Fix Your Car for Less: 8 Simple Ways to Save Thousands of Dollars on Car Repairs

car repair
dave_7 under Creative Commons

Recently, my 18-year-old Toyota Corolla was giving me the flux. It seemed like everything was going wrong at the same time. First, my car failed the emissions test. That same day, my battery light came on and refused to go off. Then my water pump broke.

I spent nearly $500 on parts and labor, but the repairs could easily have cost several thousand dollars had I not had warranties on the parts.

Auto repairs can cost you tens of thousands of dollars in parts and labor. And the older your car gets, the more it’ll likely cost you. However, depending on your car’s year, make and model, it’s often cheaper to keep your old ride running than to invest in a new one.

Whether your car is brand-spanking-new or running on a prayer, here are eight ways you can save thousands of dollars on vehicle repairs.

1. Take Advantage of Warranties

Many car parts have lifetime or limited lifetime warranties. This information is usually communicated by the salesperson at the time of purchase and printed on your receipt. It is also recorded in the system at the store.

I paid $124 for a Die Hard battery from Sears in 2006 that had a 36-month full replacement warranty and a 10-year pro-rated warranty. When my battery died in 2012, I went to the facility with my six-year-old receipt in hand and paid $38 for a brand-new battery — saving nearly $90.

You can also sometimes get warranties on labor. I purchased a lifetime warranty for a wheel alignment for $99 from Firestone in 2000. In cities with lots of traffic, big potholes and other elements that can add wear and tear to your ride, you need an alignment at least once a year. I have saved at least $1500 from this one-time investment.

If you have the option of a one-time purchase or lifetime warranty, spend the extra money on the warranty now and save more in the future. Even if you don’t think you’re going to have your car for a long time, buy it anyway. Keep all of your warranties and receipts somewhere safe; you’ll need them for as long as you keep your car.

2. Minimize Core Charges

Many car parts can be rebuilt, and the industry refers to these as “cores.” When you replace a core part, like a battery or starter, you’ll be required to return the worn-out part to the store or pay a “core charge” or “core deposit.” Sometimes returning the core (and avoiding the core charge) will cover your entire purchase amount, though usually it’s just a portion.

For example, in 2012, I purchased wires for my car’s annual tune-up for $36.99. I have since saved nearly $75 in core charges by returning the old wires after the new ones were replaced.

3. Do Your Research

If time is not an issue, take the time to look for parts online. These parts are often cheaper and you can often have them shipped for free.

My car recently needed two struts, which would have cost me $270 from my mechanic. The online customer service representative for the local store told me that I could save $50 by ordering from them, but I found a store on eBay that sold both for $128 with free shipping. That’s a savings of $142.

4. Use Online Discounts and Coupons

Before purchasing anything, look for potential discounts. Some retailers offer coupons that can be used online and in stores, while others are online only.

When I needed an EGR valve, I started searching online and found a $50 off coupon from Advanced Auto. My total with tax was $165. With the discount, I paid $114. I also got a partial return for the core part, so I paid $58, a savings of $107.

5. Ask for Free shipping

Many online retailers offer free shipping to your home for orders over a certain amount. If your purchase falls below this amount, ask if they would ship it to your local store for free.

6. Look for Physical Coupons

Many auto facilities still mail coupons to your home in an effort to get you inside their store. I received a coupon for a $9.99 oil change from Toyota. The going rate for oil changes in my area is $29.99, so this was a great deal.

While this $20 discount was a one-time bribe to lure me into the facility, you can find deals through Groupon and other local deal sites. You may also notice specials just driving down the street.

7. Develop Good Relationships with Trusted Mechanics

After you establish a level of trust with a mechanic, he may give you breaks on the cost of labor or combine the cost of services. Home-based mechanics may use their own products without charging extra. They may also allow you to defer payment or payment plans when you’re a little short on cash.

8. Decline Dealership Services

Unless your car is on life support, you have tons of cash to throw at a problem, or if the dealership is your only option, decline services at dealerships. According to a Popular Mechanics Q&A with an anonymous dealership service manager, your bill is likely to be padded with extra charges — though he does note that dealership mechanics may know your car better than independents, since they focus mostly on that dealership’s make.

I went to the Toyota dealership for a free diagnostic check. They told me that I needed a catalytic converter, which would cost $1100. A local repair shop is only charging $500. I’ll go with my local independent shop and save that $600 for future oil changes and other minor repairs.

Your Turn: How do you save money on car repairs?

Marcie Hill is a freelance writer, blogger and author of 62 Blog Posts to Overcome Blogger’s Block who loves technology, roller skating and photography. Find more about her and her written successes at Marcie Writes.