7 tips to slash the cost of car repairs

You can give your car the care it needs without draining your bank account if you follow this advice.

By MSN Money Partner Sep 2, 2014 2:39PM

This post comes from Allison Martin at partner site Money Talks News.

 

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyWhile you're cruising down the highway, a tiny light comes on on your dashboard. You dismiss it because it's only the oil change icon, and you can afford to stretch it for a few hundred miles.


Car being towed © Digital Vision Ltd., SuperStockAnd then another one appears. This time, it's the check engine icon. Panic mode instantly sets in. The last time you visited the dealership, you ended up with a tab well into the hundreds, and you simply can't afford to do it again.


Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the cost of car repairs and maintenance. Keep these tips in mind:


1. Check and change oil regularly

Your oil is essential to the life of your car's engine. Regularly changing your oil is the best defense against oil pump replacement and costly engine repairs. The cost of replacing an engine is easily $2,000 and often much more.


Instead of following the standard advice of an oil change every 3,000 miles, whip out your owner's manual to confirm what's best for your ride. You may find that the recommended oil change is every 6,000 miles. Some luxury cars will let you stretch further than that.


Also, check your oil color and level regularly. If the oil drops to the minimum level indicated on the oil dipstick, add oil now. (Your owner's manual will tell you the type of oil that's best for your car.)


Also regularly check the engine coolant level and the tire pressure, two other things that every car owner can easily do themselves. Checking tire pressure is a must-do when the seasons change. "Goodyear experts explain that air pressure in a tire typically goes down 1 to 2 pounds for every 10 degrees of temperature change," Goodyear says.


2. But don't stop there

Your owner's manual comes with a maintenance schedule, addressing maintenance and replacement that should be done at major mileage intervals in the life of your car. When was the last time you looked at it?


Neglecting your vehicle could present safety issues and reduce your car's longevity. "If you don't maintain your car, you're taking a vehicle that might have been driven for 200,000 miles over its life, and you’re knocking it down to maybe 150,000 miles," Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.com, told Bankrate.


Can't find the manual? Edmunds provides a car maintenance guide that you can customize for your vehicle's year, make, model and mileage. Better yet, you can find your owner's manual online. Just do a search for your make, model and year and "maintenance schedule" or "owner’s manual."


What types of items will be addressed? Among them:

  • Air and fuel filters.
  • Timing belt.
  • Spark plugs and spark plug wires.
  • Brake pads.
  • Fluids, including coolant, transmission fluid, power steering fluid and brake fluid.
  • Hoses.
  • Timing belt.
  • Battery.

3. Pay attention to warning signs

Taking your vehicle in for regular maintenance doesn't relieve you of responsibility.

Just as you should keep an eye on tire pressure and the level of coolant and oil, you should look for other signs that something is wrong. Do you hear a thumping in the back? Do you smell burning oil? Is something leaking, leaving a puddle on your driveway? You need a trip to the shop. Meanwhile, an online diagnostic tool like this one at AutoMD can help.


And if the check engine light comes on, don't ignore it. It could indicate a simple problem or a major one.


Don't know what all of those warning signs on the dashboard mean? AutoZone provides  a handy explanation.


4. Find a trustworthy mechanic

Having a good mechanic is essential to your car's well-being. Having one that doesn't overcharge or rip you off is important for your bank account.


Let's say you have an older-model vehicle that's no longer under warranty, and you've never been impressed with the service at the dealership. Or perhaps you've moved to a new town. Your best source of information about good mechanics is simply by asking around, zeroing in on friends and colleagues who know more than the basics about vehicles. Also check online for complaints. Plus, does the shop have experience in repairing vehicles like yours?


Give a new shop a try. If you're not satisfied with the results, try another one that's been recommended.


Tip: Independent shops can be more affordable because they don't have all the overhead that dealerships do.


Another tip: If your older car is called into the dealership for a recall, take advantage of the full free screening it may offer when you take your car in. Someone I know learned about another vehicle problem during one of those checks, and then took it to her regular shop to make the repair at much less expense.


5. Use aftermarket parts

You will have to get service done at an independent shop to take advantage of this opportunity, but using aftermarket parts can save you a substantial amount of cash. Aftermarket parts can be just as good, if not better, than original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts.


Edmunds.com says:

An aftermarket part is any part for a vehicle that is not sourced from the car's maker. If the parts are direct replacement parts, they will not void your car’s warranty. A number of companies make parts designed to function the same, or in some cases even better than the original.

