How to use YouTube and the Internet to Save Money on Car Repairs
Everyone knows that YouTube is a great place to watch videos covering everything from silly pet tricks to your favorite conspiracy theories. However it is also a place where you can learn a great many things about a variety of topics. Among friends, I refer to these educational aspects of the service as “YouTube University”.
When it comes to car repair, most of us are afraid of being “taken to the cleaners”. Frugal consumers often fail to understand the seemingly high costs of their vehicle repairs. In some cases this may lead them to put off the repairs making them worse and more expensive to resolve later. In others, they may even put their own safety at risk. Knowledge is power and a little research can go a long way toward calming these anxieties.
Before I continue, I would like to say that in the car repair industry, there are a lot of trustworthy, talented individuals who believe in providing the best service to their customers. Despite this and especially in financially challenging times it can still be very scary to be presented with a repair bill that your budget may have been ill-prepared to absorb. The purpose of this article is not to suggest that you can replace your mechanic’s years of training and hands on experience with a YouTube video. The purpose of this article is to teach you how to use YouTube videos to differentiate between the car problems that are worthy of your mechanic’s training and years of hands on experience (and by extension, your hard earned money) and the problems that are not.
Many people may be surprised to learn that there are a number of significant maintenance tasks that they can perform themselves at home. Simple tasks like changing oil, maintaining proper coolant levels, and even occasionally checking tire air pressure can go a long way towards preventing more costly issues. There are also more complicated tasks such as changing the pads on cars with disc brakes that are well within the capabilities of a do-it-yourselfer. In recent years, car parts stores have even evolved to support the home mechanic by offering friendly informative parts salesman and tools that you can borrow for little or no charge.
Combined with the information available on the internet automobile owners have never been more empowered when it comes to the maintenance of their vehicles. They can even find out what their vehicles are worth to help them decide whether or not their cars should be fixed or sold. This all brings us to the first question you must decide upfront:
What Is Your Car Worth to You?
Do you have a sentimental attachment to your car or is it simply your basic transportation to and from school or work? While this question may seem obvious or perhaps even irrelevant at first blush, in reality it maybe the most important question to answer going forward because it reflects the level of emotional attachment you have toward your vehicle. In general, emotional attachments tend to be more expensive than logical ones but there’s nothing wrong with that as long as your gauge your maintenance cost expectations accordingly.
Years ago, I inherited my sister’s 2003 Saab 9–3. It was a terrible car that I had advised her not to get when she purchased it. I was in-between cars at the time and she was headed to work for a job overseas. I felt that it was very gracious of her to lend it to me, and I resolved to do my best to take care of it. Because it was my sister’s car, I felt an emotional attachment to her vehicle and an obligation to return it in the same or better condition.
As the car suffered expensive issue after expensive issue, I made a point to take it exclusively to a local Saab specialist for repair. Over the time that I drove the car, I spent so many thousands of dollars at the Saab shop that every Christmas they would send me a Christmas card for being their loyal customer. The moral of the story was that emotional attachment to a car can come at a premium.
In contrast, when an insurance company processes a claim on a car that has been in an accident, the cost for the repair of the vehicle is compared to its book value. If the repair cost exceeds that value, the insurance company will usually write the policy holder a check in the lower amount (minus the deductible) and designate the car as “totaled”. It’s a cold, hard, monetary calculation that exists at the opposite extreme from what I experienced when I considered having the work done on my sister’s car.
Know upfront what your investment in your car is. In some cases, it may prove more cost effective over both the short and longer terms to sell or donate the car to charity than to have it repaired. When considering whether to get a new or newer car, if your vehicle is mainly for transport to/from your job, you should also factor in the value of the lost wages that you’d incur behind unreliable transportation. Taxes and the cost of insurance may also be important factors to consider as well.
Options, Options, Options!
No matter how depressed or helpless you may feel when getting your car repaired, always remember that you have LOTS of options. You have options concerning where to get the work done. You have options concerning where to buy replacement auto parts from… and when it comes to payment, you may even have options concerning how to pay for your repairs due to the fact that lots of automobile service shops offer financing.
Welcome to YouTube University
One day, a friend of mine was driving along in his 2004 Toyota Corolla when his check engine light came on. From our previous conversations about cars, he knew to have his car’s engine codes read at a local auto parts store. This typically involves plugging a specialized scanning tool into a vehicle’s ODB2 port and taking a reading. Recognizing that such tools were unlikely to be included in the average household’s toolbox, auto parts stores shrewdly started offering check engine light services as a way to bring potential customers into their stores years ago. It was good ol’ American capitalism at its finest!
