3 Ways an Auto Parts Store Can Save You Money on Car Repairs

by Travis Pizel · 22 comments

From a young age, I was taught to fear the check engine light. To me, that little icon meant to expect smoke, flames, and the imminent death of your vehicle if you didn’t pull over immediately. With that kind of perspective, you can imagine what was going through my head when an audible “ding” was followed by an illuminated engine light on the dashboard of my minivan.

I knew that my dealership charges $80 just to hook the van up and read the error code reported by the vehicle’s internal computer. On top of that, there would be the cost to repair whatever was wrong with the vehicle. But I wasn’t going that route.

I knew that a nearby auto parts store provided diagnostics for a check engine light for FREE.

The gentleman at the auto parts store did even more than I expected. After retrieving the code by connecting a cable from a handheld device to a port under my dashboard, he looked up the code’s meaning in the store. With their help, as well as a little extra internet searching on my own, I was able to determine that the only thing wrong with my van was a blown fuse, which cost me a few dollars to replace.

Through this experience, I learned that two auto parts stores in my area provide useful services that could save me a trip to the mechanic or dealership.

Here are the services they provide:

  • Free check engine diagnostics: This is the service described in my story. They read the code, then give you the definition and possible causes. In my case, I could replace the fuse myself — but should the needed repair be more complicated, the information provided can be used to do price comparisons between mechanics.
  • Free battery check: I live in Minnesota, so it’s important to make sure my battery is in good condition before the cold weather hits. A quick trip to the auto parts store will tell me how my battery is doing. As you may expect, they also carry batteries should a replacement be needed.
  • Loan-a-tool program: If you’re a do-it-yourself kind of person, you may find that some repairs require a tool you don’t own. Both of the auto parts stores in my area have a program to loan you the tool. Though they do require a deposit almost equal to the value of the tool, this program is still a better option than purchasing an expensive or seldom used tool.

Having to repair, or even maintain, a vehicle can be expensive. Give the auto parts stores in your area a call, and see what money saving services they can provide for you!

Have you ever taken advantage of free services at an auto parts store? How did it turn out for you?

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

adele December 19, 2013 at 6:41 am

Well, related to auto parts stores, I learned from my Mom that I could replace my headlights, signal lights, and reverse lights on my own. It doesn’t take much time and they sell the smaller bulbs in packs of two; handy if one breaks when you’re not near an auto parts store. I twice have replaced bulbs, and I know each one would have been at least $35 in even my wonderful mechanic’s place.
Very funny about the dreaded check engine light being on. Mine is on now but the mechanic looked it over and thinks in a few months I need to replace a crack in my exhaust system. Engines are much more sensitive to all things now and the light goes on frequently.

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Travis @debtchronicles December 19, 2013 at 7:01 pm

Replacing lights is a great thing to learn how to do, because they do gouge you at any service station (relative to how much it REALLY costs to repair). I was told recently that if the light is “solid” that it’s exhaust related, but if it’s blinking it’s serious. I don’t know how true that is, but I’ve been meaning to do some digging. :) Thanks for your comment, adele!

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adele December 20, 2013 at 6:50 am

My light is solid, so maybe it is the exhaust, which I am aware needs to be fixed. Thanks, Travis.

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Travis @debtchronicles December 26, 2013 at 7:38 am

Cool…if you find out differently, come back and comment here – information supporting, or to the contrary is invaluable!

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John S @ Frugal Rules December 19, 2013 at 9:35 am

That’s awesome Travis! I’ve done the same thing in the past with our cars. It has helped us save a little bit of money and, more importantly, I’ve been able to learn something to boot. I still leave most of the stuff to our mechanic though as I’m likely to completely screw up the car. ;)

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Travis @debtchronicles December 19, 2013 at 7:02 pm

I like learning new things, too , John. It feels great to learn a new skill AND save some money! Thanks for stopping by!

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Levi @ Wealthnote December 19, 2013 at 2:02 pm

I have always driven cheap clunkers and have run into plenty of problems. So many in fact I bought a computer reader that provides me the code from the check engine light. I check the code on the internet and can get a pretty good idea what is going on without having to leave the house.

Doing your own car repairs can save you so much money that it is vital to learn how to do the basic repairs on your own.

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Travis @debtchronicles December 19, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Those computer readers probably cost a pretty penny, Levi – but if you’re dealing with frequent repairs, it’s probably worth it. Cars are such a big part of our lifestyle, I agree that it is well worth it to learn something about these things that carry us around every day!

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Torben December 21, 2013 at 4:16 pm

A Bluetooth adapter for a few bucks placed in the OBD socket, and a free Android app would do the trick. Even reading out engine data while driving. There are also free apps that translate error codes.

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Travis @debtchronicles December 22, 2013 at 7:20 pm

That’s a GREAT tip, Torben….I’m picking one of these up!

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Jenn December 20, 2013 at 9:03 am

If the check engine light came on (and you, say, just kind of ignored it) and then it went off, can they still check it? My understanding is that the car keeps a record of past check engine lights and codes. Is that correct?

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Ken December 21, 2013 at 11:25 am

Jenn, typically when the engine light comes on for a few seconds then turns off again it probably is telling you you’re due for an oil change in a thousand miles or so.

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Travis @debtchronicles December 22, 2013 at 7:21 pm

I had this happen to me once…..the light turned on, and by the time I got the car into have it checked it turned off. I was told that once the code is cleared, they can’t read it anymore. This, however, could vary from vehicle to vehicle (maybe? I don’t really know), so it’s always best to call an expert and tell them what kind of car you have and ask!

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Gary December 22, 2013 at 6:08 pm

The time to worry is when the check engine light is blinking. That indicates a serious problem demanding immediate attention. I work in an auto parts store and the biggest single cause of the engine light coming on is a loose or defective gas cap!
Btw the tip about the Bluetooth obd adapter used with an android phone and a free app is a good one. Get the adapters on amazon for under $20

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Travis @debtchronicles December 22, 2013 at 7:23 pm

The one time I had a blinking engine light my car was definitely malfunction. Great tips about the gas cap and verification on the blue tooth adapter….great to have someone who has experience to weigh in, Gary – thanks!

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Gary December 22, 2013 at 7:41 pm

The adapter I bought is the vgate ELM 327…about $12 on amazon. The android app is “turbo” Try the free version …it’s very good.

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Gary December 24, 2013 at 9:00 am

Brain fart alert. The android app is Torque lite – not turbo. Sorry for any inconvenience.

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Travis @debtchronicles December 26, 2013 at 7:39 am

No worries, Gary – appreciate you coming back with the correction for current and future readers!

katiedid January 2, 2014 at 11:23 pm

My battery went dead. I jumpstarted the car and went to my auto parts store. I paid for a new battery and the auto parts store installed it for free. This is cheaper than having a dealer or local garage do it.

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Travis Pizel January 3, 2014 at 3:54 am

I never thought to ask if they would install a battery….thanks for sharing, Katiedid!

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Gary January 3, 2014 at 5:49 am

Most auto part stores will install batteries, windshield wipers, headlight and brake light bulbs (if they don’t have to dismantle half the car to get to them).
And , if you need some work done, ask the guys at the store. They pretty much know who the good independent mechanics are. Just ask , ” who would you take your car to to have this work done?”

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Travis Pizel January 3, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Great tips, Gary…..will keep this in mind the next time I have car trouble!

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