Five Tips To Save Money On Vehicle Repairs

You don't live in the mountains of Nepal. 

You don't levitate to work every morning.



You live in the industrialized world of the 21st century. Going places means consuming fossil fuels (even if you have a Chevy Volt). And with that statement, let me assure you I am not about to whine about environmental issues. I'm okay with burning fossil fuels--they're an efficient energy source.

But I digress. My point is we all drive vehicles. Perhaps some of you are athletic and trendy enough to ride your bike to work. I envy you. That's great.

For the 99.99% who don't bike to work, you drive a vehicle that, one way or another, becomes a veritable black hole for money. It sucks money mercilessly and is aided by dealerships and not-so-honest mechanics that bend the truth to coerce you to release more cash.

I'm not saying all mechanics are crooked. Some are ignorant. Some are lazy. Some are all of the above. Then there are some that are fantastically talented and honest individuals. If you have a mechanic like that, you are fortunate.

I am not a mechanic. I have taken my vehicles to mechanics on several occasions; but let me be clear--I avoid them as much as possible. They are cash termites. 

Even the good ones have to charge a finger and a big toe for services because their overhead is so high. Garages and fancy diagnostic equipment are not cheap.

So what do I do? 

Here are five things I've done to save money when repairing my vehicles.

1. Research

Knowledge is always the greatest tool. Before you even think about touching a vehicle, talk to someone who knows more than you or read something written by someone who knows more than you.

For each vehicle I've owned, I have purchased a Haynes Repair Manual. Depending on if you buy it new or used, you can pick one up for $15-30. Money well spent!



As a supplement to your Haynes manual, you can also Google your car problem. Just say "2009 GMC Sierra knocking sound" and hit "Enter." The internet is full of good info if you look for it.

If you have a service engine ("Check Engine") light on in the vehicle, and IF the vehicle can be driven safely, take it up to Auto Zone or another auto parts store and ask them to read the code for you. Many stores will plug in a code reader for free and tell you why the light is on. That will help you immensely on your journey to find the problem. Usually the store employee can look up the code right there and tell you what you need (because they want you to buy it from them). Check internet prices before you make that purchase.

After you've done your detective work, determine if you are capable of fixing it yourself. Seriously, some stuff is easy enough for ANYONE. Don't pay someone $100/hour to replace light bulbs!

Recently I replaced a part on the interior of my vehicle. It required one tool--a vice grip. And that was only because I couldn't fit my fingers in the space where the part was. Many repairs are easier than you think.

After researching, if you decide you can do it, start the journey of DIY vehicle repair/maintenance. 

2. Compare prices.

Call a mechanic and get a quote on fixing your problem. After completing #1, you should know what the problem is. If not, you can pay the mechanic a small fee to inspect the vehicle. Just be warned--they are NOT always right! And remember, nobody cares more about your money than you.

After getting some quotes, compare those prices to the price of the part by itself. The difference between those prices is what the shop is getting paid.

It is very easy to find vehicle parts these days. Go to an auto parts website (Auto Zone, Advanced Auto Parts, O'Reilly's Auto Parts, etc.), Amazon.com, or E-bay.com. These sites all have databases to match parts to your specific vehicle. 


Amazon.com tells you if a part fits your vehicle.

If you do this, you need to know what type of car you have. It's not good enough to say "Toyota." You need to know the year, the model, the body style, and the engine type. Those can all be found in the User's Manual that came with your car.

As an example, I replaced a heater blower motor transistor recently that would have cost over $200 to replace in a shop. I purchased the part on E-bay for $86 and installed it in fifteen minutes. I saved $114 in 0.25 hours. That's like $400+/hour. That's decent money.

Not every project is so easy. Sometimes you only make $50-60/hour, but that's still okay with me--for a Saturday.

3. Use the internet.

I already mentioned Google, Amazon, and E-bay for price comparison, but the internet has more than merchants.

You can learn a lot from people on the internet. Yes, some are idiots too, but you can usually tell who knows what they're talking about by how other people respond to their advice! 

Mechanics mean well (I hope), but they make mistakes and rush past details just like you. You need to check what they say against the quorum of the internet--what do other people say?

We recently purchased a vehicle, and I wanted to ensure all the replaceable filters were, well, replaced. I wanted a fresh start. I searched for "transmission filter replacement" and had a hard time finding anything. When I did find the part, I couldn't locate an obvious record of how to replace it. So I turned to the internet (car forums). 

