Car owners often overpay, sometimes by hundreds of dollars, to solve problems they could easily fix themselves.
We’re not talking about under-the-hood projects that’ll get your hands black with grease. These fixes — things like replacing lost keys or repairing scratches and dents — involve a savvy combination of newly available markets and resources.
“There’s a lot more people can do on their own cars than they thought,” says Greg Kopf, brand ambassador for CARiD, an online auto parts retailer. “I encourage people to get into [their] garage, get immersed in the community of online resources that are now available.”
Here are five no-brainers to save money while keeping your car running and looking sharp.
1. Buy replacement key fobs online
Remote-control car key fobs are handy, until you lose one. Dealerships charge exorbitant prices for replacement fobs — $234 for a 2016 Mazda3 remote start key, for example — and programming it costs extra. If you buy a fob on eBay Motors instead, you could pay as little as $20, depending on the key, and it might cost about $100 for a mobile locksmith to program it. “This is definitely a money-saver,” Kopf says. “A lot of the mobile services will charge you less than if you were to take your car and leave it at the dealership.”
2. Find a mobile paintless dent remover
You backed into the garbage can, leaving an ugly dent in your car. A body shop would easily charge $700 for the fix. But if the paint isn’t broken, a mobile paintless dent repair technician can massage it back into shape for about $150. Find a highly rated technician on Yelp and text pictures of the dent to see whether it’s doable.
3. Touch up — don’t repaint — scratches
A body shop will want to repaint an entire car panel that’s been scratched to make sure the color matches. But with a steady hand, an artist’s brush and some patience, you can do the job yourself, touching up scrapes, scratches and pitting. Kopf says you can buy a kit that matches your car’s paint and provides everything you need to make many blemishes disappear. Prices range from $10 for paint pens to over $50 for premium touch-up kits. Find your car’s paint color code on a sticker in the glove box or on the driver’s-side door. Or find a mobile paint touch-up expert to do the job at your house.
4. Buy parts online
After years of working as a dealership service advisor, Kopf knows markups on parts are “drastic.” You can buy auto parts for a fraction of the price via eBay or another online retailer and have a mechanic install them. But don’t pick the cheapest option. “Make sure you’re buying a reputable brand,” Kopf says. You may even be able to buy the same part the dealership sells at a reduced cost.
5. Clear foggy headlights yourself
YouTube videos show foggy headlights rubbed clear with toothpaste as a buffing compound — a quick $2 fix. “I’ve never tried it myself,” says Kopf, who suggests buying a headlight-clearing kit. You can find these online for about $20. Or, he says, buying and replacing the headlight assembly costs a bit more, but installation is simple. With sparkling lenses, you’ll see better at night and your car will look years younger.
Next time trouble strikes, check out online tutorials and resources first. Maybe you can save some money and tackle the job yourself — or at least you’ll be better informed if you decide to hand it off to an expert.