One downside of becoming well-versed in the art of frugal DIY car repair is that you might become a de-facto auto mechanic for your family and friends. I didn’t mind it when it was just the two of us but now our son takes up most of my spare time with very little time to do anything else. Finding a moment to do some DIY maintenance on our own two rapidly aging cars and a 30 year old motorcycle is already challenging enough, which is one of the reasons I quickly outsourced a task of replacing CV axles on my mom’s 1999 Infinity G20 to a friend who runs his mobile auto repair business. The other reason was that this car spent most of its long life parked next to the ocean in the Northeast so I had no desire to mess with any of the rusty drive-train components while laying on the floor under the car. Given all the issues encountered by the mechanic (who happens to have the all important Car Lift), this turned out to be a wise decision indeed.
Despite my limited time, I still try to help my mom with her car as much as I can. Whenever something is not working right – which happens often on a 15 year old car – I always tell he to bring it so I can look it over first. With my collection of auto tools I can address most routine maintenance tasks quickly and at a fraction of a cost she would’ve incurred by having to bring it to a professional garage. And by fraction I really do mean a tiny amount in comparison. I can do a brake fluid change in 30 minutes and for less than $4 (four dollars) with my Mityvac instead of $70-100. A DIY coolant change yields a roughly similar ratio of savings vs. time investment. Brake pads are under $20 for parts. Things like engine air filters and windshield wipers are even cheaper with only a few of minutes needed to change them.
A lot of time I don’t have to actually do any physical work to help my mom save a ton of money. Simply knowing how cars work (mostly from hands-on DIY projects and some reading) combined with a few tricks learned about getting the best deal on parts with the help of the Internet I get to fire up my hunting instincts while being “a good son”, all with no grease on my hands. It’s a win-win all around!
Latest example of such a mutually beneficial arrangement comes courtesy of a dead car battery. Not dead per se but on its way out. It was diagnosed as such during a state inspection by a local repair shop which also offered to rectify this problem to the tune of $190. Even if you don’t know anything about cars one safe bet is to never let your dealer or repair shop change your battery, unless you don’t care about money. The battery that they will put in will not be any better than what you can get at your local auto store, but you will certainly pay a lot more than if you shop around. You also usually have a bit of time before the battery will give out completely so it’s not one of those things that HAS to be done on the spot. After the diagnose, calmly collect your car and proceed to the nearest exit.
Let’s see if we can improve on that $190 replacement quote. For batteries my usual method is to price shop between a couple of local auto parts stores. This means going to web sites of Autozone, Advance Auto and Pep Boys and comparing prices on batteries that have similar specs (cold cranking amps or CCAs) and warranties. Doing so usually results in 3 options that are close in price.
This is the point where you can significantly lower the price by using coupons. While Autozone and Pep Boys do offer discounts, they don’t come close to the coupons routinely available at Advance Auto. I usually end up getting at least 40% off but I do see 50% off coupons once in a while.
Finding these coupons is easy – just type in “advance auto coupon” in your favorite search engine and you should get several legit results on the first page. I tend to just go to www.retailmenot.com and searching from there as their coupons have proved to be reliable in the past and not only for Advance Auto.
Better yet, I check out the purchase through Ebates, a site that literally pays you to shop online. This saves additional 5.5% on top of the 40-50% I’m already getting from Advance Auto.
Putting it all together we get this pleasant shopping cart:
As you can see, I easily found a coupon that instantly saved my mom $40 on the already lower price battery than the $190 one from the repair shop, and a better spec battery to boot. Note that “core charges” of $18 are refundable when you give your old battery to them.
Checking out through Ebates saved another 5.5% so the new battery ended up costing $80:
After just a few minutes of price hacking, my mom ended up paying less than half of what the repair shop wanted to charge to put in a new battery. $80 sounds much nicer than $190, doesn’t it? Even better, the battery that we got from Advance Auto has higher CCAs and longer warranty than the one offered by the shop.
But wait, you say… What about installing the battery? Well, first of all I would never pay anyone $110 (the difference between $80 and $190) to install a car battery since it’s a 5 minute job tops. However, I didn’t even have to do that because most local auto stores offer FREE installation and old battery recycling with any new battery purchase. After purchasing the battery online while the car was still at the shop for the state inspection, I told my mom to stop by the Advance Auto after she picks up the car. The store was on the way home from the repair shop, so in this case all it “cost” her was a 10 minute stop at the store for a free installation. Not a bad way to save $110!
True with most shopping in general, the biggest return on investment is achieved by shopping around. Internet makes it trivial yet lots of people continue to ignore this simple trick continuously sabotaging their finances. You can buy a new battery from a dealer or a repair shop. You can walk into your local brick-and-mortar auto store and pay full retail. Or you can spend 10 minutes placing the order on the Internet using a couple of tricks in this post and save 40-50% or more on the same exact part. Why would anyone NOT do the latter?
In my quest for Financial Independence I work hard to limit our living expenses to stash as much money as we can into paying off our mortgage while building up our investment portfolio. Cars are a big drain constantly sucking money away that could otherwise be put to better use. Yet cars are also a necessity with our full time job commutes, a kid and a lack of public transportation in the area. Applying frugal tricks such as those described in this post to limit the flow of money to undesirable expenses is one of the key methods I use to try to reach FI sooner rather than later… or never.
Best part is that there’s absolutely no sacrifice in using these methods – we just pay less than your average consumer for anything from auto parts to vacations.