While you’re cruising down the highway, a tiny light comes on your dashboard. You dismiss it because it’s only the oil-change icon, and you think you can afford to stretch it for a few hundred miles.
And then another light appears. This time, it’s the check-engine icon. Panic mode instantly sets in.
Car repair costs can inflict serious damage on our wallets. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help lower the tab. In some cases, these pre-emptive steps can eliminate the need for repairs altogether.
To reduce the cost of car repairs and maintenance, keep the following seven tips in mind:
1. Check and change the oil regularly
Regularly changing your oil is the best defense against oil pump replacement and costly engine repairs. The cost of replacing an engine can easily be $2,000, and often much more.
Instead of following the standard advice of changing the oil every 3,000 miles, whip out your owner’s manual to confirm what’s best for your ride. You may find that the recommended oil change interval is every 6,000 miles. Some luxury cars will let you stretch further than that.
Also, check your oil color and level regularly. If the oil drops to the minimum level indicated on the oil dipstick, add oil now. (Your owner’s manual will tell you the type of oil that is best for your car.)
Also regularly check the engine coolant level and the tire pressure, two other things all car owners can easily do themselves. Checking tire pressure is a must-do when the seasons change.
“Goodyear experts explain that air pressure in a tire typically goes down 1 to 2 pounds for every 10 degrees of temperature change,” Goodyear says.
2. Follow the maintenance schedule
Your owner’s manual comes with a maintenance schedule, addressing maintenance and replacement that should be done at major mileage intervals in the life of your car.
Items addressed include:
- Air and fuel filters
- Timing belt
- Spark plugs and spark plug wires
- Brake pads
- Fluids, including coolant, transmission fluid, power steering fluid and brake fluid
- Timing belt
Neglecting your vehicle could present safety issues and reduce your car’s longevity. Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.com, told Bankrate:
“If you don’t maintain your car, you’re taking a vehicle that might have been driven for 200,000 miles over its life, and you’re knocking it down to maybe 150,000 miles.”
Can’t find the manual? Edmunds provides a car maintenance guide that you can customize for your vehicle’s year, make, model and mileage. Better yet, you can find your owner’s manual online. Just do a search for your make, model and year and “maintenance schedule” or “owner’s manual.”
3. Pay attention to warning signs
Taking your vehicle in for regular maintenance doesn’t relieve you of responsibility.
Just as you should keep an eye on tire pressure and the levels of coolant and oil, you should look for other signs that something is wrong:
- Do you hear a thumping in the back?
- Do you smell burning oil?
- Is something leaking, leaving a puddle on your driveway?
Meanwhile, an online diagnostic tool like this one at AutoMD can help.
And if the check-engine light comes on, don’t ignore it. It could indicate a simple problem or a major one.
Don’t know what all of those warning signs on the dashboard mean? AutoZone provides a handy explanation.
4. Find a trustworthy mechanic
Having a good mechanic is essential to your car’s well-being. Having one who doesn’t overcharge or rip you off in other ways is important for your bank account.
The best way to find a good mechanic is simply to ask around, zeroing in on friends and colleagues who know more than the basics about vehicles. Also check online for complaints.
Give a new shop a try. Ask if the shop has experience repairing vehicles like yours. If you’re not satisfied with the results, try another shop that’s been recommended.
Tip: Independent shops can be more affordable because they don’t have all the overhead that dealerships do.
5. Use aftermarket parts
You will have to get service done at an independent shop to take advantage of this opportunity, but using aftermarket parts can save you a substantial amount of cash. Aftermarket parts can be just as good, if not better, than original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts.
An aftermarket part is any part for a vehicle that is not sourced from the car’s maker. If the parts are direct replacement parts, they will not void your car’s warranty. A number of companies make parts designed to function the same, or in some cases even better than the original.
But sometimes aftermarket parts aren’t as well-made, so Edmunds suggests you do your homework. This is where a trustworthy mechanic can help.
Edmunds also recommends using OEM parts when you’re repairing collision damage or having work done on a leased car.
6. Research the price before you go
If the estimate you receive at a shop seems highly inflated, get a second estimate elsewhere.
7. Look for discounts
Before making a visit for service, look for coupons, including at the shop’s website. Don’t see any? Just ask. Maybe the shop gives a discount to AAA members.
Also, be on the lookout for the discounted offers that often come in the mail and serve as a kind reminder that your car is due for service.
How have you reduced your auto repair expenditures in the past? Share your tips in our Forums. It’s a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.
Karen Datko contributed to this article.