Sometimes a little knowledge can save you big

Auto Repairs for Less

by Shaunna Privratsky

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Next to your home, your automobile is probably your biggest investment. You rely on it for transportation to work, school, the grocery store and even the soccer field. Most of us use our vehicle every day and log thousands of miles a year.

Besides the gas we pour into it, autos need regular maintenance and the occasional repair. Yet who doesn't dread the routine oil change that morphs into a $600 bill? Or that funny knocking sound under the hood? What about the glaring red check-engine light flashing on at the most inopportune moment?

Take the sting out of auto repairs and maintenance by saving money every time you pull into the shop. Here are some easy ways to keep your money in your wallet, even if you can't tell a screwdriver from that shiny socket-thingy with the twisty handle.

At the first sign of trouble, go to This is a website designed with the novice auto mechanic in mind, kind of a car repair for dummies. You put in the symptoms, the make, model and year of your auto, and you get an accurate estimate of what the repair should cost. If the shop you go to is way off the mark, show them the estimates.

This is especially helpful for people who aren't familiar with the engine or how much repairs should cost. At the very least, it will prevent the shop from ripping you off.

For a list of recalls or necessary repairs for your vehicle, go to If something is listed, the repairs will be free. This is also prudent for safety, so check periodically to stay up to date.

Another way to protect yourself is to study your vehicle's manual. It lists guidelines on routine maintenance and replacements. It gives you a good idea when a major job is due, like replacing the tires after 20,000 miles or the brakes when they wear down to 1/32".

Want to pay off your car faster? Consider refinancing into a lower auto rate.

The Internet is a great place to find discounts and coupons. If you frequent the same shop, sign up for their mailing list for specials, coupons and reminders. You can also search your area for oil change specials, or a specific repair job.

The phone book is another great source for coupons. With up to six new phone books a year, all it takes is a glance at the coupon index to see if you can score a great bargain. Also, keep those mailbox marketing coupons that come in the mail, even if it is not from the shop you normally go to. Why?

At my last auto shop visit, I discovered that they will price match any competitor's ad. Instead of $33.99 for a regular oil change on my mini van, I paid $16.95. They even threw in a free tire rotation, which is normally $20 extra. All I did was bring in a coupon from a station down the street offering a "spring tune up special."

A common way to save is to check with your local colleges and high school shop department. Often, you can get your car fixed for free, since the students need experience.

Are you paying too much for auto insurance?
Make sure you're getting the lowest rate.

You can also educate yourself on the basics of car maintenance. With a standard oil change running over $30 for most vehicles, it makes plenty of sense to do it yourself. Check with your local waste disposal department and dispose of the used oil properly.

Also learn how to check the air pressure on your tires. An under-inflated tire can cost you up to 10% of your gas mileage. The correct pressure is printed on the inside of the driver's door, and you can pick up a pressure gauge for less than $3 almost anywhere. Most gas stations still offer free pressurized air, or you can buy an air tank that runs off your vehicle's power outlets or electricity.

Proper maintenance and prompt repair when a problem occurs will keep your vehicle tuned up and running reliably. Protect your investment and your wallet by saving on auto repairs.

Reviewed August 2017

Take the Next Step:

  • Discover more smart ways to save on auto maintenance and repairs by visiting the auto section of the Dollar Stretcher Library.
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