We Beat “The Man” On Yet Another Major Car Repair

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.

We Beat “The Man” On Yet Another Major Car Repair
We Beat “The Man” On Yet Another Major Car Repair

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?

( Photo by mattkrause1969 )

8 Responses to We Beat “The Man” On Yet Another Major Car Repair

  1. This is such a “duh…why didn’t I think of that before” article! We do the same thing when we renovate rental properties – get a punch list from the contractor/handyman, go to Lowe’s/Home Depot, buy everything, drop off at said property, and let the contractor get to work. Why didn’t I think of doing the same thing with auto repairs? I even used to order the oil from Amazon and then have the grease monkeys do the oil change, but never thought to extend it beyond that concept.

    Sometimes the smartest advice is the most obvious!

  2. Hi Jason – You can really apply this strategy to just about any expense, with the possible exception of health care. I’m trying to extend it to as many spending areas as possible. It takes some creativity, but when you realize how easy it is and how much you can save, it’s downright empowering. You feel like less of a victim to every racket that’s out there. I don’t like calling the auto repair business a racket, but they’ve learned how to grease their revenues over the years, and that means it costs us more to use their services. And we still will, if it’s the best/only option. But most times it isn’t.

  3. Well Kevin, it does not hurt to do some research and getting the usual second or third opinion before going in for medical treatment. I have nothing against doctors but was so glad that I did some research several years ago. I found out a simple surgery would resolve an issue that was making my life a challenge (female issues). The doctor I initially spoke to said I needed major surgery that would have required total bed rest for a few weeks. If I had not done my research, I would have gone the major surgery way. And to top things off, this doctor was very “pushy” with his opinion and just did not make me feel “comfortable” with his diagnosis. Come to find out from the grapevine, they finally got rid of him for his bedside manner = none!!! Knowledge is power as we all know and thanks for posting this awesome post. With now requiring state inspections (my previous state did away with them) – your post will help me to pass mine when I get my next car. Jason, good for you in regards to your rental property. I bet it cuts cost and increases your potential income from renting.

  4. Hi Angela – My limitation on health care was a standard disclaimer. I agree with you, and had a similar situation about 15 years ago. An abrasive surgeon told me he would have to remove an entire organ. I was mortified. I contacted my neighbors surgeon and got a completely different outcome. She did a scope and removed a growth that way, and found it to be benign. Had I used the first crackpot surgeon I would have been down an organ. We should question everything, even the designated experts. Ultimately, it’s we who are most responsible for our own lives and well-being.

  5. Well. our last repair on the Subaru could not be done by us by any means. That car just conked out on I-85 and we had to get towed over 50 miles back home on Memorial Day weekend! Whatta pain!
    If certain things in the engine go down in a Subaru, you have to replace the whole doggoned thing. We had several opinions on this and they were all the same.
    We took it to our local shop. The mechanic charged only for labor and the used/reconditioned parts he bought. He changed no overhead on the parts. As it took him several days to get the parts for our dead car, he did not charge us of rental space at his garage.
    It still cost a pretty penny but he finally charged us several hundred bucks less than his original estimate!
    We have been lucky to have honest mechanics that want to make an honest living and profit but not gouge their customers. If anyone is in the Richmond, VA area, I’ll gladly pass on their names!
    House repairs: We live in a condo and have to get the condo board to okay any house repairs other than painting. That stinks. They have to okay the repair people,too. They do have a few house people that are decent and don’t cost the earth. And things like A/C and plumbing are part of the condo deal unless the problem was something we caused. My housemate accidentally flushed a part of the vacuum cleaner down the toilet and he had to call the plumber to get the part out! LOL! I told him I would not pay for that. That was his boo-boo, thus his responsibility.
    As to doctors, I am very lucky to have doctors whose credo is “First, do no harm.” These guys will not do unnecessary work nor will they give me more medicine than I need or meds that might do me more harm than good. But if I didn’t have these sorts of doctors and got a pill pusher or cutting monster, you can be sure I would seek a second opinion. In fact, I am sure my insurance would demand a second opinion for any radical procedure.
    I also believe people should be shopping around more for education and the expenses thereof. Costs are insane. If people shopped around more and let the colleges, etc. know that people are unwilling to pay their gouging prices and unwilling to get into life-long debt slavery over loans things might change.

  6. Hi Mary – I agree we need to be shopping/getting second opinions for everything. The non-shoppers are making up the difference by going deeper into debt, but that cycle can continue only so long. It’s tougher to always have to research, but in the end it’s a lot cheaper. So sorry to hear about your car!

  7. Thanks for the condolences re: the car. It’s a problem with certain years of Subarus. If the head gasket goes, the whole damnable engine and surrounding parts such as the timing belt and water pump go down, too. YIKES! We are lucky we got out with under $3000.00 of repairs and parts.
    We thought about getting another used car but we were carless during this time and couldn’t afford to rent until we could get a newer, used vehicle. I can get to work by city bus but my housemate can’t and we don’t live within walking distance of groceries,etc.. We are keeping a look out for another car,though.
    HOWEVER, one thing I have never had to repair is a computer. I have never seen a blue screen of death, never had a virus or even much of a slowdown. And I know tons of the best free things and resources to keep your pc in good shape. I also keep some of my friends computers running smoothly. BTWY: I highly recommend buying a refurbished machine that has the ability to upgrade. I paid less than $350.00 for a refurbished pc with 3 TB Hard Drive, 16 GB ram, Windows 8.1, USB 3.0 and memory card reader, 64 bit AMD Quad Core. The machine works like a charm.

  8. I’m not so good with computers either. Though a few years ago my when my desktop went weird on me, I reformatted it. It worked well for several years after that, but never again! The time it took made it better to just replace it. Speaking of which, the computers they’re making today, especially the laptops, are usually cheaper to replace than to fix. They’ve gotten like TVs, in that they’re solid state, and there aren’t many parts that can be safely replaced. I’m showing my age, but I remember as a kid there were TV repairmen and they made house calls, but no more. We seem to be headed that way with computers too.

    Your idea about recycled computers may be a good one. My desktop is recycled. My son got it from a friend, replaced one part plus the hard drive and it works just fine. I would recommend replacing or at least wiping the hard drive on any used computer, because you can never know what’s on the one it comes with, and you never know what’s hidden on it.

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