Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Do your own auto repairs to save money?

It started off as any other morning. I got my lunch out of the fridge and went out to the car. It's always a little fussy starting up on a cold morning. But it just kept cranking and never started. Bummer.

So at what point do you try to do your own repairs in an effort to be frugal? I certainly do some amount of very basic repairs: spark plugs, spark wires, battery, constantly checking and refilling all my fluids. It's important though to consider how much your own time is worth. If you don't have a lift or a ramp, and have a very low car, than doing your oil change can be kind of a pain. It might not be worth it to do that one yourself when you can keep an eye on the ads and wait for the $10 or $15 oil change coupon.

Sometimes it can be worth it to buy the parts separate. Mechanics buy their parts from a parts distributor. That distributor will bump up the price before he sells it to your mechanic who will also crank up how much he charges you. But often it's the labor that will get you. Diagnosing your problem can take a certain amount of time, and then they've got to fix it.

If you can learn as much as you can about your own car you might be able diagnose the problem before taking it to the mechanic. You can find the Haynes Auto Repair manual for your car for between $15 and $20 for most models. It also walks you through many repairs so you can decide whether you have the tools or it's worth the trouble for you. Chilton's Auto Repair is another, slightly more expensive, option. The repair manuals also give you a great idea of how much trouble it is.

I'm not one for low bidding your mechanic. If he owns his own shop it's worth paying him fairly. But if you can get an idea of what it is (or even consult your manual after he tells you what he's going to fix) you'll be much more prepared to decide on a fair price. You can look up how difficult the job is, and then search for the part on various big name parts distributors, and be in a better position to talk about money and hopefully save yourself some. Treat it like salary negotiation. If they throw you a number and your research has shown that's high, ask them if they can do the repair for less and give them the results from your research. Most good mechanics won't be trying to overcharge you anyways.

(Photo from megavas)

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