Auto Repair For Dummies
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You don’t have to know a lot about cars and trucks to save money on repairs and maintenance, but a little knowledge about how the industry works can save you hundreds of dollars. Heeding these tips is a great start toward putting that money in your pocket.

Read the owner’s manual

If you read nothing else, familiarize yourself with the scheduled maintenance guide. This tells you when maintenance is suggested by the manufacturer. If you pay attention and read a little, you’ll learn how and when to best spend your limited maintenance dollars.

Find a reputable auto repair shop

Ask family, coworkers, and friends if they have a shop or mechanic they trust. Look for local shops that specialize in your make of car, van, or pickup truck.

A good automotive repair shop should have certified technicians on staff. They will have certifications in one or more of eight car repair classifications, such as Brakes, Steering and Suspension, or Engines. The certifications will be by Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). If they aren't certified, you need to know what specific training the technicians have. Ask questions about this. It may be an indication of the quality of the staff.

Also check the work area for a relatively clean floor. A shop that has dirty shop rags, empty fluid containers, and other trash on the floors has sloppy mechanics. You don’t want them working on your car.

Do preventive maintenance

A good way to test a shop you believe to be reputable is to go in when you are ready for an oil change and oil filter. That is one of the most worthwhile preventive maintenance steps you can take. It also provides an opportunity to ask more questions prompted by your manual reading.

If they give you an estimate for a laundry list of added maintenance services, make certain they can show you it is a list for your specific vehicle and that it agrees with the mileage currently on your car or truck.

If you can’t afford it that day, ask which are the most important and pare the list down to the size of your wallet. Then put together a budget and goal for the others. Also, ask a knowledgeable friend what she thinks about the estimate before going back again.

Know the usual charges for car repairs in your area

A couple helpful websites provide estimates for common repair jobs on your make of car where you live: RepairPal and AutoMD. They provide a range of fair price estimates in your zip code. Somewhere between the lowest price and about half the way to the upper price is probably more accurate for a fair price.

Avoid duplicate labor charges

Sometimes a mechanic has to remove lots of parts to get at the part that is causing the current problem. This presents an opportunity to save on future repairs by doing them now.

For instance, an estimate to repair a squealing drive belt may suggest changing the upper and lower radiator hoses and a water pump and thermostat, because the mechanic has to remove some of those to get at the drive belt.

To get a savings from this approach, you will need to negotiate a reduced labor charge if a flat-rate manual charge was in the estimate for each separate part replacement.

Heed warning signs

After startup, if the Check Engine light comes on, get it checked within a few days. It may be something simple, but it could be something very serious. Don’t wait. If the Check Engine light flashes on and off, have the car towed to your chosen repair shop. Otherwise, it could cause severe engine damage and even result in engine replacement. Don’t ignore the light flashing.

You could check one thing yourself. Remove the fuel filler cap and check to see that a gasket, usually rubber, is in place on the underside. Then replace the cap firmly. Restart the engine. If the warning light goes out, it usually means the cap was not firmly in place. The fuel system works under pressure. No cap seal, no pressure, Check Engine light goes on.

Sometimes, do it yourself

You can do some jobs yourself. Changing wiper blades is easy when you know how. So is changing your air filter.

Ask a parts person at your local auto parts store to help you choose the correct wiper blade or air filter for your vehicle. Then ask to get help installing the part(s). You save money if they show you how; They ensure you’ll come back to them for parts.

Buy discount parts online

Websites like Parts Geek and AutoBarn will sell you parts at very competitive prices. Check to see if they charge for shipping or a state sales tax. (You also want to know what their returns policy is prior to ordering.) Then check these prices against a local parts store or a dealer’s parts department. If the website saves you significant money for equal quality parts, try it out.

Find a ding repair specialist

Your vehicle will get dings, dents, and chips in the paint finish. An autobody shop will want to sand down all the components dented or chipped and repaint and re-clearcoat the whole thing. It’s very expensive.

Check around at used car lots to see if you can find out who repairs the dings and dents on the used cars that come in for resale. Repairing dents and dings will maintain the value of your car and can help to prevent rust.

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