How to Save Hundreds of Dollars
on Car Repairs and Maintenance

By - December 30, 2014

Your car is probably one of the biggest expenses in your life. Maintenance seems to get ever more expensive, and repairs bills come at the worst times. Fortunately there are ways to save hundreds of dollars on car repairs and maintenance. Here are six of them.

Flickr photo by Lee Emmons

1. Do Maintenance by the Numbers

The old saying, "A stitch in time saves nine," can make sense. Replacing brake pads before you destroy the drums or rotors, for example, saves money and keeps you safe. But if twelve stitches in time save nine you're overdoing it. In other words, when safety is not an issue you should balance the cost of maintenance against the cost of not doing it.

For example, consider the 3,000-mile-oil-change myth created by (no surprise) the oil change industry. Car makers recommend changing the oil less frequently. If your oil is supposed to be changed every 6,000 miles and you follow that manufacturer's guideline instead of what the oil change industry promotes, you'll cut your cost of oil changes in half. It's about the numbers -- and common sense. After all, an oil change every week might make a car last a bit longer, but you'll spend more than you could possibly save.

Kelley Blue Book suggests that there are some other maintenance jobs you can delay to save money. For example, despite your mechanic's recommendation that you replace belts and hoses after 50,000 miles, they'll often last over 100,000 miles. You run the slight risk of someday sitting on the side of the road with a busted belt, but they say "... you'll save hundreds of dollars by electing to replace them every six or eight years instead of every four." They also say a bit of muffler tape can be used to put off getting an expensive exhaust repair.

2. Don't Repair Everything

I'm an experienced auto-repair procrastinator, and I figure the habit has saved me at least five or ten thousand dollars over the years. Again, it's important to distinguish between problems that need to be addressed for safety reasons versus those that are just about normal function. The cost of the latter have to weighed against the cost of waiting or doing nothing.

For example, I've never fixed an electric lock any of the ten times they've died in the many cars I've owned. Cost Helper says it runs $50 to $100 for this repair, so I've saved $500 to $1,000. Yes it's inconvenient to manually lock doors, but the repairs aren't worth the money or the time, at least for me.

My tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) has messed up in two cars I've owned. A little light shows an underinflated tire. The tire pressure is fine. A mechanic said it would cost $50 to reset the system, but the last time I had it done it malfunctioned again a few weeks later. If the sensors are bad it costs $50 to $100 to replace each one, according to I'll just check the pressure myself, thank you. But do check that tire pressure if you're going to ignore the TPMS -- it's a matter of safety and gas savings.

When it comes to repairs for dings and dents you'll have to decide how much it is worth to you to have a better-looking car, or how much the repairs will increase resale value. Repairing a tiny ding for $500 probably won't boost the resale value by that much, so if it doesn't bother you just leave it alone.

3. Get a Second Opinion

In one year I had four mechanics diagnose four different problems with my car, ranging from bad bearings to alignment problems. In every case I went to another mechanic and was told the first one was wrong. I never fixed a thing before eventually selling the car. Those second opinions saved me at least a thousand dollars. The experts are often wrong, so ask another mechanic before doing major repairs.

4. Find a Reputable Mechanic

A good mechanic can save you money by only doing what's necessary and by offering you cheaper options. The common advice is to ask friends for a recommendation, but I'm skeptical. My friends wouldn't know if the mechanic is doing what needs to be done, and at a fair price, or if he's just a nice guy. Instead, I check reviews online.

The car experts at recommend because of the quantity of reviews and the easy-to-use website. They say that in their experience Angie's List doesn't have enough reviews. The numbers matter because a bad experience or two is possible anywhere and one or two false positive reviews might get posted on even a well-policed review site.

Edmunds has their own reviews for dealership repair shops.

It would be nice if you could just find one good mechanic and be done, but you'll have to go back to the reviews as problems arise, because not all mechanics do all things. For example, you might need a transmission specialist one time and a guy who does bodywork the next time.

5. Use Online Repair Estimators

If you have a rough estimate of what it should cost to fix a car problem, you're less likely to overpay. How do you get that estimate? Here are two car repair cost estimators to try:

Repair Pal

Auto MD

Enter the year, make and model of your car. The search functions are not great, since we all describe car problems differently. Instead, use the "browse repairs" button, or look over the lists of repairs provided to find the closest match.

6. Use Coupons

Most of the really good coupons for auto maintenance and repairs come in mailers or are found in local newspapers. When you get them check out the shops using online review sites.

You can find coupons online as well. For example, at you can enter your zip code and search "car repairs," or get more specific with searches for "oil changes" "tires" or whatever you're looking for. A quick search in my area yielded a variety of coupons ready to be printed out, including one for a free air conditioning checkup (something I need) plus 10% off any necessary repairs.

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