It can be easy to forget that gas is not the only car expense.
Car repairs can be an unexpected (and often pricey) necessity.
Though it's difficult to face an expense that isn't in the budget, there are plenty of ways to bring the cost down when a mechanic is needed.
Here are some creative ways to save money when a car repair requires a visit to a mechanic:
Consider Mechanic Alternatives
Before getting into the habit of taking the car straight to a mechanic, consider looking for alternatives. Auto mechanic schools sometimes allow outside cars to be brought in for training sessions, and some high schools have similar programs for auto shop classes. Many auto shops like O'Reilly's, Autozone, and Pep Boys offer basic services such as alternator and starter checks, battery testing and charging, tire checks, and much more. Perhaps their most valuable offering is the free diagnostic check, which can cost up to $100 on a mechanic’s bill. If the problem is small enough, it can likely be handled by one of these alternatives. Or, these options can be used to help identify the problem so that you can gather more information before taking the car into the mechanic’s shop.
Do Your Research
You know the obvious: Your car isn't working. But why? While most are content to leave it to a mechanic to find the answer, the best way to save money is to do a little homework first. It’s not necessary to pull a marathon study session and learn everything about your car, but even a simple Google search can educate you enough to know how to talk to the mechanic about the problem and see through potential scams. The ability to accurately describe the events leading up to the problem (strange sounds, smells, even the outside temperature) and the possible sources of the problem ensures the mechanic won’t have to spend extra time digging around for a solution. In turn, you'll pay less in labor. Also research the average repair cost to make sure the mechanic's quote is reasonable. Check out AutoMD or RepairCost to know what to expect. Also, call around to compare estimates at different repair shops; don't always go with the first mechanic you call, because you may get a better price elsewhere.
Mechanics have rather a bad reputation for attempting to rip off customers, particularly young and/or female customers. No matter your age and gender, you should know that your first impression as a customer is important, even if your mechanic ends up being Honest Abe. A customer who shows up wearing conservative clothing with a meticulously well-kept vehicle will appear to have much more car know-how and a more reasonable budget than someone who shows up in a car with three years worth of grime and a designer handbag. While you don't have to scrub every inch of your car before bringing it in, do get rid of any garbage in your car, clean the windshield, make sure it smells nice, and fill up the gas tank. Your mechanic will be more inclined to go the extra mile for your car if he sees that you do, too.
Car repairs bills have two categories: parts and labor. While it's difficult to save on labor, you can certainly save on parts. Many people don't realize that you can buy your own parts instead of relying on your mechanic to supply them, and this can be your best way to save. Call your mechanic to get the scoop on which parts need replacing and (if you can) their model numbers. Then, locate your nearest salvage yard, where damaged cars are scrapped and stripped of their perfectly fine parts, and see if you can find a match. Parts can often be found much cheaper and may even come with a guarantee. For example, the power steering unit for my car would have been $175 if I had just let the mechanic supply the part. Instead, I found the same part for $55, with a 90 day guarantee, at my local salvage yard. That's well over half off! Go to Car Part to locate the nearest salvage yard and start saving.
When taking a car to the mechanic, there are two things that absolutely should be done: Be very specific about what you want, and set a budget for the repair. You've done your research on the problem and you've talked about it to the mechanic, but many people don't realize how important it is to stipulate that only that specific problem should be fixed. Often a mechanic will repair the main problem and also find a multitude of other problems and fix them because you just vaguely said that you want your car fixed. If you haven't set a budget, the mechanic is much more likely to assume that money isn't an issue. In the end, you'll pay a lot more than you intended, and you won't have a chance to research cheaper parts for the additional things that the mechanic repaired. Ask the mechanic to start a "wish list" for you. This satisfies the mechanic's inclination to fix anything that's wrong with the car, and it gives you an idea of what to work toward fixing (which may prevent any major problems in the future). With the "fix-it wish list," I can plan (and save) for needed repairs before they become a problem, and I won't need to worry about surprise expenses when I pick up my car. It's win-win!
This is a guest post by Brittany from Sacramento, CA
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