How to Save Money on Car Repairs Big Time

Cars that I've driven
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I’ll be the first to admit: I’m worried about inflation. The war in Ukraine is making matters worse. It makes me want to hang a picture of Putin on a wall so I can throw darts between his eyes. Putin ina mo, Vladimir Putin!! That’s sort of how you say S.O.B. in Tagalog.

I wrote about how to fight inflation before, e.g., buying stocks, locking your housing costs, etc. However, like everything else related to wealth building, it— takes— time. But do you know what doesn’t? It’s spending less!

And that includes spending less on car repairs and maintenance. Here’s what I’ve been doing to save a ton of money.

Do your research. Read the owner’s manual.

Nobody knows your car more than the manufacturer. Hence, your vehicle’s owner’s manual should be the primary source of information, not the car dealership.

So when the dealer writes your scheduled oil change is 3,000 miles later, but the manual says 10,000— you don’t need to go. The more visits you make, the more opportunity the dealer can upsell you. Suddenly, that $75 oil change becomes a $450 job, including a “cooling system flush” you don’t need.

You see, the dealership earns more money in the service department than actual car sales. While the mechanic gets paid by the hour, the service advisor earns by commission. He has the economic incentive to convince you to pay for extra services.

Keep a service record history

Being a spreadsheet nerd has certain advantages. For starters, I enjoy being on top of all my expenses, car maintenance included. Never rely on a service advisor with a vested interest to put them on record for you.

I’m not a fan of the logbook that comes with the vehicle. Instead, I created a simple Google Sheet table with the following headers: Date, Service Description, Amount, Mileage, and a Comment column for short notes.

Arm yourself with this information the next time the service advisor approaches you. Take your time to review this spreadsheet before letting them do any work for you.

Of course, you don’t want to miss a critical maintenance procedure like replacing a timing belt. Preventive maintenance is key to saving money on car repairs. Topping fluids and rotating tires can make a big difference.

Do everything else yourself

Some dirty jobs like oil changes are not worth the trouble. But many routine service procedures are easy to do: replacing the air filter, wiper blades, or headlights, to name a few.

The internet, especially YouTube, is a valuable resource. Unless you drive a Bugatti, there’s no shortage of people owning the same model as yours willing to share valuable information about the car.

Case in point, I joined a Honda Pilot owner’s FB group, and one user sent me an electronic copy of the car’s factory service manual for free. If you’re mechanically inclined, this enables you to identify any parts you need and the steps necessary to make the repair.

Even if you’re not doing the work yourself, a good OBD II scanner tool can help you decide which services need to be performed on your car at any given time.

Stop going to the dealership if you have an older car

Sure, going to the dealer has many advantages. Nothing beats specialized training, service, software, and equipment. So if you have a newer car that is still under warranty, by all means, go to the dealer first. You don’t want to spend money on something the manufacturer will fix for free. Besides, they’d also guarantee that genuine OEM parts are installed.

But for an older car, NO. Take a look at how much the “stealership” charged me on my last visit:

  • Tire rotation, $19.95
  • Replace rear brakes and rotors, $547.8
  • Serpentine belt replacement, $216.08
  • Replace rear shocks, $376
  • Brake fluid service, $139.95
  • Power steering flush, $139.95

I paid over $1,500 just to keep my wife’s 12-year-old Honda Pilot in top condition. Not too long ago, a thousand would have covered a major repair bill. Ugh!

This was before I discovered a hack that I will describe below.

Buy the replacement part yourself

It’s no secret; a shop will charge you two to four times the cost of a part you can buy online. If you have control over this process, you’ll be able to shop for a better deal. Not to mention gaining peace of mind.

Keep in mind that some aftermarket parts are better than OEMs. It could be because the companies have reverse-engineered their parts and improved on them. So use your best judgment.

As a matter of policy, many shops won’t install a customer-supplied part for fear of redoing the work due to quality issues. It’s either that or to boost their profit margins.

So forget them, instead…

Go to a cheap independent mechanic you can trust

My wife’s 2008 Honda Pilot being worked on

So how do you find a shop willing to install a customer-supplied part? Easy-peasy: walk inside your local auto parts store, say AutoZone or Advanced Auto Parts, and ask the salesperson for a referral.

That’s exactly how I got introduced to my Hispanic friends, Leo and Pedro. Together they worked on my wife’s car to change the passenger-side motor mount, which the dealer quoted me $800 to fix.

Pedro couldn’t even speak English well, but I could tell he knew what he was doing because I was only a few feet away.

The dynamic duo charged me $80 for the entire job— a whooping 90% savings!

And my direct interactions with a mechanic? Priceless.

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