Updated on 04.18.13

Shop Around for Car Repairs (44/365)

Trent Hamm

This is one of those tips that you hear and immediately think, “Easier said than done.”

Why? Most of the time when you need a car repair, you’re pinched. Your car failed at a bad time, you need to get to work or school, and you’re willing to just throw money at the problem so you can get back on the road as fast as possible. You grab a phone book or search Google and just call the first reasonable number that comes up.

There are some times where you just can’t help this. I had a car failure on a long road trip and I was simply at the mercy of Google. I have painful memories of the overpriced towing and overpriced repair in that little town in Wisconsin.

Quite often, though, car repairs spring upon you when you’re near your home, and when that happens, a little bit of legwork in advance can save you a ton of time and cash.

Shop Around for Car Repaires (44/365)

There are DIY car repair tips, but the secret is to shop around in advance of a car problem. That way, when something does go wrong, you have a phone number or two already on your speed dial that you can call with confidence knowing that the prices will be fair and the work will be done well.

So, how do you do that research? Here’s exactly how I whittled things down to my repairman of choice.

First, I sent out a call to my local social network. I asked pretty much everyone that I knew who lived locally if they knew of any good car repair places in the area. People were glad to tell me what they knew. I got a wide variety of answers, but I kept hearing about four names come up time and time again as being places with good prices and really good service.

Next, do your homework on the leading names. Use a mix of the internet and your phone to find out if they work on your type of car(s), if they offer towing services, and what their rates are on some common repairs. I asked about brake replacement and transmission replacement on my model, just to get a feel of what they offered.

If you’re like me, you’ll find that these two steps get your list quickly whittled down to two or so entries. I put them both into my phone.

Now, when I am in a pinch, I can just pull out my phone and call one of those numbers. If they can’t come quickly, I call the other number. I know that in either case, they can handle what ails my car, do it professionally, and not charge me a small mint for the service.

I’ve come to rely on one of these places as my primary stop for significant maintenance (belt replacement, brake pad replacement, and the like) because their prices on these services were stellar and their service great.

Even better, when my friends ask for such a suggestion – and they have many times in the past few years – I have a couple great names and numbers that I trust that I can quickly give to them.

Homework pays off. I don’t know how much money and how much worry and even how much time I’ve saved by doing this in advance, but it’s been worth it a hundred times over.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. lurker carl says:

    An excellent reason to retain the services of a trustworthy mechanic to perform routine maintenance like oil changes and timing belt replacements. You will already be a regular customer of a reliable shop that you know will repair your vehicle at a fair price. And a good mechanic will know troublesome issues that your particular make of vehicle may have as it ages.

  2. Liz says:

    Personally, I cannot recommend AAA (or the equivalent, if you get it “free” through your can insurance or part of a package when you bought your car). When we broke down at 2:30 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon somewhere in Minnesota while moving my brother from western South Dakota to Pennsylvania, we just called AAA. They towed our full-to-the-gills van to an approved garage for our car (turned out to be a dealership). And 2 mechanics stayed late to fix the vehicle so that we didn’t have to spend the weekend somewhere in Minnesota. Especially welcome when 2 of us had to be back at work.
    I have had a AAA membership for more than 10 years. And the approximately $1000 that I have paid over that time in membership fees has more than paid for itself in peace of mind. And quite frankly, free towing, since I have the package that will tow you up to 100 miles free of charge. (it will also bring you enough gas to get to the nearest station if you happen to run out.) Except for the Minnesota adventure, all 3 of my other breakdowns have occurred within that 100 mile radius of the mechanic that I trust at home.

  3. Liz says:

    recommend enough!!
    Gak, I wish I could edit!!!

  4. Andrew says:

    I still remember with regret the $300 I paid for a 40-mile tow 10 years ago. From the middle of nowhere back to home on New Year’s Day; I would have just had the car towed to the nearest motel except that I had 2 dogs and a birdcage full of parakeets with me.

    Fortunately, once I was home I had the time and the sense to shop around for the best price to repair the busted transmission which had caused the problem.

  5. kc says:

    re the picture: I Googled “minus muffler 121 n. prairie avenue better business bureau;” the business has been the subject of 4 complaints to the BBB in the last year. Stellar!

  6. Raya says:

    I think this is really good and PRACTICAL advice. (And I don’t usually like posts about cars.)

    Trent is absolutely right that when your car breaks, you’re in a rush to get it fixed. Your schedule is broken, you panic, and you just want to get this the hell over with.

    Which is just begging to make a really stupid thing and throw money at a (usually) overpriced service.

    Trent’s ideas here are really something anyone can do and save a bunch of money… and trouble. And stress.

  7. Tom says:

    @kc – 4 closed complaints in 3 years, you mean?

  8. kc says:

    Tom, you’re right… I misread it. My bad.

  9. Tracy says:

    This is good advice, but I think it’s titled wrong. It’s not really shopping around for car repairs, it’s ‘Find one or two mechanics/shops you really trust and build a relationship with them.’

  10. Icarus says:

    good advice but I still don’t think i’m gonna have a mechanic on my speed dial. having his business card in my wallet is probably good enough

  11. Slccom says:

    For brakes and mufflers and shocks and struts, we do go with national chains because of the anytime anywhere warantee. My father taught me to look for a stand-alone mechanic who relies on repeat business, and don’t go to somewhere like a Sears or Walmart.

    I found that asking at auto parts places like Autozone and Checkers can often steer you to good local mechanics.

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