I Need To Fix My Car! 7 Steps To Smooth Car Repairs

by Millie Kay G. on September 26, 2008

Get your car fixed with less hassle! Here are some suggestions on how to handle your car repairs.

funny car repairs

Over the last few years, the cars in my family have given me valuable lessons in networking, financial planning, and the value of a good maintenance program. Unfortunately, my latest lesson arrived when the transmission in my ancient Pontiac went out. It’s time to review what I know about keeping my cars happy and everyone safe.

How To Handle Car Repairs For Less Money and Hassle

1. Get your car checked upon the first sign of problems.

Car breakdowns don’t happen out of the blue for the most part, and I wasn’t exactly surprised when my car refused to reverse itself anymore. Already, I had warnings signs: I’d been having trouble changing gears for some time. So when I left the driveway one afternoon, it made a loud noise I’d never heard before and I knew that my car was in trouble. If I’d been more savvy, I would’ve hauled the car to a mechanic pronto.

Another family car left an odd-colored stain on the driveway. This could be a sign of a coolant leak, so I’m going to be on the lookout for problems like overheating or more stains.

Tip: If your car changes its behavior and displays symptoms you haven’t seen before, make a note of it in case you need to take action soon. Getting your car repairs done before your car breaks down completely will probably save you a lot of money — and aggravation.

2. Find a good and reputable mechanic.

For car repairs, I visit a mechanic in my family but I also occasionally get my car serviced at the place where I get my oil changes. However, if you usually get your oil changed at places like Walmart’s Auto Center or Jiffy Lube, you might want to introduce yourself to a place that can take care of your car’s more advanced needs. Ask your friends and neighbors whom they turn to for their car’s needs: a good recommendation can go a longer way than a frantic scan of the phone book.

car engine, funny car repairs

3. Pick up used parts to economize.

When my transmission went out, my cousin, the best mechanic I know, soon determined that it would need a replacement. At a place like Everdrive, a replacement transmission can cost over $800. Also, scouring Craigslist for auto parts yielded lots of possibilities, but the process can be kind of painstaking when you’re in a hurry. Instead, my mechanic located a used transmission at a salvage place for less than $500.

If you want to avoid your car dealer’s prices, a salvage place can give you good prices; just be aware that you’ll need a good-sized truck to pick the part up yourself. As a plus, the new-to-me replacement transmission I got from the salvage yard came with a six month warranty; in addition, the salvage place offered a refund of $50 if I bring back my old part.

You can also pick up car parts from online sites such as Parts America, or Auto Parts Warehouse, which offers discounts and free shipping for orders meeting a particular limit.

4. Join an auto club.

I could’ve saved myself some trouble by joining a plan for roadside assistance. The AARP Motoring Plan looks good for eligible members; though a lot of us are more familiar with AAA. Basic AAA membership in my state starts at $50 and offers towing, battery service, tire service, and more. That sounds like a bargain for peace of mind (and my father would love to stop answering my “help, I’m stuck!” calls).

5. Learn the basics of car maintenance.

Beyond filling the gas tank and putting air in the tires, it’s hard to make time to maintain my vehicles. However, if I learn how to diagnose common car ailments myself, I could forestall the need for major repairs in the future. The last few times I had car questions, I headed over to Car Talk and searched for car problems similar to mine. I also like to conduct my research in About’s Auto Repair section — it allowed me to narrow down my aforementioned transmission problem to three possibilities from a dozen possible scenarios, before the mechanic even looked at it.

6. Be forewarned: car repairs may be closer than they appear!

Because I don’t like the prices at the gas pump, I’ve been driving a lot less. However, that doesn’t mean my car won’t need more repairs down the line. To keep the car from blowing my monthly budget, I need to set aside money for it each month. I’m lousy at the envelope system, so I might open up a high yield savings account just for my car at banks like HSBC Direct, Etrade Bank, WTDirect. If I make regular transfers into this account, I won’t faint the next time a mechanic gives me an estimate. Even better, it won’t go on a credit card at 13% interest.

7. Plan ahead for the next set of wheels.

If I want to be really proactive about future car repair costs, I should start skimming through car reviews. I check out Automotive.com and read Popular Mechanics for its tech articles anyway, but their car reviews can be pretty enlightening, too. Edmunds also allows consumers to rate the cars: I particularly enjoyed what they had to say about the 2008 Kia Optima and its reliability.

So don’t get stuck at the side of the road like me — plan ahead for car repairs today.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 iain July 28, 2009 at 1:41 pm

Firstly, I can’t believe someone used an empty Pringles tube to fix their car.

Secondly, I tried using used parts to repair my car (it needed a new radiator) and I got one that seemed to be in good condition but a couple months later it broke and I bought new parts for it because I didn’t trust buying used again.

Are there any ways to guarantee you buy a good part that will last a while longer?

2 dennis August 25, 2009 at 9:09 am

I have a 1999 ford taurus with an automatic on the column. The car is located 1 hours drive from here. My wife said it doesn’t shift gears, the shifter moves freely, I suspect the shifter cable. Does this car have a shifter cable or is it linkage? All the parts stores don’t list it, but the dealer does and they want my first born son. Junk yards are a no go too old and probably rusted solid. Any ideas?

3 dennis August 25, 2009 at 11:39 am

Sometimes you have to improvise, I ounce broke a leaf spring, it was 2 weeks to the next payday and a new job. I jacked the car up cut a block of wood with my chainsaw notched it to fit between the u bolts and fit it between the axel and frame. It worked till I could afford a new spring. Truck rode a little rough but it worked. Now for the lawyers’ disclaimer, I do not recommend you do this, I am a trained professional. Auto mechanic, Machinist, Sr. electro mechanical technicion, and now a Manufacturing Engineer.

4 steven October 5, 2009 at 8:02 am

i have a hyundai elantra 1998; it is leaking oil from the sump. Can someone please tell me if this is an easy job to fix as i have no money for a garage; it cost over $300 for a new clutch. A rip off i know but we broke down on the motorway and have no choice. Any help will be gratefully received!

5 kerrian April 12, 2010 at 11:17 am

I bought a 1999 Mits. Galant about 3 weeks ago. Low and behold met in an accident I am so stressed because all my money had gone into this car. I saved so hard to get this car and it is all gone in one minute. The damage is not that bad but I just can’t find the money to fix it. Can someone please please help me.

6 don July 24, 2011 at 8:11 pm

I have a jaguar 2000 model and the car will not go in reverse but drives smoothly.

7 Kam February 22, 2012 at 7:21 am

Salvage parts are great if you go to a reputable yard, the one I go to has the parts on the shelf and has even on the odd occasion helped me fit the part for free, I guess you have to keep looking till you find one you can trust. I have a 1999 vw golf and parts are hard to come by.

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