THE BLOG
12/08/2015 05:39 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How to Save Money on Your Auto Repairs

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Guest post by ValuePenguin.com's Andrew Pentis

Automobile mechanics and technicians are infamous for gouging unknowing drivers. While this problem isn't new, some of the best solutions are. You can avoid overpaying for your next vehicle repair with this guide. We turned to Tom Cirignano, a former auto mechanic and shop owner in South Boston, Mass., plus auto insurance expert Frankie Kuo to compile the following money-saving tips. "Automobiles are one area where you can really save money," Cirignano said, "if you're not afraid to get your hands a little dirty."

Three Steps to Do It Yourself

1. Do the simple fixes yourself. Changing out a cabin air filter, for example, can be done easily and cheaply without returning to the dealership: Buy one at AutoZone or another major retailer instead of being charged for more for the part and the labor to install it. Not sure what goes where? There's a strong chance that your specific question -- say, "how to install a cabin air filter" -- will have plenty of search results on YouTube; in fact, there's even a decent chance that your specific make and model will be featured in the step-by-step instructional video.

2. Treat your car as it should be treated. Unlike a mechanic, you can personalize your maintenance to your specific driving habits: Transmission fluid, for example, doesn't need to be replaced as often if you don't commute in your car. The intervals recommended in your owner's manual are just that -- recommendations. "Leaving your car at the dealership, saying, 'Do all the scheduled maintenance,' is like giving them a blank check," Cirignano said. "Most people just can't afford to do that." Changing your oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, the old standard, is the most common reason to visit your local auto shop. Consider Cirignano's recent experience in Massachusetts: A shop quoted him $90 to change his oil. Instead of footing that bill, he spent $35 on a high-quality synthetic oil and STP oil filter and changed it himself. "Still pretty expensive, but much better," he said. "It took me 15 minutes to save $55."

3. Spend a little to make your car a lot smarter. If you're willing to make a $100 investment, look into CarMD, a device that connects to your car and can diagnose many typical auto problems. If you end up becoming your own personal mechanic, ALLDATAdiy could be your dream resource for diagnostic and repair information. Remember to keep all of your receipts for purchases and to record the date and mileage of every service. Your car's warranty won't prevent you from working on your own car, but it will require documentation that you performed the work at all.

Four Tips at the Shop

1. Ask questions. Feel free to put mechanics on the spot. It's their job to know what your car needs to run well, and it's likely that it takes them less time to tell the truth than it does to come up with a lie (potentially about a superfluous "transmission flush"). This should particularly be the case if you're make and model is a unique one in need of a specialist -- a mechanic or technician at a shop who works exclusively on (or is an expert in) your vehicle type.

2. Be skeptical. Furthermore, take the mechanic's diagnosis with a grain of salt. Ask more questions. Then do your own research. Even get a second opinion. You could go so far as to take a quote from one auto shop to another and see if they can beat it. Whatever you do, "don't tell a mechanic to go ahead and do what they're suggesting," Cirignano said. "Say, 'OK, thank you, I'll call back and make it an appointment.'"

3. Go online. If you're short on family or friends who can either use a wrench or point you in the direction of someone who can, seek a second opinion on one of these helpful websites.
  • Yelp encourages users to provide ratings and reviews of mechanics and garages that they've tried.
  • RepairPal gets you accurate quotes on what a repair should cost versus what one mechanic said it would cost.
  • DriverSide connects you with other drivers and allows you to ask questions of mechanics.
  • YourMechanic will send a mechanic straight to your house and offers instant quotes.
  • The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence can tell you whether your potential mechanic is a certified one.
  • AAA can find a repair shop in your state that has their seal of approval.

4. Control your cost. If your car does require at-the-shop service, remember that your collision and/or comprehensive auto insurance coverage could come in handy, Kuo advised. By choosing the right auto insurance deductibles, you essentially cap your out-of-pocket repair cost before insurance coverage takes care of the rest. The lower the deductible you choose, the less you need to pay on your own. You'll have to compare how comfortable you are with dropping your deductible to how much it'll raise your insurance premiums. For example, in a study on affordable car insurance in Georgia, sample motorists saw rates of $1,304 a year with a deductible of $500. If the benchmark drivers switched to a $50 deductible (saving $450 each per visit to the shop), they would be adding either $265 onto their annual premiums (when you change your collision deductible) or $60 (when you change your comprehensive deductible). Nevertheless, drivers should understand what collision and comprehensive coverage each covers before hiring a mechanic.

What are other auto insurance implications of getting repair work done? Ask ValuePenguin.com's @Frankie_Kuo.