10 tips to save on auto repairs

A customer came into Bill Rimmer’s repair shop needing a fuel pump on an Isuzu. When she found out the part was $800, she went shopping around for the part on her own. Every time she ordered a part from a local auto parts store, it would take three days to come in. And every time, Rimmer said, it was the wrong part. In between, she rented a car.

Finally, after a month and lots of money gone, she let Cooper Lake Automotive in Smyrna do the work.

Matt Kriwanek, owner of Classic Auto Repair in Norcross, has seen all kinds of disasters come through his shop. A disassembled dashboard and steering column on a Dodge Durango, evidence of someone’s ill-attempt to replace an air conditioner evaporator. Expensive engine damage. The list goes on.

With Georgia’s unemployment rate cresting at 10.1 percent, consumers are trying to find ways to save money on everything, including car repairs.

“A lot of people are losing their jobs,” said mobile mechanic Kevin Jordan. “They need to get their cars fixed to make it back and forth, and MARTA doesn’t go everywhere. The way the economy is now, it’s better to fix it than getting a big car payment.”

Do your homework before taking your car to a mechanic/Photo by Rana L. Cash, rcash@ajc.com

Do your homework before taking your car to a mechanic/Photo by Rana L. Cash, rcash@ajc.com

New car dealerships are on average 34 percent higher than independent repair shops, according to a study released by the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association. In many cases, it makes sense to go to a local shop. Before you make a colossal mistake costing you time, money and peace of mind, heed these tips from a few of metro Atlanta’s local mechanics.

1. Let the mechanic diagnose the problem. You can get a free diagnosis at an auto parts store, but the result is often too vague. Only a professional shop can be precise enough.

“People always come into shops and they tell you what needs to be fixed and insist on it, instead of letting the shop do the diagnostic look,” said Jean Pierre Feguiere, co-owner of Conquest Auto in College Park. “Then, they have to bring it back to you anyway. Get it done right the first time.”

2. Find a mechanic you trust.

“I’d like to think that no one is out there trying to rip people off,” Rimmer said. “But it is important to go to someone you know and trust.”

Said Kriwanek: “Ask your friends who did good repairs for them. Go with referrals. Price shopping is a way to get burned.”

3. Don’t put off repairs.

“If you keep putting it off and putting it off, it’s gonna get expensive,” Rimmer said.

4. Buy a car you can afford. Think beyond the ticket price.

“If you buy a car and can’t afford the repair costs on it, you’re in trouble,” Rimmer said. “People do it all the time.”

5. Take your owner’s manual out of the glove compartment and read it.

Some clues about indicator lights could be right there in the manual, and it may not even be expensive. For example, the check engine light could come on simply because you need to check the gas cap, Kriwanek said. Or, if you right rear door isn’t working, it may be as simple as a kiddie lock. And If you go in for the recommended manufacturer’s service, you can make sure the mechanic isn’t adding on unnecessary services not in the manual.

6. Ask for your used parts back.

If you want to be certain the part was replaced, it’s not rude to ask for the used part, said Fequiere.

7. If you fix it yourself, make sure you know what you’re doing.

Here’s a pat on the back for those ambitious enough to give it a go on their own. But some missteps can be costly. Rimmer said he’s seen people put power steering fluid or even oil where brake fluid should be. Do we really need to know the results of that?

8. Look for good customer service.

Going to the auto mechanic shouldn’t be unpleasant. If a shop takes pride in its work, it will treat its customers well, Fequiere said.

Jean Pierre Fequiere works on a broken rearview mirror/Photo by Rana L. Cash, rcash@ajc.com

Jean Pierre Fequiere works on a broken mirror/Photo by Rana L. Cash, rcash@ajc.com

9. Cheaper doesn’t mean it’s less expensive

If it sounds too good to be true, well, you know the rest. Always ask about hidden costs, the types of parts being used and the quality of the products. In this case, you get what you pay for.

10. Edmunds.com offers these five steps that you actually can do:

  • Follow your service schedule
  • Check fluids and tire pressure regularly
  • Let your car warm up. If the car has been sitting for five hours or more, there is little or no oil left on moving parts.
  • Use a single, high grade fuel on high performance vehicles. On all cars, consistently using the same grade of gas will reduce the chance of deposits building up within your fuel system.
  • Finally, drive smart. Pull of slowly, drive the speed limit and come to gradual stops

Have you opted to get your car repaired — or even fix it yourself — instead of buying another vehicle? What have you learned along the way?

9 comments Add your comment

Josh Maxwell

July 15th, 2009
2:31 pm

I discovered your homepage by coincidence.
Very interesting posts and well written.
I will put your site on my blogroll.


July 15th, 2009
2:53 pm

I’ve worked on my own cars for years. It seems that everytime I take one to a shop for repair, they try to screw me over somehow. IF I’m careful and do research ahead of time and while doing the repair myself I find that I come out way ahead. That said I also enjoy the work and the learning. I also already have a good collection of tools that if I didn’t have it would not be worth going to buy them for a one-off repair.


July 15th, 2009
4:30 pm

For the ladies, take time to learn a little bit about cars. My brother and father always worked on cars so I have more some knowledge and it goes along way when dealing with potentially dishonest car shops. Love the idea of asking for the used parts. Quick oil change places are known for showing you a dirty filter that wasn’t from your car. Your car is a big investment and is worth studying.


July 15th, 2009
4:47 pm

Many years ago I dated a guy for two years who became a mechanic for an American-made (rhymes with cord) car dealership. He said the guys there would do things such as loosen bolts so that car owners would need to bring their vehicles back for more “repairs”, thus generating revenue for the dealership and keeping the mechanics employed. I once bought a Kia and religiously took it to the dealership for scheduled maintenance, but still the payments lasted longer than the car. Then I bought a new Jeep Liberty and have driven it for 6 years/163,000 miles without a single tune up and so far no problems…knocking on wood.


July 15th, 2009
6:25 pm

I just had a mechanic replace a fuel pump on my vehicle when it only needed a new battery. Cost me $700 bucks, parts and labor! (scowling)

Rana Cash

July 15th, 2009
6:29 pm

Jacquie, I’m so sorry to hear that. That might be the worst story I’ve heard so far. One of the key tips here: get referrals from friends, colleagues and associates. Don’t walk blindly into a shop. Check the shop’s website for reviews as well.


July 15th, 2009
7:06 pm

Fuel Pumps don’t even cost that much… it’s the labor that is killing it. I have changed a few pumps in my day. Some minor repairs can be done at home. I don’t have to pay 30 dollars for an oil change.


July 15th, 2009
7:06 pm

My wife and I owned and operated a service business years ago. Most car repairs today are not intuitive or easy. One mistake and you can get hurt or worse, much less you will spend a lot of time and money and still have a problem. If you are gifted in electrical and mechanical knowledge you can fix your own car by using resources on the web. Otherwise don’t try. Find some one to trust! If we held our Doctors to the same standards as we do our auto technicians it would be a different world. Check with your BBB and AAA for a good shop. Build a relationship with a good techncian. Dealerships are not all bad.
Don’t let a shade tree mechanic touch your car!


July 15th, 2009
7:35 pm

I agree with all the comments above, people are keeping their cars longer and they need to ensure they stay running properly. That is why I have started a company called https://www.warrantyelite.com. We sell Vehcile Service Contracts/ Warranties direct to consumers over the Internet. Our product is backed by an A rated Insurance Company and allows you to take your vehicle to any dealer or auto repair facility in the United States or Canada. We will be launching the site within the next 30 days.