It’s hard to describe the excitement you feel driving a brand new car home from the dealership. You might even get the same feeling from negotiating a great deal on a new, used car.
For better or worse, car ownership is an essential aspect of living in America for most people.
All is good with car ownership until it's time to worry about (and pay for) car repairs and maintenance.
As eager as you were to get your new car, you aren’t looking forward to spending money on repair and maintenance costs.
You certainly understand your vehicle is going to need oil changes, tune-ups, brakes, and tires. But that doesn't mean you are looking forward to paying those costs.
Likewise, you won't get much enjoyment from covering costs associated with engine failures and unexpected problems that might transpire.
Knowing you will eventually be facing maintenance and repair costs on your car, the best thing you can do is try to find ways to mediate the costs you’ll incur. The really good news is there are many ways you can save money on car upkeep costs.
Keeping a Handle on Car Costs
Here are 10 of the most practical ways you can save money on car repairs and maintenance.
1) Read Your Vehicle Owner's Manual
First and foremost, you need to understand the power of the book you should have sitting in your glove compartment. Two essential kinds of information in your owner's manual can lead to significant cost savings related to maintenance.
- There's well-documented information provided regarding the proper ways to use and maintain the vehicle. Attention to these details should minimize the need for repairs and maintenance.
- The manual includes details about making minor repairs without having to hire someone to do it for you. Taking preventive measures and combining what you read in your owner’s manual with a few YouTube videos can save you money.
2) Preventative Maintenance
Repairs are often more costly than standard maintenance costs. Via your owner's manual, the car manufacturer recommends you do things like check and change your oil regularly, check tire air pressure, and use certain kinds of fuel.
Follow the guidelines established by the car manufacturer. As the saying goes. “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
3) Pay Attention to Warning Lights
Car manufacturers install an electronic warning system to alert you to potential problems with your vehicle. These warning lights indicate things like your car running low on fluids (oil, brake fluid, fuel). Or possible malfunctions within the engine block.
You should take all of these warning signs seriously. Early intervention is the best way to keep a small, inexpensive fix from becoming a big expensive problem.
4) Find a Reliable Mechanic
Almost all car manufacturers will tell you it's best to have all repairs and maintenance performed at a dealership by a certified (car manufacturer) mechanic.
While that might make sense for specific problems (especially if your car is under warranty), you have to remember there's a huge profit motive at work.
Dealership service departments are notorious for being much more expensive than independent mechanics. A far better financial option would be to do a little research and find an independent mechanic holding the same certification.
If you follow up with referrals from family, friends or co-workers, you can likely locate a reliable mechanic who is going to be able to address many of your car’s maintenance and repair needs for a lower cost.
5) Research Prices
Some independent mechanics may overcharge customers who know little about the car repair/maintenance industry. Before you choose a garage and mechanic, make a few inquiries about pricing for the work you need to be completed.
Once you have a reasonable price-point, you'll be in a position to make sure you're paying a fair market price. It also doesn't hurt to try to negotiate a little to save money.
6) Avoid Duplicate Labor Costs
Labor is a significant portion of major car repairs and maintenance. If you have to pay your mechanic to perform a task, you might be able to get them to address other concerns at the same time.
If your mechanic needs to disassemble part of the engine to work on one problem, it might present an opportunity to have them also take care of a maintenance item in the same proximity.
The money you will save by having them only take apart the engine once for multiple repairs and maintenance could be significant.
7) Buy Discount Parts
In all likelihood, your mechanic is not going to have the time to make price comparisons on parts for your car. A quick Internet search could be worth your time and effort in locating discount prices on the parts.
All you need from your mechanic is an accurate list of the parts/serial numbers you need to locate and their agreement to use what you find.
There's no need for you ever to pay full retail on parts. Your research should include department stores like Walmart and retail and online sites including Autozone and Amazon.
8) Save on Body Maintenance
When it comes to maintaining the value of your car, the outside is just as important as the engine and interior. Dents, dings, and rust can lower the value of your vehicle.
The good news is you don't need an expensive body shop to handle minor problems like dents and dings. Instead, you should seek out someone who specializes in only those kinds of body repairs. The savings could be significant.
While the advice about rustproofing your car can vary, even doing a few simple things like washing the salt off your car in the winter can make a difference in the amount of corrosion that occurs.
9) Address Potential Problems While Under Warranty
You need to educate yourself about the warranties you have covering your vehicle (and extended warranties you are considering purchasing.)
As each warranty closes in on the expiration date, you might want to have a certified mechanic look over the applicable items and see if anything needs replacement while it's under warranty.
10) Do It Yourself
Choosing to DIY is the ultimate way to save money on car repairs and maintenance. Understandably, you might feel uncomfortable about getting under the hood and performing specific tasks on your own.
If you need the proper motivation, the amount of money you save on labor costs can be significant.
No one is expecting to take your engine apart to replace parts on your own. As a matter of fact, don't do that when something is covered by a warranty. Once your warranties have expired, you'll have one less reason not to do the work yourself.
If you don't feel mechanically inclined, you might be able to get a neighbor to help for the cost of a beer or two.
At the absolute least, you should be able to attempt minor tasks like oil changes, checking fluid levels and air pressure in your tires, on your own.
Do what you (safely) can and save where you can.
Final Thoughts On Saving on Car Maintenance
While it may seem like the tasks related to car maintenance are almost another part-time job, once you tackle them with one car and find a trusted mechanic – it’ll be time well spent.
And ladies, this isn’t a job for the guys in your life. Your dad, brother, or male cousin, neighbor, or friend isn’t the only one who should take on car-related tasks.
If you don’t have any interest or time right now to devote to preventive car maintenance or managing car repairs, you might want to consider looking at roadside assistance programs like AAA too.
While it isn’t a substitute for educating yourself about one of your biggest purchases, being able to call for help will give you peace of mind.
If your car battery dies or if that warning light you’ve ignored for a few weeks becomes a big problem, you have some assurance you’ll get help. And your vehicle will get to a qualified mechanic for repairs.
Vicki and Amy are authors of Estate Planning 101 – a Crash Course in Planning for the Unexpected -coming soon from Adams Media.