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How to save money on auto repairs as prices rise sharply

One man paid $1,800 to replace an alternator and battery.
Auto Shop Extended Warranties mechanic
Posted at 5:22 AM, May 20, 2024

From routine oil changes to unexpected repairs, car owners need to budget for much higher costs this year. Auto repair prices have been rising faster than the overall inflation rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and your next trip to the shop could hit your wallet much more than you expected.

But there are some things you can do about it.

At Overbeck Auto Services, technicians deliver difficult news to drivers every day, as much as they try not to.

"When things fail these days, they typically fail bigger and a lot more expensive," owner Matt Overbeck said.

Overbeck blames cars loaded with complicated electronics, even on simple things like brakes.

"Some of these brake calipers have electronic components in them," he said. "Parking brakes used to have just a simple cable, but now they are electronic, too."

Case of the $1,800 alternator replacement

Lawrence Douglas recently got a taste of this new normal when his Kia's alternator failed and he took it to a nearby shop he had never used before. A new battery? $204. New alternator? $902. And that wasn't all.

"It cost me $1,846.14 for a battery, alternator, and labor, he said."

He recalled the day you could pick up an alternator at an auto parts store for $75 and easily swap it in yourself with an adjustable wrench. For some perspective, inflation overall is up 3.4% compared to last year.

However, the cost of car maintenance and repairs was up 7.6%, more than double, according to the latest consumer price index using government data.

Mike Quincy is an automotive tester and writer with Consumer Reports.

"The cars these days are more complex," he said. "They all have these very bright touch screens and whatnot and, and those are always complex to repair."

Some things you can do

Consumer Reports says the first way to save on repair costs is to get problems fixed right away before they snowball.

"They don't get better over time. They're not like a wine. They get more expensive over time," Quincy said.

Next, he says, plead your case. It never hurts to ask your shop for coupons or straight-up discounts. Or do some maintenance yourself, like replacing air filters, which is still simple in most cars.

Lastly, he suggests going to an auto parts store for free battery testing.

"If you do in fact need a battery, they can also install it for free," he said.

Overbeck suggests finding an independent mechanic you trust.

"The independent isn't saddled with all the signage and marketing that the dealership is," he said.
A good independent shop can be cheaper than a dealer's shop and still offer quality work, and that way you don't waste your money.

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