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    How to Save Money on Car Repairs

    Maintenance tips from CR's experts

    photo illustrated collage of car parts with $100 bill in background Illustration: Sean McCabe

    CR’s chief mechanic, John Ibbotson, says it’s risky to try to get a “deal” on auto repair. While you might save hundreds of dollars, the work may not be good, leading to potentially bigger problems down the road. But there are ways to handle repairs your car needs before they snowball into something worse and save a few bucks in the process.

    Ask your shop for a discount. You may be able to get a lower price just by asking for coupons and straight-up discounts. Plead your case. Tell them the repair is expensive for you, says Mike Crossen, a CR mechanic. According to CR’s repair shop survey, independent shops and some chains were rated highly for their discounts. Independent shops also received favorable scores for their willingness to negotiate, while the dealerships we were able to rate received dismal scores.

    More on Car Repair & Maintenance

    Use a shop approved by AAA. Members of AAA can choose from a list of approved repair facilities, which are required to have certified technicians. Furthermore, AAA offers a 10 percent discount on labor (capped at $75 in some areas).

    Use CR’s Car Repair Assistant. Whether you’re getting your car repaired or just keeping up with scheduled maintenance, the Car Repair Assistant (in partnership with RepairPal) gives you access to a nationwide network of more than 2,000 repair shops that guarantee high-quality auto repair service at a fair price.

    Do easy maintenance yourself. Engine air filters and cabin air filters are usually pretty straightforward to replace, and there’s probably a YouTube video that will show you how to do it. You can also save time by doing your own fluid-level checks. (Low levels in a closed system like brakes or cooling indicate a problem that should be checked by a tech.) See our article on DIY maintenance.

    Go to an auto parts store. If you need, say, a new battery, many auto parts stores will test the old one to see whether it actually needs replacing, and they may even install the new one free of charge. Repair shop labor rates are $165 per hour, on average, according to RepairPal, so even 15 minutes of a mechanic’s time can add plenty to a bill.

    Be proactive. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease, or it should, anyway,” Crossen says. “If your car is leaking fluids or making an abnormal noise, get it checked out pronto. Timely action could save you a lot of money.” For example, if your car has an oil leak, ignoring it could cause the engine to run low on oil, which can lead to catastrophic engine damage.

    All prices above are based on CR survey data and/or and RepairPal estimates.

    CR's Car Repair Assistant

    Get an estimate for car maintenance and repair work, and have your car fixed right from a network of more than 2,000 shops that guarantee high-quality work at a fair price.

    Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the May/June 2024 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

    Head shot of CR Autos Editor, Benjamin Preston

    Benjamin Preston

    Benjamin Preston has been a reporter with the Consumer Reports autos team since 2020, focusing on new and used car buying, auto insurance, car maintenance and repair, and electric bikes. He has covered cars since 2012 for the New York Times, Time, the BBC, the Guardian, Road & Track, Car and Driver, Jalopnik, and others. Outside CR, he maintains his own small fleet of old cars and serves as a volunteer firefighter, specializing in car crash response and vehicle extrication.