Don't Mothball Your Old Car--Just Repair It For Less

May 25, 2011

When consumers are not buying new cars, they're repairing their old ones.

Right? Well, not exactly. Some repair shops are reporting that a segment of their customer base is taking one of the family cars out of service entirely. In this way they can avoid the related costs of insurance, registration, fuel, as well as repairs.

It's a drastic step, considering that it means combining daily commutes and since it greatly reduces travel freedom for the entire family. So if you want to keep all your cars on the road and they need repairs, what can you do to save money on the work?  

Comparison-shop when you need repairs. Some repair jobs are fairly standard, give you ample warning, and usually don’t leave you on the side of the road. Exhaust, brakes and tires are examples. You can easily solicit prices from multiple facilities to see where your preferred repair shop stands in the mix. You'll need to compare exactly the same repairs to save money--for instance, be specific when pricing an exhaust job by asking for the cost of replacing everything from the catalytic converter back to and including the tailpipe. Don’t stop with the price, either; also check the business’s reliability rating.

Look for sales. The two big months for tire replacement are April and October, so if you need new rubber try to time your purchase for those months. Your repair facility of choice may run specials the same time each year, which are usually geared to changes in the weather; if so, take advantage of the price reductions.

Specify cheaper alternatives. Did you know that everything from air filters to alternators usually come in different quality levels? So until the economy improves, why not choose the silver rather than the gold grade of muffler? It will be cheaper, but it will come with a shorter warranty. In the example of the muffler, fit and safety should not be issues. Will it do the same job as the top of the line muffler? Yes and no. It will safely remove the exhaust form the car’s engine but may not do it as quietly as the more expensive muffler.

Study your maintenance schedule. If you have ever really looked at the suggested maintenance items in your owner’s manual, you may have realized that many of the items listed are repetitive. Take charge of what is done to your car and rewrite what the book suggests in your own handwriting, eliminating anything that was done recently or for which you have a warranty at another repair shop. If you simply tell the shop to do the recommended service for 50,000 miles, you will definitely pay for everything on the list.

Finally, consider the other consequences of taking a car out of service, like the need to run it periodically and the exposure to vandalism if it is not garage-kept. You'll usually find that keeping it on the road costs less than you may have thought.

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