Sometimes when I walk into an auto repair shop I feel like I have a big bullseye painted on my shirt. Yes, I’m a woman, and it is true that I know next to nothing about automobiles. I have decided to be a better auto repair consumer.
Example #1: I went to the mechanic to have a safety inspection done (this is required to get new auto plates). I was told that my power steering belt needed to be replaced because it was cracked and tearing. And since there was the drive belt that needed to be taken off to fix the power steering belt, and it was also cracking, that this should be replaced as well. Estimate: $65.28 for parts; $52.50 labor; $2.61 shop supplies and $4.29 tax. Total = $124.68. I still had a little time before I needed the passed inspection, so I said I didn’t want them to do it just now.
This is what I did:
- I went to the local auto supply place. To purchase the parts was $37 (versus the $65). Most places will install parts you bring in to them – they just don’t warranty them – which is fine… most parts come with a warranty when you purchase them.
- I googled until I found the manual for my car. Most people have these – it comes with the car generally. I bought my used and the manual was not with it when I purchased the car.
- In the manual I found the area that needed to be fixed (the two – and only two – belts in the engine).
- I looked under the hood. The mechanic said my belts were cracked and tearing. When I looked at both the belts, they looked just fine… almost like new. I did discover, however, that if they DID need to be repaired – it was worth it to pay someone to get to them and replace them.
- I took it to another shop to be inspected – and you guessed it – it passed just fine.
I did have to pay the second shop $12 for the inspection – but ended up saving myself $112.78.
Example #2: I went to the mechanic to have my oil changed. The mechanic told me I really needed to change the spark plugs, and that doing so would save me money on auto fuel. I was given the estimate of $126 for parts and labor. I declined. Instead:
- I found the cost of the same type of spark plugs the mechanic said he would use. $10 a piece – I need four.
- I found out where the spark plugs were housed – right up front. Very easy access. With the right tool, it is probably a 10-15 minute job. I verified that with a friend who knows a lot about cars – very easy to do.
- I saw that they would require a special tool to remove the old plugs (I can borrow from a neighbor – but probably would have cost $8 or $10).
- I am ready to replace them whenever I get around to it. But guess what? The last two times I have gotten my oil changed, no one else has mentioned that I need to change the spark plugs again.
When I am ready to replace these (when they actually need to be replaced) I will end up saving myself $86.
The take-away is to question and to learn. Don’t just turn over your cash to the mechanic – do a little research if you can.