Ask the Readers

broken car

Usually, I have a lot to write about. But today? Today there's only one thing I can write about, because this thing is driving me crazy.

Dave and I are responsible with our cars. We take good care of them, do all of the maintenance they need, etc. One of our cars, though, is having problems. Now, I know that car problems happen no matter what you do. I know that pieces of the car get older and need to be replaced. However, we spent over $700 on this car last week and it's still not working. Today, we took it to a different mechanic (recommended by a friend) who tried some things but couldn't get it to work right. He recommended us to a Honda specialist, who will look at the car on Thursday.

At this point, I'm worried. If the easy things don't fix it, it's probably going to cost a lot to fix it. What if they can't find the problem? What if we bought a car that's a lemon?

All of this got me to wondering: what are the best ways to save money on car repairs (short of "knowing people" or doing it yourself)? Does anyone have anything in particular that they would recommend Dave and I do or say to avoid spending all of our tax return on the car? I would really appreciate any input and I think other readers would, too! (I've already thought of showing up with puppy-dog eyes, a couple of tears trailing down my face, wearing a string bikini, so that one's taken!)

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Andrea Karim's picture

But what if you showed up with a puppy wearing a string bikini? Eh?

You know, I bought my car with the completely misguided notion that a new car payments would be cheaper than than fixing an old car that I already owned completely. So TOTALLY NOT true, btw.

But as for fixing an old car cheaply, I'm pretty sure that your best bets are DIY or knowing someone. Unfortunately.

Did you go to a lousy technician the first time around?

Will Chen's picture

I'm sorry to hear about the car problem. I'm not a big car person, but I was wondering if you can share some of the specific problems you're having with your car. That might give you a better shot of getting good advice from our other readers. =)

Sarah Winfrey's picture

Ha!  I don't have a puppy.  More's the pity.  

We went to someone my husband has used before.  It's just that he's now 45 minutes away, which is a long way to drive for car repair.  And the work he did was good, as far as I know.  Which is not very far.  The assumption was that it would fix more than it did.

Good to hear that a new car isn't cheaper, because that's how I tend to lean in this sort of situation.  My husband keeps saying differently, though.  It's good to have a reinforcing opinion.

Is there nothing I can tell a mechanic to get him to cut me a deal?  Maybe, "I'll give you props on Wisebread!"

Guest's picture

Nice blog! Well its every car owners concern to protect their beloved car from damages, defects,etc. Its quite expensive when car undergo repairs. Basic car maintenance would be a great help in maintaining cars. That's why I see to it that I checked my mercedes 400E parts from time to time. As for an old car, maybe bringing it to a trusted mechanic would help. It would really nice to preserve the car. Good luck.

Sarah Winfrey's picture

Will-I can add more specifics.  I think I was hoping for more general answers like, "If you go in instead of your husband, they will...", or "If you threaten to take it to the dealer instead, they will..."

The main problem is that it revs in neutral and park, particularly when it's cold.  


Will Chen's picture

I hope that helps get the juices flowing from the readers.

The only car stuff I know I get from Car Talk (888-227-8255, and they have a forum).

It soundsl like this guy might have a similar problem with his Honda.


Andrea Karim's picture

When I first read your post, Sarah, my first thought was "it's probably a gasket" because whenever anything ever went wrong with any of my older cars, it was always a gasket. Cars are actually made up entirely of gaskets, that's how many there are. If you were to break a car down into its smallest physical particles, after quarks, there would be gaskets.

And sure enough, on the site that Will linked to:

If there is still a problem I would inspect the engine for a vacuum leak in a rubber hose or in a intake manifold gasket etc.


Guest's picture

I guess it all comes to how much you value your time. Did you count that into your monthly payments?

My attitude to it is to drive my old car for as long as I feel comfortable with the time/effort I sped repairing it.

Guest's picture
Bill Bradle


Start getting opinions on mechanics from other mechanics that specialize in other areas.  That makes no sense, so an example.  Assume you have a problem with idling.  Call a guy that specializes in brakes and ask him if he knows any good general mechanics.  Say you need brakes but have to get this other problem fixed first.  These guys all know each other and he will probably come up with one or two good mechanics.  The key is that the brake guy is not competing for your business so he can be honest.

Works for me and I have 266,000 miles on my truck.

Bill Bradle 




Sarah Winfrey's picture

266,000?  Crazy.  Sounds like it must work, so we'll try that.  Thanks, Bill!

Guest's picture
Brenda Helverson

I have always been able to rely on AAA-certified auto shops. They go through a review process and you can complain to AAA if things go wrong. It doesn't matter if you are an AAA member or not, and shops proudly advertise that they are AAA-certified.

Good luck with your car.

Guest's picture

The thing is if you go to a mechanic, unless they are a personal friend or its a real easy fix, they are going to charge you the going rate. Bill's idea is good in that you want someone with the experience to diagnose the problem. Some mechanics will charge the exact time they worked on it, others will charge the exact book time for the repair, even if it took half the time.

It seems the question you were originally asking if there are any tricks to get a cheaper price from a mechanic or dealer. In most cases, avoid the dealer, they usually charge a premium price. The work usually is decent but some are crap. The real advantage is most usually will not charge beyond the book time, even if it takes longer. The best mechanic I know runs his own shop pretty much solo, but he is not the cheapest. If you get to know him though he tries to give the best price he can. The thing is that a mechanic's time and knowledge is all he has. If they give away too much of that it costs them money. Then there is the incredible investment they need to make just for the tools to do the job. If you have ever worked on cars you also notice the physical abuse to your body. Some repair jobs are easy, most are not. So you not only are paying for time and knowledge, but you are paying to not beat yourself up with a repair that will take you 3 times as long as the professional.

The cheapest route is to DIY as much as possible, then use a mechanic for the things you can't do. This will vary with your abilities. Having knowledgeable friends can be a big bonus if they know what they are doing. In your particular case, you own a Honda. They are well supported on various online boards, some more than others depending on the model. One of the big ones is honda tech, if you search you can find others. I would post what the issue is with much detail, watch out for jerks, but be very nice to the people there. They could save you big bucks. Not only can they help diagnose, but there are many tech write-ups on how to do many types of repairs.

Yan had it right. The question you have to ask ultimately is, how much is it worth to you? I have access to my old school's student autoshop, and I have a friend who knows about cars. Especially mine since he has the same model Honda. So I spent 12 hours two Saturday's ago swapping the transmission. It was rough, but the money saved was well worth it. Most people do not have those kind of resources. So for an older car learn as much as you can and do what you can yourself. Keep track of the money you spend on it and compare it to the price of a payment for a new car. If you start spending too much on the old car, its time to dump it. If you reach a point where you can do many of your own repairs, getting a decent used car is a better bargain. That said, Honda's are popular, especially the older ones, so keeping them running on the cheap is possible.