If you word your search queries well, it doesn't take long to find what you want. Within a few minutes I was reading a thread about a guy who had replaced this filter, and he gave very nice instructions on how to do it. He also noted that the dealership he normally took his car to did not tell him about this filter--they didn't know it was there! How can you replace something you're unaware of? To be fair though, I can see why they missed it. It is hidden under hoses and lines and all sorts of other stuff. It's not easy to find, and if I hadn't gone to the internet for help, I would have had no idea where it was or how to access it. And what's worse, this filter was NOT on the regular maintenance schedule from the vehicle manufacturer! (NOTE: Replacing this filter was NOT mentioned in the Haynes Repair Manual I referred to in #1 either.)

4. Borrow tools.



I do not have a mechanic's repertoire of tools. You don't need it. You need basic stuff like wrenches and sockets. You need pliers and screwdrivers, but you should have that stuff anyway!

Most auto parts stores will loan tools. You make a deposit, use the tool, return the tool, and get your money back! Done.

If you have a friend that is a mechanical person, ask them if they have the tool you need. 

In the worst case scenario (which has happened to me), purchase the tool and then sell it on E-bay or Craigslist when you're done using it--unless of course you will need it again.

5. Miscellaneous Tips 



A. Use old T-shirts as mechanic rags instead of buying fancy shop towels.

B. Dispose of old fluids properly. If you drain fluids from your vehicle (engine oil, transmission fluid, etc.), you can bring those fluids to most auto parts stores. They will let you dispose of the fluids there for free. This is the responsible thing to do. Don't put oil in the garbage! Oil should get recycled.

C. Pay attention to your vehicle. Every time you drive your vehicle, it is communicating with you about possible problems. The way it turns (or doesn't). The shake in the steering wheel. The rough idle. The difficulty accelerating. The clunk noise from the rear end. All these are messages from your vehicle that you need to start looking. Don't wait for the wheel to fall off or the engine to completely fail! Be proactive and save lots of money.

D. Ask for mechanic referrals. The best way to find a mechanic is to ask people. You can try Angie's List if you want, but that costs money. Find somebody smart and ask them where they take their vehicles.

E. Let there be light! If you try to work on your vehicle without a good light source, you will fail or quit. Get a nice bright, flexible light to point into your work space.

F. Wear latex or nitrile gloves. Many automotive fluids and lubricants are toxic and even carcinogenic.

G. Use magnets. Magnets are your friend. I have a magnetic bowl for holding bolts, screws, and other small metal pieces. It helps me keep track of that stuff. I also have a telescoping magnet that allows me to pick up a metal object that has fallen down in the engine compartment or other small crevice. That $3 tool has saved me many, many times!

Image credits:
Levitating guy image from http://www.unexplained-mysteries.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=252442
Haynes repair manual image from http://www.outdoorpros.com/Prod/Haynes-42013-Honda-Accord-Haynes-Repair-Manual-covering-all-models-from-1994-thru-1997/52063/Cat/1425
Car tools image from http://carservicelabrador.com.au/10-important-things-to-keep-in-your-car/
Car repair cartoon from http://attackgooglepanda.blogspot.com/2012/05/you-can-do-yourself-of-5-auto-repair.html

62 comments:

  1. I admire the valuable information you offer in all your articles.Good thanks.

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  2. After own a vehicle we should spend money on its maintenance and repair system therefore we should take very good care of our vehicle and do regular checkup to skip problems. Here we can get some tips on how to save money on vehicle repair and I hope while following these tips we are able to save some penny from our annual budget.

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  3. Thanks Daniel for your tips to save some money. I agree, a market research is really important before buying a car. Not only this one but all the other 4 points are also important to take care of. Comparing price is also needed. This article is an overall guide for someone going to buy a car. Thanks for sharing such valuable info. I would like to add here something that a person should also make an research on the servicing of different brands and should make sure that is affordable or not. It is always recommended to choose the best servicing center for your vehicle for a long life of your car. Sprinter service Portland, OR.

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  4. I'm not good at repairing vehicle but luckily I have my bother who is good at this, so I rarely have a mechanic repaired my motorbike, thanks for your useful tips for saving money on vehicle.

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  5. Very helpful for article for us. Every car owner must know about their car repair. The repair shop should give you a written estimate and ask you to sign an authorization for the repair.

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