The store looked up my friend’s engine code and it turned out to be a defective mass air flow sensor. Armed with a diagnosis, my friend called the repair shop where he usually got work done and asked them how much they would charge him to replace it. They told him that the parts and labor to replace his defective sensor would run him about $400. “Does that sound reasonable to you?” he asked me. “While it certainly could cost you that much” I responded, “I doubt it. After all, unless it is in some impossible place to reach inside your engine… it’s just a sensor”. In my mind, it was time to consult YouTube University…
We got onto my computer, pulled up YouTube in a browser, and searched on “2004 Toyota Corolla Mass Airflow Sensor replacement”. To our pleasant surprise, we immediately found a seven minute video detailing the entire replacement procedure. After watching the video, we determined that this repair was simple enough to handle ourselves. While many of the videos discussed cleaning of the Mass Airflow Sensor, my friend opted to buy a new part from a local parts store. Fifty five dollars and ten minutes later, his car’s repair was completed with its “check engine” light extinguished. We celebrated his savings and our new approach towards his car’s maintenance.
Applying What We Learned…
Surprisingly, there are a lot of car maintenance situations where the approach of researching the issue on YouTube can be beneficial. A lot of times however, the trickiest part can be determining the initial diagnosis. This is where expanding your research to include Google searches and car enthusiast sites can be helpful.
In general, it is easiest to find information on popular car makes/models that have sold well. It can be challenging to find useful information for car makes/models that were less popular sellers. While I do credit the internet with making Saab ownership much easier than it would have been otherwise, there was no comparison to the ease with which we found help for my friend’s Toyota. Depending upon the make and model of your vehicle, your mileage may vary.
When it comes to internet research, one of the places I like to start is CARCOMPLAINTS.COM. There you can reference the make, model, and year of your car to survey the most common problems with your specific vehicle. Even for the same make and model of car, sometimes reliability can vary drastically by year. If you are considering purchasing a used car, this is also a good site that can help you determine which cars to avoid.
Other great FREE resources that I like to use are the car enthusiast websites. Typically, these feature forums where people discuss problems they’ve had and can ask questions of other enthusiasts. For Toyota owners, TOYOTANATION.COM is one such site. There’s HONDA-TECH.COM and HONDAFORUMS.COM for Honda owners. SAABCENTRAL.COM is an indispensable resource if you have a SAAB. Of course if you are more domestically sympathetic in your vehicle choices, there are also websites for FORDS, GMs, and CHRYSLERS. All of these websites can be helpful in figuring out what’s going on with your car before you spend money to have it diagnosed at a shop.
As mentioned earlier, many auto parts stores such as Advanced Auto and Autozone ALSO offer rudimentary diagnostic services. They can check the cause of your engine light. They can test your car batteries. They can often test your alternator and they can sometimes even test your starter. Most if not all of these services are typically offered for free if you can drive or otherwise bring your vehicle to the store.
Once you have a good idea of what’s going on with your car, you’ve won half the battle. Armed with knowledge of your car’s affliction, the next step is to determine whether its resolution is something you can do yourself at home or something that you should pay a qualified and experienced mechanic to take care of. This is where YouTube University comes into play.
In general, between the parts and labor of a job, you can expect the cost of labor to be the more expensive component of the average car repair. By comparison, parts are usually (significantly) cheaper than labor depending upon where you get them from. Watching a YouTube videos detailing a repair you need to have done beforehand saves you money by helping you to gauge the level of skill and time required to complete the job. Specifically, what I tell my friend is to
- find and watch a video detailing what you need to have done
- make a determination whether the work is within your skillset
- if the work is something that you feel that you can take care of yourself, purchase the necessary parts and/or tools to perform the work and resolve the issue.
- if the work is NOT something that you feel that you can take care of yourself, using the knowledge you’ve attained, shop for a reasonably priced qualified mechanic to perform the work.
It’s important to note that utilizing YouTube University is also helpful even when it’s necessary to take your car to a repair shop. This is because it can give you some sense as to whether you are risk of being overcharged. I have had friends that told me of dealerships that wanted to charge them $200 to change their cabin filters! In all cases, knowledge is power — if not the power to perform repairs yourself, the power to negotiate repairs confidently from a basis of familiarity with the issues involved.
If You Still End Up At the Repair Shop…
Don’t worry. Before I close out this article, here are five tips that you may find to be helpful:
- Whenever you have work done at a repair shop, make sure that everything to be done with or to your car is written on the work order. Keep your copy of this work order.
I cannot stress the above enough. Sometimes despite our best efforts things don’t go as well as we’d like in our business transactions. When it comes to cars and car repairs, stresses can easily increase and nerves can fray whenever people find themselves spending hundreds of dollars that they may not have planned to spend to repair a needed vehicle. In the worst cases, bad situations can progress to worse situations finally landing both proprietors and their customers in small claims court.
