Frugal Car Maintenance Tips
The Cold, Hard Facts of Car Repair
Let me know if this sounds familiar. You go to work each day, living from paycheck to paycheck. You diligently put a little something away from each paycheck, preparing for the holiday season so you’ll have something extra for gifts. Or you sock a little something away for that vacation you have been planning on taking in the summer.
All is going according to plan; you have a few hundred saved and you are feeling pretty darn good about your efforts. You get up one morning, rush out to the car to go to work, turn the key and….nothing!
Yes, you are facing the dreaded car repair, and you know what that means.
Certified car mechanics charge between $50-$100 per hour to do repairs, and that is just the cost of labor. Toss in the price of a new car part and it is rare that you can leave the repair shop for less than $300. There goes the vacation, and there goes the Christmas presents!
Welcome to the world of frugality! More and more people are turning to frugal living to cut down on expenses, and one area that is ripe for frugal living is car maintenance and repair.
Wait you say! I don’t know the first thing about working on a vehicle. What can I do?
Well, you can do what so many of us are learning to do, and that is work on your own car. No, we aren’t talking about replacing the transmission; that is a highly technical skill and requires much more knowledge than most of us have. However, it is amazing in this day and age how many people pay a mechanic to replace a battery, or radiator, or even a darn turn signal! These are all simple procedures that require little or no maintenance skill, and yet most people choose to pay through the nose and help their car mechanic go on vacation.
Frugal living gurus, this article is for you!
The First Thing You Need to Know
Now that I have at least grabbed your attention, let’s move on to the actual buying of the part. Let’s say I’ve convinced you to give it a go; now you need some basic information, right? Where do you go for the best price on a replacement part?
Remember the tv show “The Family Feud”…..the number one answer is…..your local salvage yard!
Some of us fondly remember going with our dads to the local junkyard. There we would walk by his side, past rusted out hulks, in search of that 15-inch wheel for a 1960 Dodge. This often required stops at three or four junkyards, but eventually we would find that wheel, and then we would hustle home to install it.
Well let me tell you, junkyards ain’t junkyards any longer. Now they are called salvage yards, and there are approximately 17,000 in the United States alone, and they are a haven for any car owner. They are the Dollar Store of car maintenance, and this is where you will learn to shop.
Reputable salvage yards now have computer inventories, and the good ones all have warranties on every part that they sell, and those parts come at a price that is discounted thirty to fifty percent from the price you would pay at a dealership, auto parts store, or auto repair shop. In other words, they are Frugal Heavens!
What’s that you say? There are no salvage yards in your town? Never fear because most of them will ship the part to you at a reasonable fee, and you will still save big bucks compared to the price of a new part.
Salvage yards are of two varieties. You can take your tools to a “You Pull It” salvage yard, and pull the part you need from the cars or trucks on their lot, or you can pay a little more and have the yard workers pull the part for you. Either way you are still saving money.
Now for the Next Step
Yes, we have now come to the point in this lesson that requires you to step out of your comfort zone and do the work yourself.
When in doubt, consult the internet. Go to the search engine of your choice and type in “how to replace a battery.” You will be inundated with information and step-by-step instructions and YouTube videos on how to do exactly that.
Again, I am not suggesting you change a transmission or a clutch by yourself. I am, however, suggesting that any of you can change a battery, radiator, car door, bumper, headlights, and/or audio unit by yourself, and all you need is a screwdriver, socket wrench, and willingness.
Do you think I’m kidding? My wife, the beautiful Beverly, replaces our brake pads. She has no training in car maintenance, but she does have determination and an aversion to paying someone $75 for labor for an hour job that she can do. I was raised by a father who knew practically nothing about engines, but that did not keep him from learning, and as he learned he taught me, so that today I refuse to pay someone for simple maintenance. It almost seems sinful to do so.
I can hear you murmuring. I know you are doubting me right now. Fine, let me show you how easy some of these jobs are.
Replacing a bumper video
Replacing a Rear Bumper
You are backing out of the grocery store parking lot when suddenly you hear a crunch. You take a look at your bumper and it is caved in. What to do?
1. Go to the salvage yard and get a replacement bumper
2. Take the license plate off of the old bumper, and disconnect or remove the wires leading to the license plate light.
3. Remove bolts and nuts from one end of the bumper while someone holds it up.
4. Remove bolts and nuts from the other end, and have your friend put the old bumper to the side.
5. Put the new bumper on and begin tightening the bolts and nuts.
6. Check to make sure the bumper is aligned ¾ of an inch from the body of the car.
7. Finish tightening bolts, replace license plate and wires for plate lighting.
8. You are done!
Total time spent: one hour maximum! Total money spent: the price of a rear bumper at the salvage yard; say $75. You just saved yourself in the neighborhood of $250 for an hour of effort.
Replacing a car battery
Replacing a Battery
Is there anyone who does not know how to do this? If so, here you go!
1. Go to the salvage yard, with a voltage regulator, and find a battery that will fit your car.
2. Unfasten the terminals on the old battery and lift it out.
3. Replace with new battery and fasten the terminals.
4. You are done!
Total time spent: fifteen minutes! Total money spent: maybe $25 for the replacement battery. You just saved over $100 by doing it yourself.
Replacing a headlight
Replacing a Headlight Bulb
If you don’t know how to do this by now, then it is high time you learn. No tools necessary!
1. Check your owner’s manual to find out what bulb you need. Go to the auto parts store and pick one up; they are so inexpensive there is no reason to go to a salvage yard for this.
2. Raise the hood of your car and locate the back end of the headlight. You should see three wires sticking out of the unit. Detach the clip holding the unit and pull it out.
3. Remove the bulb from the unit; it will either pull straight out, or you’ll have to turn it a bit to release it.
4. Take the new bulb out of the package; don’t touch the bulb itself as skin oils might make it fail prematurely.
5. Replace bulb in unit, then attach unit back in place.
6. You are done!
Total time spent: ten minutes! Total money spent: maybe five bucks! You just saved the cost of an hour of labor, unless you have a mechanic who will not charge you a full hour, and good luck finding one of those.
Would you be willing to try some basic car maintenance?
Many More That You Can Do
As I stated earlier, we do our own brake pads and you can too. You can also change any of the other bulbs or fuses. How about wiper blades? How about changing your oil? How about replacing a car door, and even a windshield? None of those I just mentioned will take you longer than an hour, and all require a minimum of tools.
Frugal thinking requires stepping outside of your comfort zone but it is oh, so worth it!
The next time something minor goes wrong with your car, ask yourself if you would like to save $75 on labor and do it yourself. What could you do with an extra $75? To my way of thinking, $75 is two tanks of gas for your car, and two tanks of gas will get you well on your way to your next vacation.
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)