changing a tire
By Teri Cettina
Although you'd rather use your money on more interesting things, you're likely to spend a huge chunk of change maintaining and repairing your car. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), it now costs nearly $9,000 a year to drive an average-size sedan. And if you own a four-wheel-drive SUV, your annual expenses are more than $11,000. Photo credit: Getty Images
You can't control the roller-coaster costs of gas. And you have only a little wiggle room on insurance fees. But you can save big bucks on car maintenance and repairs. Here's how to keep your car in good running condition-without shelling out too much.
1. Maintain and prevent.
The number-one way to pay less on car repairs is to avoid them in the first place. Keep your ride in prime shape by following the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule. You'll find it in your car owner's manual (lost yours? find it on Edmunds.com), and service is usually suggested every 15,000 to 30,000 miles. "But don't go by the recommended list of services a dealer or an auto shop hands you; they may suggest extras you don't need," warns Carroll Lachnit, consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com. Also, change your oil as regularly as the manual mandates, which is probably every 7,500 to 10,000 miles, says Lachnit-and not every 3,000 miles as the quickie-lube type shops may advise.
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2. Find a reputable shop and be loyal.
Never pick a repair shop out of the phone book or based on an ad. Ask for recommendations from friends, family or coworkers, advises Jim Houser, co-owner of Hawthorne Auto Clinic in Portland, OR. And once you find a good shop, stay with it. "Shops tend to offer regular customers special money-saving coupons and breaks on repair costs because they know you'll return," he says.
3. Stick with independent shops.
Unless your car is under warranty and you must go to your dealer for service, head to an independent shop. While these smaller outfits charge close to the same as dealers for parts and labor, you'll save because "they won't sell you unnecessary repairs and services," says Houser. Since dealer service managers often work on commission, it benefits them to sell you as many services as possible-whether or not you need them.
4. Get a second opinion.
If a dealer pushes a service or repair that your warranty doesn't cover, ask another dealer for their take, suggests Pam Oakes, owner of Pam's Motor City Automotive, in Fort Myers, FL. If you bring your car to an independent repair shop, get a second opinion for any fix over a few hundred dollars. Try another independent shop that specializes in your car's model or a chain like Honest 1 or Meineke if friends or family have recommended them. Even if you have to pay to get the car towed to the second shop, it's worth it, says Oakes. "You could save $1,000 or more if you don't need the suggested repair or learn there's a cheaper workaround," she says.
5. Do your homework and ask educated questions.
Look online for basic info about your car's problem or suggested repair. You could save money because you may learn which repairs are required and which are just suggested. Then, prepare your questions. "The shop's staff will respect you for being a good researcher and consumer," says Oakes. A reputable shop should be willing to explain in lay language-and even show you-what's going on with your car. If the owner or mechanic is annoyed by your questions or talks over your head, he or she may be trying to intimidate you, sell you unnecessary services or overcharge you. Find a new shop, pronto.
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6. Know average charges for repairs.
Websites like RepairPal.com and AutoMD.com offer estimates for common repairs to your make of car in your part of the country. Not sure what's wrong with your ride? You may be able to take a diagnostic quiz to pinpoint the problem. And then you'll get a rough idea of what repairs should cost so you're sure you're getting a fair price.
7. Pay attention to warnings your car gives you.
They're your vehicle's way of telling you it needs some TLC. Ignoring those signals puts you at risk for doing major, expensive damage. So if your check-engine light comes on, get it evaluated at a reputable shop within a few days. If that light flashes, don't drive at all-get your car towed instead. If your oil light comes on, immediately call for a tow. Hearing an odd sound? Take the car in, suggests Lachnit. If it's a simple fix, you'll get it taken care of before it morphs into a more expensive repair.
8. Become a DIY-er.
You don't need to be that handy to change your windshield wiper blades, swap out your air filter or put air in your tires, but doing these yourself can save you money. For instance, oil-change shops charge $29 to $60 to replace an air filter, but Lachnit says you can buy one for less than $15 and install it in five minutes. If you're hesitant about making any of these fixes, ask your favorite mechanic for a few pointers after you've developed a good rapport with him or her.
9. Baby your car.
Have your vehicle thoroughly washed and detailed every few months. It may sound silly, but Oakes says car owners tend to drive more gently and get repairs faster if their ride looks nice. A good-looking car also discourages fellow drivers from casually dinging your door in the parking lot. Likewise, be picky about where you park-even if you have to walk a bit farther to your destination-so you avoid careless drivers and scratchy bushes that may send you to the body shop.
10. Get a check-up before you travel.
Have your mechanic top off your car's fluids and inspect the tires in advance of a trip. After all, you don't want your car to break down in an unfamiliar place and be towed to a mechanic you don't know if you can trust. According to Oakes, anytime you end up in a shop you haven't researched-or in an emergency situation when you can't compare repair prices-you risk spending more than necessary and getting shoddy service.
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Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.
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