4 ways to avoid pricey car repairs

If your car is off-warranty, chances are you cringe every time you hear a strange noise from the engine.

You know that car repairs cost hundreds of dollars, if not more these days.

So we went to two well-respected Cincinnati repair shops to learn some simple ways to avoid big repairs, and make sure you're not being ripped off when it comes time to have work done.
Nothing Is Cheap Anymore

Ed Smith just had his transmission repaired, for $1,800. Yes, it cost him almost $2K to get it to shift properly again.
"Going to the auto repair place is like going to the doctor," Smith said. "You can't afford it, know what I'm saying?"

We know what he's saying.

Certified mechanic Dan Sweet feels their pain. Sweet, who runs Stephens Foreign Car Service in downtown Cincinnati, said he does his best to keep costs down.

But he says computerized systems, costly diagnostic tools, and the ways today's engines are all jammed together in a tiny space, means a basic water or fuel pump replacement can cost $500 or more.

"The water pump might be $59," Sweet said. "But now it's $500 just to get to it, in labor costs.".

So how can you avoid that pricey repair?
4 Ways To Keep Costs Down

Sweet says regular maintenance is key. He's now replacing an engine on a 10-year-old BMW, he says, because the owner drove it too long with low coolant.

"They didn't really pay attention to it until it was too late, Sweet said. "The engine overheated, and pretty much locked up."
So with the help of Sweet and AAA, we found 4 ways to keep those repair bills from overheating.
1. Change The Oil And Coolant

It may sound too obvious, but a recent AAA survey found many people wait too long to change the oil, coolant, and other fluids.

Paul Simon of Cincinnati AAA/Bob Sumerel said "38 percent of cars surveyed had low oil or dirty oil.  And the oil is the lifeblood of  the engine. If you don't change it properly, you're going to face engine replacement down the road, which could be $5,000."
2. Postponing Brake And Tire Maintenance

Are you holding off on replacing brake pads to save a few dollars?
Not smart, says AAA. 
Simon explained "if you wait (until) you're grinding metal, that can cost $800 to $900, maybe even more.  Replacing the pads when they were due might have cost $150 or less."

If you don't rotate tires, and check their pressure monthly, Simon said. Those 50,000 mile tires might last just 25,000.
3. Know What Repair Should Cost
Another way to avoid pricey repairs, our experts say: Know what the repair should cost going into it.

Two websites will estimate the cost of most repairs for you, base on your car's year, model, and features.

        - AutoMD 's repair cost calculator.

        - NAPA repair estimator.

Do you need an alternator for a 2004 Chevy Malibu? It should cost $388 at a dealer, $285 at an independent repair shop, and about $150 if you do it yourself, NADA claims.
4. Get to Know A Good Mechanic
Which leads to the AAA's last tip: Once your car is off warranty, find a mechanic you can trust. He can help you avoid pricey repairs down the road, as he will know when items need to be changed, flushed, or rotated.
Simon explained that some of the cars with the most serious issues are those where the owner went to a different quickie shop for every service: No one had records as to what had and had not been done.  

Of course we can't all have a trusted mechanic .
So if a car repair shop gives you an estimate for more than $600 or $700, for what seems like a simple issue, you may want to take the car to another shop for a second opinion, especially if it's a shop you have not done business with before.

In that case, you may be able to save by shopping around. But after that try to find a good local mechanic you can stick with, so you don't waste your money.       

Don't Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of the EW Scripps Co.

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