But sometimes aftermarket parts aren't as well-made, so Edmunds suggests you do your homework. This is where a trustworthy mechanic can help.


Edmunds also recommends using OEM parts when you're repairing collision damage or having work done on a leased car.


6. Research the price before you go

Is your vehicle in need of a costly service? Use the AutoMD or Repair Pal online estimators to gauge your expenditures. If the estimate you receive at a shop seems highly inflated, get a second estimate elsewhere.


7. Look for discounts

Before paying a visit for service, look for coupons, including at the shop's website. Don't see any? Just ask. Maybe the shop gives a discount to AAA members.


Also, be on the lookout for the discounted offers that often come in the mail and serve as a kind reminder that your car is due for service.


Karen Datko contributed to this article.


More from Money Talks News

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45Comments
Sep 2, 2014 7:21PM
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Another article by women without a clue to what things cost to repair on a car.  If your tired of the mechanic ripping you off, learn how to do it yourself.  The most cost in any repair is labor. 


I assure you an engine costs way more than $2k installed.

Sep 3, 2014 10:33AM
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Aftermarket part "can" be as good as OEM, but often aren't.  The OEM's have specific standards for their parts, which are made at a level that the mass market aftermarket dealers are not willing to pay for.  GM wants the part to test to ten years - three is fine for many aftermarket applications. 
Sep 7, 2014 2:18PM
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the best way to save on repairs,don't buy a GM,i have saved alot with Toyota 
Sep 3, 2014 2:28AM
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redfury -

Actually these are all very good common sense tips for the average car owner, and how much a new engine actually costs is total beside the point. Its interesting how you are so focused on that one little thing though, and on the fact that one of the contributors is a women. That really speaks volumes about what kind of a person you are. Perhaps if you could actually get any halfway decent looking women to give you the time of day you wouldn’t feel so threatened by them.

As for people working on their own cars I’m afraid that is simply not an option for the huge majority of them. I’ve been doing all my own repairs and modifications since the 70’s and even I sometimes find it overwhelming troubleshooting many of the cars made in the past 20 years. Computerized engine management systems get more and more complex everyday, and the truth is even professional mechanics have trouble keeping up with the tech. And despite all your big talk I have a feeling that you yourself wouldn’t have a clue as to how to troubleshoot a modern high-performance sports car.

Back to the list though the author is right that drivers should become more aware of sounds and smells. Everyone should learn to be able to easily identify and distinguish such smells as, coolant, motor oil, gear oil (really stinky), ATF, burning clutch or brake pads, and burning insulation on wiring.

I’m not sure I agree that everyone should buy an engine code checker though because most people won’t know what to do with the information anyway.

Also people should know that if a red check light comes on (not the yellow) indicating the engine oil is low it doesn’t mean have it checked out at your earliest convenience. It means pull over immediately and put some oil in. And if the oil is not low then it means either your oil pump is bad or the filter is clogged up. Or maybe the sensor is bad. Either way, don’t drive it until it’s fixed. A friend of mine had his engine ruined in this way when the person he loaned it to ignored the oil light.

Sep 7, 2014 7:32PM
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thats right go to Auto Zone and have diagnos your check engine light . they will sell you lots of parts to try and fix it. had a customer spend almost 700.00 trying to repair the check engine light.I tested the pmc, diagnosed the code and install a peice of vacuum line  and then got chewed out for being a thief  for a 75.00 charge. go and fix your own car it is your money
Sep 7, 2014 7:03PM
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Or just buy a car form before 1980 and you can fix it yourself.
Sep 7, 2014 12:15PM
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The person who is capable of doing their own repairs can save money.  I can't do my own repairs so an honest mechanic with the ability to make repairs and prevent new problems serves me best.  Now tell me how to find that mechanic with a process that doesn't involve trial and error and I'' be grateful. This article tends to trivialize many topics. What might happen to repair costs if full service gas stations returned?  The places  where checking fluid levels and tire pressure was offered with a fill-up? After finding two locations with "out of order" signs on their air machines last week, I began to wonder.
Sep 7, 2014 11:07AM
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Basic advice. Most of today's newer cars are good with the 30,60,90,120K type of maintenance, but the oil, fluids, filters, tires, etc. need to be checked a lot more often. It helps if you like working on cars. I've worked on my own vehicles for decades, and saved a ton of $$$$$ in labor costs. That way I don't feel bad about buying the better parts and staying away from the cheap aftermarkets. As far as a good mechanic, they're out there, it just takes some homework.
Sep 7, 2014 10:47AM
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If your mechanically inclined you can save a ton of money by purchasing your parts over the internet and doing the work yourself. Stay away from dealerships when purchasing parts as they really rip you off. Car MD, if you have one will identify the check engine light problem for you. If you don't have Car MD, Auto Zone will diagnose the problem for you for free. Some one on You Tube will usually have a video posted showing you the easiest and cheapest way to go about solving your problem.
Sep 7, 2014 11:56AM
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Here's one many don't think about. For years I've been using our community college auto shop.

