I think it’s safe to say that most of us dread going to the mechanic. In fact, many would probably rather go to the dentist than navigate through the maze of car repair shops. Not only is it possible to find an honest repair shop, doing so will give you peace of mind and save you big bucks on car repairs.
The best thing you can do is to find a good repair shop before you experience a problem. I realize that in some cases this may be too late — when you’re stuck on the side of the road with smoke coming from the engine, for example. But hopefully you have at least a little time before trouble strikes.
To find a good mechanic, start by asking those around you where they take their cars. Find out where your coworkers, friends, neighbors, and even those in your social network go for maintenance and repairs. Another tactic I use is searching for internet reviews. I’ll look up repair shops on a search engine and see what others have to say. If a shop has multiple positive reviews, you’re probably on the right track. Finding an honest, reliable repair shop in advance will give you peace of mind when you do have to take your car in for repairs.
Use RepairPal to get a repair estimate. This tool will give you a total estimate for almost any job, breaking it down into labor and parts based on your zip code. Knowing the repair cost before you even take the car in helps you avoid getting ripped off.
For more expensive repairs, always get a second opinion. A few years ago my car needed new front shocks. The first shop I took it to quoted me $700. I called another shop and they estimated it would cost $500. I then looked around online and found a coupon for 10% off, so it ended up being only $450. Just a few minutes of work saved me $250.
Skip unnecessary maintenance. You could be changing your car’s oil or other fluids too often. Many people go by the old rule that says you should change the oil every 3,000 miles. But many cars built today are made to go 5,000 or even 7,500 miles between oil changes. Check your owner’s manual for the recommended interval.
Find parts yourself. Say you need a new headlight assembly. First, try calling your local salvage yard to see if they have any in good condition that would fit your car. If that doesn’t work, check auto part stores in your area to see if they have it in stock. One other place I have used in the past is the Parts and Accessories section of eBay Motors. This is especially helpful for hard-to-find parts for older or discontinued models. Mechanics charge more for parts than what you’d pay by finding the part yourself.
If you’re the adventurous type, do simple maintenance and repairs yourself. Replacing tail lights, checking fluids and installing new windshield wipers are simple tasks that can be done in your driveway. To start, look on YouTube for videos that walk you through the process for your particular car. I’ve replaced spark plugs and changed the oil and filter using guidance I found on the internet. More complicated repairs, such as brake work or replacing belts, should probably be done by a mechanic to minimize problems down the road.
Finally, consider a diagnostic tool that tells you what’s ailing your vehicle. This one from CarMD is considered one of the best out there. Plug it into your vehicle’s connector and it will tell you why your check engine light is on. Then, using your computer, you can find out more details including the estimated cost of repair. As an alternative, some auto parts stores will do this for free using their scanner. Some of these tools can be used to turn off your check engine light if the issue is a loose gas cap — a common trigger of check engine lights.
Car repairs can be expensive, but using these tips will keep the cost low and help you avoid getting ripped off.
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