positive experiences at local shops and who has had what repaired for a good price. Your local auto repair person who performs brilliant transmission repairs may not be on your radar because their search engine optimization (SEO) skills are out of date. Your friend or relative may just drop a hot tip, offering you better results than Google.

Check Diagnostic Sites

Hopefully you received several great leads to check out, but if not, the internet can save the day again. Search free diagnostic sites such as AutoMD and RepairPal as a way to estimate labor and parts pricing. They aggregate repair quotes nationwide, which usually results in very specific and accurate information such as a repair estimate for a Toyota Camry fuel pump.

Ask About Complimentary Add Ons

Speaking of free, ask the shop if they have any special promotions going on or if the technician can include any other maintenance. If you buy a new tire, see if the shop can rotate all of them. If you schedule an oil change, ask if they can top up the other fluids. Remember that it doesn’t hurt to ask politely.

Conclusion

Auto maintenance and repair doesn’t have to be a frustrating and expensive experience. A willingness to learn, a positive attitude, and a bit of elbow grease in preventative maintenance should keep your ride on the road for many more years.

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Andy Jensen is a consultant for Say Insurance. He's an automotive enthusiast writer specializing in new and used models, industry tech and trends, and the car culture that surrounds it all. After receiving a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Central Oklahoma, he decided to write about cars instead of getting a real job. He’s written for Jaguar, Volvo, Ford, Advance Auto Parts, Haynes Manuals, and others. His project car probably isn’t running.

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