Tricks and Tips for Cheaper Car Repairs

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The automobile. A marvel of human innovation and engineering, harnessing the immense power of fire to propel us at speeds once thought locked away to the realms of myth.
Until it breaks down.
Then things get expensive. Car parts and repairs range from “pricey” to “What do they make these headlights out of? Diamonds?!”
And given that you likely rely on that car to get to work, you might feel forced to turn to something bad, like a payday loan, to get your vital repairs. That’s why we’ve compiled some advice to turn those repairs, into FREEpairs (*please don’t take this pun literally, these tips will make the repairs cheaper but not free).

Perform regular maintenance yourself. 

Cars and humans are pretty similar. Both have an exterior and an interior, for example. For a much better example, regular maintenance on both cars and humans can prevent more expensive issues down the line. Richard Reina, product training director at CARiD.com (@CARiD_com), offers these tips to keep your car running properly:

Changing your battery. This may seem trivial, but it is one of the simplest things you can do to avoid the stress and unforeseen expenses of your car breaking down far from home. As a preventative measure, a battery should be changed every four years. You can find reasonably priced batteries at buyer’s club type stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club and replace them yourself with a basic wrench set. Just be sure to always remove the NEGATIVE cable first from the old battery and replace it last on the new battery. This prevents short-circuiting.

“Oil changes. There is a common misconception when it comes to how often you need to change your oil, especially in newer cars. Many newer vehicles can go 10,000 miles between changes, as opposed to the old “every 3,000 miles” rule. Changing oil yourself is cheaper and, in many cases, better for your car. Oil change chain stores will sometimes use the same, low-grade oil in every car which can be bad for your engine. Purchasing your own oil and changing it yourself ensures that you are buying the best quality and correct viscosity for your vehicle.

 “Changing your brake pads. This is another bit of maintenance which is easier than many people are led to believe. Mechanics and specialty shops will charge a lot for this service since most drivers think it is very difficult. However, it can be performed easily and inexpensively. Brake pads cost between $20 and $40 depending on your car, and you only need a few simple tools: basic wrenches, a wheel lug wrench, pliers, and a jack/jack stand. Brake pads should be changed between 30,000 and 50,000 miles, depending on the make of your car and your driving style/conditions. It is important to check your brake pad thickness every 10,000 miles – thickness should never drop below 3-5 mm (a new brake pad is 10 mm thick) to prevent “metal to metal” contact and damage to rotors.

“Basic tune-up. Today’s engines are managed by tons of electronic controls and require little adjustment compared to cars of the past. A repair shop which offers a costly ‘full tune-up’ of your modern car is often not worth the price. Cars today require maintenance based on mileage and individual manufacturer recommendations. Repair shops and dealers will try to service your car more frequently than necessary to get more money. Modern ‘tune-ups’ consist of work that can easily be done by the owner: oil change, air and oil filter changes, fluid checks and spark plug change, if necessary. Spark plugs today are designed to last 100,000 miles so this isn’t a frequent requirement.

 “Check your AC. Many mechanics will try to convince you that you need expensive tests and maintenance every summer. However, if your AC is blowing cold air, it is likely fine. Sometimes, in older cars, fixing a problem with the AC is as simple as replacing the heater valve. If this and or simple “top off” of the AC refrigerant are not doing the trick, ask your mechanic for a test using pressure gauges, this will reveal the real problem and avoid the cost of replacing unnecessary parts.”

It might seem intimidating to do all of this maintenance on your own, so Reina recommends you ease into it: “Finally, with DIY maintenance, it’s all about the driver’s comfort level. You can gain comfort performing simple maintenance with time and experience. Try watching how-to videos or enlisting the help of knowledgeable friends. And always remember to follow your specific manufacturer’s recommendations and exercise caution when working with your car.”

Take care of your windshield.

Your windshield is the face your car shows to the whole world. But keeping it looking nice is about more than looking pretty. Like other forms of maintenance, a relatively cheap windshield fix now can save you costlier repairs down the line.

“Make sure to fix windshield chips before the cold weather season,” Larry Patterson, a Glass Doctor (@GlassDoctor1) franchisee in Dallas, told us. “Once you start using your defroster, the chips will begin to crack beyond repair.” He also suggests you “make sure your garage is cleared out so that you can park your car inside during hail season.”

The experts at Glass Doctor also point out that you might be able to get your insurance company to waive the deductible if you catch windshield chips early enough to have them repaired, rather than replaced, since that’s the cheaper option.

Buy new tires online.

Did you know you can find cheaper replacement tires online and have them delivered to a mechanic to attach to your car? That’s what Kevin Burke, VP of marketing for SimpleTire.com (@SimpleTire), told us. More specifically, he said: “A great way to save money is by buying tires online. Tires are an expensive purchase and local dealers can only stock a limited quantity and variety.”

Don’t always go for the cheapest option!

Wait, how can choosing a more expensive mechanic get you cheaper repairs? Because if you keep having to get cheap, ineffective repairs over and over again, that’s going to quickly become more expensive than getting one slightly pricier repair that fixes the problem for real.

Jill Trotta (@RepairPal_Jill), director of the automotive group at RepairPal (@RepairPal), had this to say: “When repairing your vehicle, the most important thing to focus on is quality. The best way to save lots of money is to find a quality shop with highly trained technicians. They will be able to accurately diagnose your vehicle and repair it right the first time; this is the best way to avoid paying for unnecessary repairs. If you call around to different shops to get a quote, you’ll often find that the shop that quotes the lowest price, in the end, might not end up to be the cheapest in the end.” She suggests looking to Repairpal.com to find high-quality and trustworthy shops. Also, check out our post on how to not get ripped off by mechanics.

Of course, car repairs can come out of nowhere, so you might not have the money saved up for the pricier, but more effective, mechanic. But it’s worth having some savings set aside so that you can afford what might be the cheaper option in the long run, even if it’s pricier right now. Be sure to check online reviews when finding your mechanic. If you do need a loan to get your repairs and your credit score isn’t great, consider an installment loan, rather than a payday loan, which can trap you into a dangerous cycle of debt.


About the Contributors

Kevin Burke is Vice President of Marketing & eCommerce for SimpleTire.com. He strives to understand customer needs, develop marketing programs that engage tire shoppers and create a world-class online shopping experience. He believes that customer-centric innovation mixed with creativity produce the best results for businesses and their customers. Kevin is an experienced entrepreneur having started and sold businesses, as well as being a member of tech startups. He’s also had the opportunity to work closely with premier brands such as Disney, P&G, eHarmony, Meridian Health, Boiron, EA, Aol and others. Kevin holds a BS in Business Marketing & Information Systems from the University of Delaware.

Larry Patterson is the owner of Glass Doctor in Dallas, Texas. Glass Doctor is a global franchise company providing home and auto glass repair, maintenance and installation. Larry has been a franchisee/business owner of Glass Doctor since 2003, served on the company’s leadership council and was named Franchisee of the Year in 2011.

Richard Reina is the Product Training Director at CARiD.com and a life-long car enthusiast.

Jill Trotta is an automotive professional with over 25 years of professional experience. ASE Certified technician and consultant. She is currently working on the Automotive Professional Team at RepairPal. They do the hard work of identifying technically qualified, customer friendly auto shops and presenting them to consumers. They are working to develop transparency in the Automotive Industry. They also have a very accurate automotive repair price estimator that is available to shops and consumers.