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How to save money on car repairs

September 23, 2015
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Car repair expense often catches us by surprise. We didn't plan on it happening, so we didn't set money aside for it and now it's broken and money is tight. Is there any way we can cut down the repair expense a little and still get the car back on the road? Yep, there are ways, but first I have to tell you, "I told you so."

I've been telling you for years that breakdowns happen, and you should put some money aside for them. There, now with that out of the way, let's go on to how to save some money.

Some things can be put off a little longer, some things can be patched up for a while, some things can be simply "done without," but some things have to be done right, right now.

Things that can be put off might include the preventive maintenance procedures, like oil changes, tire rotation, wheel alignment, cooling system flushes and tune-ups. If money is tight right now, stretching these intervals won't cause the demise of the vehicle, but completely ignoring them will cause them to come back and bite you in the butt. Just stretch them out if you need to, to give yourself some breathing room. You might also put off repairing a slow water leak, like a leaking radiator or water pump, so long as you keep putting more water in to replace what leaks out, but failure to keep up could destroy the entire engine, so be careful, and remember, these things don't heal. They have to be fixed eventually.

As for patching up, suppose you have a tire blowout. You can replace it with a used tire for now. You had a used tire on there before it happened, and you can put a used tire back on there again. No harm, no foul. No need to replace tires in sets, or even in pairs, if money is tight. Many car parts can be replaced with used ones but, since they are more likely to fail, don't use them if it requires a lot of labor to change them. The repeated labor costs could exceed your savings on the parts costs.

Things you can "do without" might include the "luxury" features, like the air conditioner, heater, power windows, power seat adjuster, radio or sound system. Yeah it's uncomfortable, but if the A/C is out you can roll down the windows, unless they don't work either. You can also ignore dents and scratches. All of these things are very expensive to repair, but not really necessary to provide transportation. (Transportation is, by the way, the purpose of the car). These things can all be fixed when you're back on your feet financially, or you can sell the car "as-is" to the next owner.

Then there are things that can't wait. Legal things head the list, like safety features, lights, mirrors and things that will get you a ticket for not fixing. Grinding brake noises need immediate attention because the repair costs are spiraling up with every grind. Repeated jump-starts means a battery or alternator is due. Although you can get cheap department store batteries for your car, it's the wrong place to try to save money. The battery is arguably the most important part in the car because without it nothing else will work, so you should get the best one you can afford. You can judge the quality of a battery by the length of the warranty. Five or six year warranties are best. Forget about reconditioned batteries. They are worse than useless, they're junk.

Never mention within earshot of your car that your warranty is about to expire. It can hear you, and parts will begin to fall off. Remember; "I told you so."



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