All they charge me is for parts. Now there's a savings and it's a win, win for everyone.

You may need to leave your car for a couple of days for the class subject mater and or hands on session is scheduled. I've even rented a car for a few days and still came out ahead.

Sep 7, 2014 1:30PM
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Either learn how to fix it yourself or learn how to pay someone a lot of money to do it for you.
Sep 7, 2014 12:15PM
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With the exception of regular oil changes and tire rotations, most people cannot be bothered to learn a thing or two about how to properly maintain a car.  I'm not saying you have to be a car geek to keep up with the maintenance, but most of these tips won't be heeded by most car owners.  

It also bugs me when people complain (and then procrastinate) about required maintenance like a timing belt/chain replacement and are suddenly shocked when they have to fork over $300-$500.  A car isn't going to maintain itself and this apparent nuisance is going to snowball into an automotive money pit because the prolonged neglect will contribute to a catastrophic mechanical breakdown. 
Sep 7, 2014 12:10PM
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Tip #4? Good luck on that one. They are out there, but very few and far between. Welcome to King Barry Husseins new "fundamentally changed" United States of Greed.
Sep 7, 2014 9:29PM
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'Aftermarket parts can be just as good, if not better, than original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts.'
They can?  Not in my experience.  While they  might come with a 'lifetime' warranty,  the labor is not included  On a lot of parts,  there goes the ballgame: $100 part,  $400 labor................every 5 years.


Sep 7, 2014 11:38PM
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When people learn to take care of their own finances with something simple like saving some $, ONLY THEN we can move onto the next step of taking care of your own car.
Sep 8, 2014 2:50AM
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Start by selling your car. Move closer to work. Take public transportation, buy a scooter, a bicycle, or walk. Think of how much money you could save. Live conservative!!
Sep 8, 2014 1:17AM
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So you want us to check the timing belt twice?
Sep 8, 2014 12:38AM
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I agree on most, oil changes are according to MANUFACTURERS recommended intervals, as far a trusted mechanic, that's is like when people trusted Maddoff, he made off with a lot of money, good conscious mechanic are too few and far between, as far as parts, buyers beware, there is so many Chinese OEM ( OEM is an actual brand made in China, check Autozone and see), which only last 3-6 month, I have started again to use originals directly from manufacturers, I got tire of replacing lifetime brake pads 3-4 times a year.
Repairpal is a great service to help you with pricing, remember to ask for your old parts even if you do not know what it is, that ensures shops do replace part they recommended.
I was a tech for 30 years and I have seen all the scams underhanded  jealous pre-madonnas om the industry and I am glad I am out at this time.
Sep 8, 2014 12:32AM
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I agree on most, oil changes are according to MANUFACTURERS recommended intervals, as far a trusted mechanic, that's is like when people trusted Maddoff, he made off with a lot of money, good conscious mechanic are too few and far between, as far as parts, buyers beware, there is so many Chinese OEM ( OEM is an actual brand made in China, check Autozone and see), which only last 3-6 month, I have started again to use originals directly from manufacturers, I got tire of replacing lifetime brake pads 3-4 times a year.
Repairpal is a great service to help you with pricing, remember to ask for your old parts even if you do not know what it is, that ensures shops do replace part they recommended.
I was a tech for 30 years and I have seen all the scams underhanded  jealous pre-madonnas om the industry and I am glad I am out at this time.
Sep 7, 2014 8:20AM
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A number of companies make parts designed to function the same, or in some cases even better than the original.

That is not always true. These are a dozen companies doing this manufacturing work. Unless you do some research you will be replacing that part again in  year or so. Even though they make a part that fits or is specifically for that particular car or Engine. The part is not specifically engineered for the engine. You want a Factory Part cheaper? Parts Stores can get them, they have to order them so be prepared to with 3-4 days. Check more than one store, you will pay more than for the replacement part but much cheaper than a Dealer Ordered Part  Also some replacement Parts companies do make parts that are very close to the factory spec. This takes some researching to find out which company is making the best part for whatever car.

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