This post is the most recent edition of how we once again beat “The Man” on yet another major car repair. “The Man” is of course a high priced car repair shop, you know the kind where they’re all ready to charge you anywhere from $500-$1,000 or more for even the most routine repairs.
Some years ago I got over that whole thing of rolling over for high priced auto repair shops and began investigating ways – any kind of ways – to pay less for auto repairs. I’m not a “car guy” in any sense of the term, which makes me more vulnerable to pay high prices for repairs.
Now that my son has a car, the imperative to find a cheaper way is becoming greater. And in fact it was his car that was in need of repair on this go-round. I’m happy to report that our combined efforts at automotive repair thrift cut his repair bill by just about exactly 50%. We usually save that much or more on our car repairs, and we’ve even come to expect it.
Here’s the story – I think you could probably do the same thing if you needed to.
The Usual Strategy
The dreaded service engine light went on in my son’s car – wouldn’t you know, just weeks before he needed to bring the car in for state inspection. Our usual strategy is to bring the car to an auto supply store, like AutoZone, and get a free reading on the diagnostics. Armed with those diagnostics, we would purchase the necessary parts through the auto supply store, then either check some YouTube videos to see if we can fix it ourselves, or turn the parts over to a backyard mechanic do the work
But as is sometimes the case, the diagnostics came back with several potential problems, none of which were clear.
You always have to be careful when it comes to auto diagnostics, because you could end up making a lot of unnecessary repairs, addressing each diagnostic individually. Experience has shown that in most instances there’s a single main issue that’s causing a series of error codes. But the challenge is to identify which of those codes is the primary driver.
The Usual Repair Shop Circus
So Plan B was to bring the car into a full-service shop and get a complete detailed engine diagnostic and repair estimate.
That diagnostic revealed that there were two primary problems which are closely connected – the evap valve and evap charcoal filter. For the record, I want to say that I didn’t even know that such parts even exist on a car.
Those sounded like simple fixes, but the the repair shop wanted $913 to do the work. The familiar little voice went off in my head – not gonna happen!
And it didn’t. We’ve been down this road many times in the past. Even as a certified automotive idiot, I’ve figured out how to get around most of these problems. That ability to work around large car repair bills has enabled us to drive older cars economically for much longer than it would seem possible based on surface factors.
What We Decided to Do
We paid the shop $108 for the diagnostic and written estimate, and we were on our way to getting the car fixed at a big discount.
Written estimates for car repairs typically list the parts needed to make the repair, as well as the cost for each part. This is of course in addition to labor costs, taxes, and miscellaneous fees. But the only part I care about is the list of parts. If you weren’t already aware of this, repair shops mark up car parts by 100% to 200%, which is a big part of how they make money, especially on repair jobs that don’t involve much labor. You can buy the parts yourself at a local parts supplier for a lot less.
The needed parts were not available in the stores, so we ordered them online from Advanced Auto Parts – they were the lowest between AutoZone, O’Reilly and Pep Boys (which is almost always the highest). The parts came in a few days later, and the total cost was $322.
We brought the car to one of our backyard mechanics, and he installed the parts in 30 minutes for $30.
How Much Money We Saved Going the Partial DIY Route
So here was the total cost to repair my son’s car:
- Parts, $322
- Diagnostic and estimate from the high priced auto repair shop, $108
- Installation charge by our backyard mechanic, $30
- TOTAL COST OF THE REPAIR, $460
Remember, the high priced auto repair shop wanted to charge us $913. So we – or my son – saved $453 (assuming the shop wouldn’t find something else wrong), or about 50% of what they would have charged for the repair.
The service engine light went off, and my son’s car passed state inspection without any issues.
And once again, we saved hundreds of dollars on a single car repair.
The End Result – A Feeling of Complete Automotive Independence
Any time we’re able to save this kind of money it produces a feeling of complete automotive independence. As I said at the outset, I’m not car guy. That makes me very vulnerable to being a defenseless victim even when it comes to relatively minor repairs.
But years ago I made a decision – with the help of some good friends – that I would be a victim no more. Even though I know very little about auto mechanics, I’ve made a conscious decision to use persistence and a regular set of steps to get our cars repaired for a lot less.
What I’ve found over the years is that you can get just about anything you need for less money. You just have to be willing to step outside your comfort zone, sacrifice some convenience, ask a bunch of questions and take some initiative, and you can save a small fortune.
Saving that kind of money in an area of life that I know so little about is the equivalent of earning at least as much. After all, any money that you don’t have to spend is that much less that you have to earn. Over the years we have saved quite literally thousands of dollars from using this very strategy to have our cars repaired.
I think you can do the very same thing, even if you don’t know anything about cars. I sure don’t, but that hasn’t hurt me one bit.
Have you ever tried using this kind of strategy to get your car fixed for less?