Finding low cost auto repair that also takes good care of your car isn’t always easy. But in this article, we’ve taken our time to outline the most affordable auto repair shop you might want to try.
When it comes time to service your vehicle, they’re a lot of points of confusion. You wonder if you actually need the service or if you could at least hold out until your next paycheck.
You wonder how long you can really go until you need to address that check engine light.
In order to clear up some of the vehicle maintenance processes, we have laid out some frequently asked questions below.
Finding the Most Affordable Auto Repair
Word of mouth matters a lot to mechanics. That’s how small-town shops get a lot of their business.
You can call multiple repair shops near you and ask for an estimate (for the repair and the hourly rate for labor). You have the right to know how much a repair costs.
If a shop won’t tell you, if they’re rude, or seems especially expensive, take your business elsewhere.
You can also ask what certifications the shop has. Are the mechanics registered with the National Institute or Automotive Service Excellence (ASE)?
Are they affiliated with other trade associations like the American Automobile Association (AAA)?
If they are, it’s not a guarantee of a solid operation, but these associations require mechanics to go through a certain amount of training in order to receive certification, so it’s likely they know what they’re doing.
Check With the Better Business Bureau
On that same note, you can always check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to see if there have been any complaints about the mechanics or repair shops near you.
A few small complaints shouldn’t make you rule out a business entirely, but a shop that’s received a particularly high number of complaints should be avoided. Sometimes a higher price really does equal better service.
Look for Reviews
Yelp or cartalk.com can be surprisingly helpful in your search for a mechanic. The internet has provided people with the ability to complain or rave about a business completely anonymously and they do.
At the very least, you’ll know if someone had a bad experience with a certain mechanic or shop. But not all mechanics are going to have a significant presence online.
In fact, the best ones might not need to have a website or a Facebook page because they already have enough business from word-of-mouth referrals.
So how do you get a word-of-mouth referral if your friends don’t drive the same kind of car? Look to online forums. There are at least one or two active forums for every make and model of car imaginable.
If you get lucky, you’ll find a thread or two discussing mechanics in your area. If not, you can try posting and asking for a recommendation.
Don’t Take it to the Dealership After the Warranty has Expired
A rule to live by when you’ve got an older car without a warranty—never take your car to the dealership. They charge more for everything—parts, hourly compensation, etc.
Of course, the dealership is your cheapest option if you have a warranty because everything will be covered and of no cost to you.
At the dealership, there’s a good chance you won’t actually be met by the mechanic—an advantage you get with a smaller repair shop.
There will likely be someone hired specifically for customer service that will explain what’s wrong with your car and take your money.
If you appreciate good customer service and a friendly relationship, you’re better off with a private garage (not that all dealerships are evil, but in my experience, they aren’t the greatest).
However, it is best to bring certain cars to the dealership. Take my Saturn Ion for example. Mechanics hate my car because Saturns aren’t made anymore so they can never find parts for it. Saturns were a short-lived production by General Motors that didn’t pan out.
GM dealers are able to find parts easier and their mechanics have more experience with the type of car. So while it may be more expensive, sometimes it’s best, if you’re in the same situation as me, to take your car someplace that knows what they’re doing rather than chance it.
While major car repair problems are going to require a mechanic, you probably don’t even realize how much you can fix all on your own.
You can easily change the oil, windshield wipers, headlight bulbs, spark plugs, and more on your own. This route allows you to just pay for parts instead of parts and labor.
Luckily, we live in the age of technology where you can Google most of your problems and you’ll find a quick answer. YouTube is also filled with helpful tutorials if you prefer to watch videos.
You can also do things like they did in the old days and read a car repair book (yes, they still exist), or even take a cheap shop class.
Community colleges and vocational schools typically offer night classes or weekend courses for under $100 (or not much more) that teach you the basics of car maintenance.
Organizations Offering Low Cost Auto Repair
Local Community Action Agency
These agencies are partly funded by the federal government and many do operate resources that focus on employment, which will include transportation needs.
Even if assistance with car repairs is not offered, they may instead provide bus passes or other support.
While each location will offer its own unique type and number of assistance programs, most of them do offer some type of transportation assistance and related programs.
