How to Save Hundreds of Dollars
on Car Repairs and Maintenance
By Steve Gillman - 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.
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
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
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 TPMSMadeSimple.com. 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
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
The car experts at Edmunds.com recommend Yelp.com 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
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:
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 Valpak.com 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.