How to Keep Your Car Repair and Maintenance Costs Low

Key steps like researching service costs and discounts and getting a second opinion on major repairs can help ensure you get fair prices.
Auto Loans, Shopping
You can trust that we maintain strict editorial integrity in our writing and assessments; however, we receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners and get approved. Here's how we make money.
How to Keep Your Car Maintenance Bills Low

Car repairs can be a big source of financial stress. Millions of Americans wouldn’t be able to pay for the average repair bill — between $500 and $600 — without going into debt, according to a recent survey by auto club AAA. Repairs are unpredictable, and meanwhile, car owners periodically have to spring for routine maintenance as well.

These costs quickly add up. AAA estimated that the average repair and maintenance costs for a new vehicle in 2017 would total about $1,200 a year. Keeping these expenses down can help prevent financial distress while reining in your total car costs. Follow these guidelines to keep your repair and maintenance costs in check.

Know your stuff

People, especially women, were more likely to get a better price on car repairs if they demonstrated to the mechanic that they had done some research, according to a 2017 study by researchers at Northwestern University. Women also were more likely to get a favorable response if they tried to bargain down the price. So arm yourself with information about what the necessary repairs should cost.

Arm yourself with information about what the necessary repairs should cost when trying to get a better price.

Websites such as AutoMD and DriverSide let you troubleshoot problems with your car. This won’t replace advice from a trained mechanic unless you’re really handy, but it will help you sound and feel more knowledgeable when you talk to the repair shop. Both sites also help you estimate what certain repairs should cost.

Find discounts and check warranties

Searching online for coupons can sometimes save you a few bucks when you go to have your brakes done or your tires replaced, especially at well-known chains like Meineke and Pep Boys.

New-car warranties typically last at least three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first. If you’re within that time period, your repairs should be covered. Even used cars, if bought from a dealership, may have a parts and labor warranty.

Find a good mechanic

Once you find a trustworthy mechanic, never let that person go. If you’re still searching, look for auto mechanics certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. ASE-certified technicians are proficient in all areas of automotive repairs and maintenance and must meet minimum work requirements and pass an exam.

Ask friends and family for recommendations and then check reviews to find reputable shops.

Auto experts also advise asking friends and family for recommendations, then checking online reviews and at the Better Business Bureau to make sure the shops are reputable. AAA approval of a repair facility is also a good indicator that its mechanics are skilled and honest, because each shop has to meet high standards and maintain them to stay in the program.

Get a second opinion

You wouldn’t have major surgery without getting a second opinion, would you? Treat major car repairs in the same way. Get at least one other mechanic to look at your vehicle to make sure it really does need that new engine.

“Assuming the repair isn’t an emergency, it’s well worth taking a day to gather a few estimates from different facilities,” says Brandon Anderson, an ASE-certified technician and a service and parts specialist for CarDash, a car repair concierge service. And if each shop recommends the same services, “this will give you an idea if you’re getting a fair price or not,” he says.

Maintain your car — within reason

Bringing your car in for regular maintenance can help prevent more expensive problems later, but not all services are necessary. Your car’s owners manual includes a maintenance schedule that notes when to get your car serviced and what needs to be done, so check it to avoid getting unnecessary work done.

Your car’s owners manual has a maintenance schedule that notes when to get your car serviced and what needs to be done.

Recommended checkups at certain mileage intervals often involve only minor things, such as checking the fluids, that you may be able to do yourself. The classic advice used to be to change your oil every 3,000 miles, but many cars today can wait until 5,000 miles. Check your owners manual to find out about your car.

You can also buy electronic diagnostic tools that plug into a jack under your dashboard and tell you which part of the car is acting up, so you know exactly what to ask your mechanic to fix.

Consider the type of car you buy

Ultimately, the cost of maintaining your car may have more to do with the type of car it is than anything else. For instance, Asian and domestic vehicles have similar repair costs, while European vehicles are slightly more expensive to repair, Anderson says. “European vehicles, to their credit, usually require less frequent maintenance visits but cost more per visit,” he says.

You can research brand-specific costs of ownership at Consumer Reports and even the breakdown of costs for your specific make and model with Edmunds.com’s True Cost to Own feature.

Be a savvy customer

Even if you’re not mechanically inclined, you can learn to be a smarter and savvier customer at the auto repair shop. Do your research, ask a lot of questions, and if something doesn’t feel right, go to another mechanic. Your car and your wallet will both benefit from your extra attention.

About the author