8 Common Car Repair Mistakes That Can Cost You


Until I bought my first new car with my own hard-earned cash, I took my previous, very used cars for granted. Maintenance schmaintenance, I thought — even though that likely resulted in most of those vehicles straight-up punking out on me. Like, stopping in the middle of the road and never starting again because they had had enough. My dad wasn't happy about it the first time, and he wasn't keen on my negligence the third time around either. Yeah — it was bad.

Of course, I've wised up since my teenage and college days — if only because the maintenance and repair work comes out of my pocket now. Yet, there are still corners I try to cut here and there, as I'm sure you do, too. The unfortunate result of that frugalness, however, could turn into an even more costly prospect down the road if you're not careful.

Take a look at these common car repair mistakes that you'll want to avoid lest you want your wallet running on empty.

1. Using a Discount Mechanic

We all want to save a few bucks on car repairs, especially if what needs to be replaced is already expensive. But just like all doctors and lawyers are not created equal, neither are mechanics — and it's in your best financial interest to know the difference. My rule of thumb when cost is a concern is generally to go middle of the road — not the cheapest, not the most expensive, but somewhere in the middle. I compare prices between service providers, consider online reviews, and also ask friends and families for referrals.

Rob Infantino, CEO of Openbay, an app to compare, book, and pay for car repairs, seconds that philosophy.

"Choose a shop that's convenient to you and that's well rated," he says. "If you chase the lowest price, you may not necessarily receive quality service. Corroborate the shop reviews on multiple sites, including Google, Openbay, and Yelp. Car repair can be a nuisance, so be sure the job's done once and done well. You don't want to have to head back to have a poor repair job fixed by someone else."

2. Filling the Engine With the Incorrect Weight/Type of Oil

My problem wasn't necessarily filling my car engines with the incorrect weight or type of oil (because, frankly, I had no idea that even mattered), but rather that I didn't fill the engine with oil very often, if at all. And because of that, you could totally hear me coming from three blocks away.

Richard Reina, training director at CARiD, advises against that practice, of course, but also provides insight on why you ought to mind the oil you're using, especially in terms of weight and type.

"While this won't generally cause any catastrophic engine failure, using incorrect oil will cause your engine to run inefficiently and deteriorate over time," he says. "Make sure to pay attention to the type of oil your vehicle recommends — synthetic, partial synthetic, or non-synthetic — and that you use the correct weight (i.e. 10W-30, 0W-40, 5W-20, etc.) for your vehicle and climate, and don't just choose what's on sale."

3. Skipping the Oil Change Altogether

This is pretty much how I blew up most of my cars' engines, as you've likely gathered by now. Perhaps I assumed the oil change fairy would swoop down in the middle of the night so I didn't have to worry about it? Things are a bit blurry from back then. In hindsight, I could have saved my parents, myself, and my college's campus safety department a world of hassle if I had just taken 30 minutes out of my day a few times a year to pop into a Jiffy Lube.

4. Letting Dirty Filters Go Unchanged

Air and fuel filters are an important part of your car's anatomy that when left unattended can lead to bigger problems. As Bankrate.com puts it, "Dirty air or fuel filters can cause various sensors on a car to fail, resulting in a repair bill of hundreds of dollars. A failed sensor is a common reason for a 'check engine' light to illuminate and also results in the engine misfiring. Ignoring this problem could cause the larger problem of the catalytic converter failing, which would result in the car not passing an emissions inspection until it is repaired at a cost approaching $1,000 for many cars."

5. Forgoing Scheduled Maintenance

Believe it or not, you car manual has another purpose besides taking up space in your glove compartment. It contains everything you need to know about your car (including some DIY fixes for common car issues that can save you money if you just crack it open), as well as information on when you should have your car inspected and tuned up. Following these instructions gives your car the best chance for maximum longevity — without costly repairs at every corner — which, in the long run, can save you thousands of dollars on maintenance and the need to buy a new car prematurely.

6. Forgetting to Rotate Tires and Check Air Pressure

Not rotating your tires or checking your air pressure on a regular basis can cause uneven tread wear and the deterioration of your tires, which leads to many other potential problems including strain on steering and suspension parts (such as tie rod ends), uneven traction, and vibration when driving.

"Most shops will rotate your tires for a nominal fee, or you can do this yourself if you have a jack and jack stand at home," Reina says. "Air pressure can be easily checked at most local gas stations."

And remember, air temperature affects tire inflation, so even if your tires do not leak air, they will still need to be checked as the weather changes throughout the year.

7. Overlooking Wear on Brake Pads

Do people cringe when you turn a corner? Can't figure out what that screeching sound is when you come to a stop sign? That's actually your brakes crying for help, and you should have that looked at before you become a nuisance to your whole neighborhood, or, ya know, have an accident.

"By replacing brake pads on a regular basis, you can actually save money since a brake rotor lasts much longer when pads are changed regularly," Reina says. "If pads are left until they are completely worn, they will scratch and score the rotor. When changing brakes, the most expensive part of the job is the rotors, so preserving them will save money in the long run."

8. Neglecting Brake, Transmission, and Other Fluids

One word: Antifreeze. I didn't learn it until it was too late, but there's still hope for you. In addition to winterizing your car with antifreeze, however, there are other fluids your car needs besides fuel to run efficiently. You can check your owner's manual for the list of fluids and their respective change schedules to stay on top of things. Most importantly, you can save yourself money on the front and backend by doing it yourself. Most of these fluids are easy to replace by even the most clueless of drivers; I'm living proof. If you're not completely sure what you're doing, ask one of your more rugged friends. They probably know what's up, and they won't mind helping out — so long as they can laugh at you a little bit first.

Are there other costly but common car repair mistakes that you'd like to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.

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Guest's picture
Kunta Kinte

You got a dollar?

Guest's picture

Why not just do scheduled maintenance at the dealer? They have the parts you need, know what they are doing, and deal prices have come way down in recent years to make them competitive.

Guest's picture
Bobby Williams

As far as resale goes, another tip would be to make sure you clean your exterior and interior regularly. It is amazing to see how much longer interior and exterior finishes last when properly cleaned. Acid, salt, and other minerals eat away at the finish and the resale value of a vehicle. Not to mention that the longer your car "looks" new, the longer you might be willing to maintain the rest of it.

Guest's picture
Cole Gray

This is a very common fact that most of the car owners do not give much importance when it is about their car maintenance. Most of the time we prefer temporary solution. For example: If car demands air filter replacement, then some time we replace it by a second hand air filter rather purchasing new one only to save some money. Honestly, this should not be done. We also don't go for any regular check up like: checking tire pressure, breaks etc. before going for a long drive. Most of the people have a thought that all engine oils are nearly same. So, they choose such a engine oil which costs less. From my personal experience I can share that I have a BMW. I used to drive 35-40 kilometers per day. I have never spent too much time to clean interior as well as exterior parts. After a year, my BMW demanded some heavy maintenance. Then I prefered a poor mechanic to save some money which was costing more in future. So, always try take proper care of car to increase its longevity.
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