When this circumstance occurs the key to remember is that everything written trumps anything said. So if the shop promised that it would guaranty its work, you need to have a written copy of their promise to insure that the judge will force the proprietor to honor it if needed.
2. When allowing a repair shop to diagnose a problem with your car, make sure that the word “Diagnose” clearly appears on your work order.
A lot of times when people have their cars serviced, they will let a mechanic tell them what is wrong with their car and then let him write the work order only for the actual repair. Avoid this. Instead, ask that “Diagnose + Repair” be written on the ticket. Why?
Suppose that you take your car to a repair shop complaining of a whup-whup-whup sound coming from your wheels. The mechanic looks at your car, and after a brief inspection reports that the problem is that your tires are unbalanced. Based upon his diagnosis, you then hire and pay him to re-balance your tires. He then writes up your work order as “Tire Balance”. Next, You get your keys, start your car, drive off the lot, and then no sooner than when you hit the street, you hear the same “whup-whup-whup” sound that you originally came to have fixed.
Naturally, you bring the car back to the mechanic. He looks at it again and now decides that the problem is a warped brake rotor. What happens now? Well, in some cases, you could be asked to pay for a brake rotor job to address the same problem. You examine your work order, and it says “Tire Balance”. The mechanic balanced your tires. It’s now up to him whether he wants to charge you to perform the rotor job that he now thinks will address your problem.
If you had required the mechanic to write “Diagnose + Repair” on the original work order, you could have argued against the original erroneous diagnosis either to the shop manager or to a judge in a small claims court. While all humans make mistakes, you want to try to avoid situations where they get to make them at your expense. Requiring a shop to write “Diagnosis” on your work order makes it possible to hold them accountable for their diagnosis and all subsequent work done to your car based upon it.
3. Prefer the mechanics who price their jobs according to “the book” over the mechanics that don’t.
In car repair, there is (for lack of a better term) a book that mechanics use to price their repairs. Based upon make, model, and year a mechanic can look up time estimates for any repair that would typically be performed in their shop. From there, the price of the job should be roughly the time estimate taken from the reference book multiplied by the shop’s hourly labor price. For instance, if you needed to replace the alternator for your car the “book” might allot three hours to complete that task. If the shop labor price was $150/hr, you could expect your repair to be somewhere around $450. If the mechanic uses the time estimation in the book, you can always ask him his shop price and the estimated time for your job.
4. Be wary of financing car repairs.
Sometimes when it comes to the vehicles we depend upon to take us to work, there may not be many options. However with financing car repair come all of the hazards that come with financing anything. If at all possible, I would encourage you to set money aside as a car rainy day fund. $1000-$1500 is an amount that will cover many if not most non catastrophic repairs.
If you find that you must go the finance route, pay close attention to interest rates and payment schedules. A lot of shops have gotten into financing repairs because they’ve discovered that financing them can can be more lucrative than the repairs themselves. If setting money aside is not something that you feel that you are in a position to do, extended warranties purchase with the car or repair insurance afterwards may be a better way to go (read all fine print).
Allowing a car repair to mess up your credit can make it harder to secure credit for other things like student loans, houses, other cars, cell phones, and many other services.
5. Never be afraid to seek a second opinion and/or to collect references
While I believe that most mechanics are honest, trustworthy businessmen that do their best to work both in the best interests of their customers and within their budgets, pricing for repairs between shops can vary greatly. Additionally, not all mechanics are created equal. There can also be great variance in skill level. For these reasons, never be afraid to collect references about repair shops or to get multiple opinions about work your are considering to have done on your vehicle.
It’s your money and it’s your vehicle. Your satisfaction and comfort level should be your paramount consideration when deciding whom to let work on your car. If you have friends that you trust that have had good experiences with a particular business and made recommendations to you, it’s a very good sign because it usually indicates a business that understands the value of word-of-mouth advertising as expressed by its happy customers.
There you have it! These are just a few of the lessons I have learned over the course of the last couple decades dealing with my own vehicles. I think that when most of us start out, we all experience the sinking feeling of helplessness in the face of an expensive automobile repair. Hopefully, through this article I have provided you with enough information to save yourself money by empowering you to play a more active role in your vehicle’s service. The internet puts a lot of information at your fingertips. When negotiating prices for contracted expertise, always remember that information is ammunition.
If you find yourself on YouTube, here are a few channels I can recommend for you to check out when investigating all things car repair:
To varying degrees, these guys are both entertaining and educational. As such, their videos can be good starting places when trying to get a handle on what might be involved in resolving issues with your car.
Last but not least, if you found this article to be either entertaining or educational and would like to read some of my other work, please be sure to check out my other article: The Nose Hack: Testimony of a Congested Sinus Sufferer. I created it for people who struggle with nasal congestion and decongestant sprays as I have through the years.
Thanks for reading and until next time…