10 Ways to Save on Auto Repairs
So you get in your car in the morning to drive to work, and the engine doesn't start. It's the age-old sign of a bad day and a huge bill ahead. Repairs on the engine or transmission can cost thousands of dollars, and since only 24% of Americans have a six-month emergency savings fund (according to a recent Bankrate survey) for unexpected expenses such as auto repairs, MainStreet asked some experts to weigh in on how consumers can cut the cost of repairs and maintain their vehicles in good enough shape to save some trips to the repair shop.
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Brakes and Rotors
Over time, brakes and rotors are subject to tremendous wear and tear, and obviously your brakes must be in stellar working order at all times. To ensure your brake rotors run properly and prevent you from spending hundreds of dollars on new ones, consider the following tips from Mike Rabkin of From Car to Finish:
- If you feel a lot of vibration during braking (and not the rapid pulsation from anti-lock brakes during hard braking or braking on wet pavement), look into getting your brake rotors resurfaced (also called machining), assuming they have sufficient thickness left on them to do so.
- A common cause of rotor warpage is over-torquing or uneven torquing of the lug nuts that connect the tire to the wheel. Many experts recommend using a torque wrench to tighten lug nuts evenly when changing a wheel.
- Resurfacing rotors can also minimize brake squeal. Not doing so may increase the wear on brake pads and rotors, decreasing longevity and therefore the time between replacements.
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Check Engine Light
Chances are you've seen the "check engine" light appear on your dashboard at some point or another. First lesson: Don't panic! Dennis Madden, CEO of the Automatic Transmission Rebuilders Association, says this is not an emergency: "It indicates that the computer recognized a problem in one of its systems. Very often that problem is emissions related, but it probably isn’t something that’ll cause any real damage to your car or a safety issue for you. And the car won’t stop running all of a sudden."
Madden suggests calling your local repair shop to have the system checked: "If the light goes out, it probably means the problem is gone for now," he adds. "But the computer still may have stored a diagnostic trouble code that your technician can retrieve and diagnose."
Jennifer Funkhouser, CEO of CarCheckup, suggests the following easy (and free) solution to some indicator light causes:
"Check your gas cap – not only is it a frequently occurring problem, but it’s also the easiest fix.”
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You may not think of the air conditioning as a part of the car typically subject to glitches, but the experts at Express Oil Change warn consumers about the importance of maintaining the car's air conditioning system: "The most common cause of a malfunctioning air conditioning unit is a low level of refrigerant. This could be caused by a leak somewhere in the system. The drive belt, compressor and condenser should all be clean and in good condition in order to perform well and without any complications."
Additionally, the air conditioning system consumes a significant amount of gasoline. Since the national average for a gallon of gas is around $3.65 these days, it's definitely a wise idea to open the windows instead of using the air conditioning to save on gas.
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Tires, Tires, Tires
Tires typically get the most wear and tear of anything on your car. After all, the tires have direct contact with the road, potholes, rain, puddles and any other debris that may lie on the road. Maintaining your tires will save you a lot of money in the long run by not having to frequently replace them.
According to AutoWeek magazine Road Test Editor Natalie Neff, "Every month or so, take a look at your tires' treads – and not just one tire, but all of them. If one tire shows more wear than another, it could indicate a bigger problem with the car, like a bad alignment."
Neff also suggests checking for uneven wear along each tire's tread face: "If one side or other appears more worn, or the shoulders versus the center, it could point to tired suspension parts or poor inflation. It's also a good idea to have your tires inspected by a professional every so often, someone who can rotate them – swapping the fronts and rears or switching them side to side – to help ensure even wear at all four corners."
For information on tires and manufacturers, eBay Motors' recently launched tires section is a great resource.
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For those who do a lot of driving, oil changes will be needed more frequently to maintain the health of the car. Many times consumers will overlook the importance of having regular oil changes, but the experts at Express Oil Change offer this rule of thumb: "Follow the manufacturer's suggested oil change intervals … but times of service could vary depending on whether or not you are a normal or severe driver. If your vehicle is usually in stop-and-go city traffic, makes frequent trips under 10 miles, idles for long periods of time, carries a heavy load or operates in dusty, hot, cold or humid condition, maintenance is required in shorter intervals."
While oil changes every 3,000 miles was once the standard, some cars can go 7,500 miles under some circumstances.
Check the newspapers in your town as many local auto repair shops tend to offer coupons and specials for oil changes.
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Whenever you do need service, you risk being hit with a very hefty bill from the mechanic. But there's a strong possibility the repairs will be covered by your car's warranty. Know the ins and outs of your warranty and insurance plans.
For example, many tires come with a warranty. According to Edmunds.com Consumer Advice Associate Ron Montoya, "If a tire has worn out evenly across the tread well before its estimated mileage limit, it may qualify for replacement under the tread-life warranty. You must show proof of purchase and proof that the tires were rotated properly at the recommended intervals. In this situation, the manufacturer prorates the cost of the new tire based on the percentage of remaining tread on the old tire and the price of the replacement tire."
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Always find a trusted mechanic. Research the name of the mechanic and the business online to make sure previous customers recommend the mechanic's work. Use sites such as Angie's List for reviews to help find the right mechanic.
Visit RepairPal.com, a website to help estimate what your repair bill will be. If your mechanic is way over this estimate, find a new one!
Always ask to see an itemized list of all the parts that the mechanic will need to order beforehand, and don't be afraid to get a second opinion or shop around for a less expensive auto repair shop.
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Auto Repair iPhone Apps
When considering car repairs, just like the Apple commercials say, there's an app for that. Here are a few of our favorites:
- RepairPal: Auto Repair Expert. This free app allows you to find auto repair shops in your area using your phone's GPS.
- TuneyFish. If you want to fix the car by yourself, consult the tips and how-to videos on this free app.
- ExpertVideo: Car Repair Basics. From changing a tire to fixing scratches on the car, this 99-cent app contains tons of videos and tips on how to fix your car.
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There are a few changes to the way you drive that can save you money on gas and repairs and prolong the life of your car. Judy Woodward Bates of Bargainomics.com offers some helpful advice:
- Don't drive with both feet. Some drivers anticipate stops and keep their left foot hovering over (and often inadvertently applying pressure to) the brake while accelerating at the same time. This is obviously going to wear down your brakes.
- Try not to make a habit of fast stops – anticipate traffic lights and slowdowns and slow in advance rather than riding the brake, since, again, that is a perfect way to wear down your brakes.
- Your car has gears for a reason. Gear down and use your engine to slow down rather than your brakes when in heavy traffic or steep descents.
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Don't Ignore the Warning Signs
You know your car better than anyone. If you hear a strange noise or notice the vehicle isn't operating like it normally does, have a professional mechanic inspect the car.
Bonnie Doolin, chief of consumer affairs with the Massachusetts Credit Union League, stresses the importance of recognizing warning signs and keeping up with basic auto maintenance: "You'll pay the price if you neglect the upkeep. Skip oil changes for too long and you’ll be looking at thousands of dollars worth of engine work. Ignore the brake light and that little squeal can convert a simple brake job into a new set of rotors, in addition to the pads, and so on."
When you notice a problem, seek professional help before the issue escalates into a more serious and costly repair.
Scott Gamm is the founder of the personal finance website HelpSaveMyDollars.com. He has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, MSNBC, Fox Business Network, Fox News, ABC News and CBS. Follow Scott on Facebook and Twitter.
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