A few years ago I decided that changing the oil in my car was something I preferred to outsource instead of doing it myself. I decided the maintenance shop could do it for only a little more than I could do it myself and they have the experience to look for other problem areas on my car. This is more than a time vs. money equation: they also top up all the fluids, check the air pressure, and make a few other inspection points. Even though it costs a few more dollars up front, the added services and professional touch save me money in the long run.
I took my car in for some scheduled maintenance this weekend – just an oil change and transmission flush. I walked out of the store about $130 lighter, but I know that I saved much more than that in the long run. In addition to the coupons I used to save money, I know I kept my car running in top shape and prevented engine and transmission damage – two of the most expensive items to repair for most vehicles. I’m going to share a few tips I use to keep my vehicle in good condition, and how I save money in the process.
How to Save Money on Car Repairs
These tips are great ways you can save a lot of money over the lifespan of your vehicle.
Follow Manufacturer Recommended Maintenance Schedules
Your car comes with a service manual for a reason. The manufacturer includes a service schedule for items they know will almost certainly need attention within a set timeframe, or a set number of miles. For example, you should get your oil changed according to the maintenance schedule – every 5,000 miles for my car, or since I don’t drive very many miles, every 6 months or so.
If an item isn’t covered in the maintenance manual with a certain mileage or time frame, use common sense, or defer to your mechanic. Most service centers offer a car inspection free when you get your car serviced, or for around $20-$50 if all you are doing is getting the car inspected.
Here is a recent example: I recently went to Firestone to get an oil change and they informed me the transmission fluid in my car was looking dark and had a slightly burnt smell. There was no manufacturer’s recommendation regarding when to change the transmission fluid, but the situation called for it.
Use National Repair Shops or Franchises for Certain Purchases
I know I may get some flak for recommending people take their business to a franchise instead of shopping locally, but sometimes the big shops offer a better deal both in the short term and the long run. I’ll shop locally for restaurants, craft stores, farmer’s markets, and even auto body shops. But I’m going big when it comes to things like tires, alignment, batteries, or other basic repairs which are covered by warranty.
Case in point – last year I had the privilege of sitting in the waiting room with a WWII vet while I was getting the oil changed in my car. We had a great conversation and it was an enjoyable experience for both of us. Aside from the life lessons I learned from him while we were talking, I learned another lesson – your warranty is only good if you can get it serviced where you are. And he couldn’t.
He lived in NY and was driving to his winter home in CA. His rear tire came apart while he was driving. It appeared to be defective and covered by his warranty. Unfortunately, the warranty he had was through his shop back in NY – and he was driving to CA. He had to spend over $100 for a new tire and installation. If he had purchased the tires through a chain store, he could have received a free tire and service. As it was, he didn’t have room for the old one, and wouldn’t want to carry it to CA, store it all summer, then take it back to NY. He chucked the tire and was out over $100.
How I use this to my advantage: I bought my last set of tires from Firestone because they offer a lifetime balance and rotation with the purchase of the tires, and they have franchises in almost every area where I drive. I do other maintenance with Firestone, including oil changes and alignments (more on this in a moment). Every time I go in for an oil change I ask them to inspect the tires, rotate them if necessary, and document their actions in my vehicle history – which brings up another point: Most major chains maintain a database of your service and repairs. This way they can help you keep track of all maintenance performed on your vehicle, even if you are visiting another franchise location. For example, I recently moved to IL from OH and the local Firestone had service records for the tires I purchased, recent oil changes, lifetime alignment, and more.
Use Local Shops for Other Repairs
Certain repairs can be done less expensively at local shops. Again, the items mentioned above are great options for repair work done at the nationwide chain stores. But you may be able to save on other purchases that you make at local shops that don’t have the same level of overhead the large chain shops have (advertising, franchise fees, etc.).
Be sure to shop around and think about what work you are getting done, and which is the better option in the long run.
Pay for Lifetime Service
When available, spring for the lifetime service. I was driving home in a freak snowstorm a few years ago and my car hit a patch of ice and skidded into a curb. I was literally only going about 5 mph, but the impact was strong enough to knock my tires out of alignment. I discovered that, with a coupon, I could buy a lifetime alignment service for the vehicle for the price of two individual alignments (regular price was slightly more than double, but less than three times the price).
My car was only a couple years old and I was planning on keeping it a long time, so the decision was a no-brainer. I’ve had the alignment adjusted at least 3 or 4 times since then, one time a major adjustment, and a few other minor adjustments. Each of these came at no out of pocket cost. I think of it as insurance.
Keep your own service log and your receipts
I mentioned that most chain shops keep a record of the services performed on your car. Many do, but the responsibility ultimately relies on you. Many service manuals that come with new cars include a notes section in the back, which is the perfect place to document all the maintenance performed on your vehicle. Simply take the service manual out when you go to the shop and fill it out while you wait. Then put it back in the glove box when you are done.
The other thing I recommend is maintaining a copy of your receipts. It’s not essential for things like oil changes, but it is for most items which have a warranty. For example, items like tires, batteries, and other components often come with a limited or lifetime warranty. But you need to prove that 1) when you purchased the item and 2) you took proper care of the item (which is why I always have Firestone document whether or not my tires need rotating or other services when I take my car in).
Do you have any tips for saving money on car repairs?