Or if they do not directly offer the service they may have referrals to who may. Get transportation for a doctor’s appointment, job interview, or other emergency needs in a local town or county.
Or apply for a grant or loan that can in effect pay for the repair or maintenance of your automobile.
Working Cars for Working Families
This organization focuses on providing used cars or financing to low income individuals, but that may be a good place to call to learn about about free auto repairs
Many organizations that focus on getting free cars to those in need have formed a coalition at workingcarsforworkingfamilies.org.
Use their nifty Find a Program tool to find agencies that provide free cars, low cost auto repair or low income auto loans in your area.
A search in the Portland, Oregon, area directs users to contact Ways to Work Inc. at (503) 688-1785 for help obtaining a reliable vehicle.
According to the Ways to the Work website, “The ability to access affordable loans to purchase, repair, or refinance a car can be life-changing for working parents.
As part of the national Ways to Work program, we’re getting parents on the road when they need it most.”
This is a nationwide network of human service organizations. While the exact types of programs will vary by town, county, and state, some of the locations may be able to help with car repairs or offer referrals.
The non-profit organization also works with local agencies and charities to help the less fortunate, and one service may be coordinating assistance for repairs to your automobile. They may also offer advice on where to get a donated car from.
Ways to Work
When you rely on a vehicle to get to work, losing your transportation can be an absolute disaster. Ways to Work doesn’t provide free cars but they do provide small, low-interest loans to qualifying low-income applicants.
Loans will be for no longer than 30 months and no more than 8% interest.
You can donate your old automobile to them, and they will then screen individuals to find the best match for your car.
While they do not directly provide for repairs, they may be able to refer the needy to local repair shops that offer assistance. They also provide low-cost cars to those who need them.
Non-Profit Auto Repair Shops
Depending on where you’re located, you may be able to find a non-profit auto repair shop in your area. These shops provide cheap auto repair by reducing labor costs.
Portland, Oregon, residents can find a non-profit auto repair shop across Columbia in Vancouver. The Carpenter’s Garage has given back over $1 million to Portland and Vancouver residents in scholarships and discounted labor services.
Community Action Agencies
Local community action agencies provide assistance with rent, energy bills, weatherization assistance and sometimes even help with car repairs. Funds vary depending on your location, donation levels and fund availability. You can find a CAC in your area by searching your city or county name followed by “Community Action Agency.”
Churches & Charities
Depending on funds availability and local programs, you may be able to receive assistance from a local charity or Church. These programs are widely varied and cannot be fully researched on this blog.
You may be able to receive assistance from St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Community Services, Salvation Army and/or United Methodist Church Car Ministry.
These programs are not available in all areas and funding varies. In some cases, bus vouchers or other alternative methods of assistance may be provided.
1. What Should I Do When My Check Engine Lights Come On?
When your check engine light comes on, there could be a number of issues. It could be something basic, like a loose gas cap, or it could be something serious. The best way to ensure that you are safe behind the wheel is to bring your vehicle into our shop for a multi-point inspection. We can find the issue and make you aware of it so you can choose whether or not you want to take the next steps to getting your vehicle back to peak conditions.
2. How Often Should I Have My Brakes Checked?
It is important to have your brakes checked often. Most folks have their brakes checked when they have their tires rotated. One of the mechanics at our service center can check the thickness of your brake pads to ensure that they are running at peak conditions. Your brake pads are essential for maintaining stopping power, so be sure to have them checked every chance that you get.
3. What Type of Oil Filter Do I Need?
The type of filter that your vehicle needs depends on the type of oil that it needs. Conventional oil needs to be changed about every 3,000 miles and only requires a conventional filter. Synthetic oil, on the other hand, lasts much longer. It can last anywhere between 6,000 and 12,000 miles.
4. Do I Really Need Winter Tires?
In a one word answer? Yes. Winter tires provide more traction in slippery conditions which can help keep you on the road and away from the side of the road. They also help you get up slippery hills. That means while others are left on the side of the road, you will be cruising to your destination with complete peace of mind.
Finding the right mechanic can take some effort—you want to know they’ll fix your car and not cheat you out of a ton of money you don’t have.
Ask your friends, family, and the internet which places are the best around you. You’ll probably get some helpful advice on a decent mechanic in your price range.
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