There’s nothing like an unexpected car repair to throw a wrench into your finances.
Car trouble is never planned, often expensive and always seems to happen at the worst possible time.
And it’s not an expense you can simply opt out of, the way you might trim a fancy dinner from your budget. Indeed, it can even cost missed time from work if you’re stuck sitting in a repair shop or have no other transportation.
Here are 10 ways to bring down costs the next time car trouble rears its ugly head gasket.
1. Comparison shop. You research the best prices when buying a pair of sneakers or a new refrigerator – why wouldn’t you do the same for car repairs? Once you’ve got your original estimate, call around and ask several other shops what they will charge for the same repair.
Web sites such as RepairPal.com and AutoMD.com list the going rate for common repairs in your zip code along with a breakdown of the cost of parts and labor.
2. Get a second opinion. Have a second or third mechanic check out the problem without revealing what conclusions the other mechanics came to. You’ll avoid spending money on a fix that doesn’t address your problem.
3. Be proactive. Take care of small problems before they become big ones and stay on top of your car’s preventive maintenance schedule.
4. Do some things yourself. Learning how to do simple maintenance and repairs is an excellent investment. Simple things like changing the oil or the air filter, replacing spark plugs and brakes is completely doable and can save a fortune over time. Get step-by-step tutorials on YouTube (try the Expert Village channel) and through DIY apps such as iFixIt Repair Manual and the AutoZone app, both of which are free.
The most manageable car repairs are fixing exterior coolant leaks and replacing brake pads, batteries, alternators, and worn or broken drive belts, according to Lifehacker.com.
5. Use coupon codes. Auto parts stores regularly offer coupon codes, but many people don’t think to search for them. A recent search found codes offering 40 percent off a purchase of $40 or more, $50 off a purchase of $110 or more and 30 percent off the entire order.
6. Consider a garage or independent mechanic willing to let you buy your own parts. Part sales are a big piece of how repair shops make their living. Bringing your own parts helps you avoid paying the extra markup.
Just be aware that if you do find a garage willing to let you bring outside parts, it probably won’t guarantee its work, since it can’t be held liable for problems with outside parts. You’ll also be on the hook for double labor if they have to remove a defective part and start over.
7. Buy parts online. Online shoppers saved from 22 percent to 73 percent off the manufacturer’s suggested retail price on the top 10 most purchased car parts, according to retailer AutoPartsWarehouse.com. Many online part stores offer free shipping above a certain dollar amount, even on heavy items like radiators.
8. Order online even if you need the part that day. If you use an in-store pickup option, you can order a part online and some stores will have it ready at the store within an hour.
That way you can have your part right away but still take advantage of coupon codes and not have to pay shipping.
9. Consult friends who know cars. These are the folks who can steer you in the right direction when your car starts making a funny noise, can tell you if your mechanic is being honest and spare you all manner of misery when disaster strikes.
Just don’t expect them to work on your car for peanuts (though a close friend might) and don’t be that guy who only calls when your car breaks down.
10. Pamper your mechanic. If you find a good, honest mechanic who knows what they’re doing, treat them well. They’re worth more than their weight in gold.