How Learning About Your Car Can Save You Money

Do you drive a car? If so, you should know something about it beyond how to gas it up and point it in the right direction. That’s because cars are mechanical things, and all mechanical things break down. With the cost of labor in the $90 and up range, learning about your car can save you money. Here’s how. (And why.)

Cars are expensive

Yes, it’s fairly obvious that cars are expensive — even “cheap” used ones. But people regularly spend thousands of dollars on their car without having the slightest idea how to care for. Think about it. If you bought a dog, you’d want to know what to feed it, how often to feed it, what shots it needs, how much exercise it needs, what kind of supplies you should have, what the noises and signals it made meant, etc. Yet that’s exactly what most of us do with our cars. And just like a dog, cars will die without the proper care.

The proper care can keep your car (and wallet) happy

Take this example. Your car pulls just a little bit to the right. Do you: (a) not notice, (b) notice and just start steering it a little bit to the right when you drive, or (c) take it to be aligned?

Choose a or b, and you’re going to be buying yourself some new tires long before you would otherwise need to. (Do you know how much tires are, installed & out the door?) You may also find yourself stranded at the side of the road when one of the tires goes, adding a costly tow bill to the price of those new tires. And if you don’t take care of the alignment problem, you’ll just repeat the cycle.

Choose c, and you’ll spend a whole lot less. In short, basic maintenance and paying attention to the little things that go wrong will save you money.

A little knowledge can prevent unnecessary repairs

On the flip side, knowing even a little something about how your car actually works can help prevent costly & unnecessary repairs. (Even if you have no idea how to fix it, or no wish to dive into the grease yourself.) Why? Because the job of many mechanics isn’t to fix your car in the least expensive manner possible. Many mechanics are actually salespeople. Informed salespeople who can help you out and fix your car, to be sure, but still salespeople.

Their job is to make money. So if there are 2 parts that have an equal shot of being the issue, they may recommend you start with the more expensive ones. Or they may recommend add-ons that would be good for your car, or that could possibly save you some money down the road if you pay more up front. It’s kind of like when you go to the movies and order a medium popcorn. They’ll ask you if you’d like a large for a dollar more, and point out that the large comes with free refills. Their job is to upsell you (ideally in an ethical manner.) But your desire is probably to fix the car without spending more than you need to. To do that, you’ve got to either have a mechanic who is not also a salesperson, or you’ve got to be informed.

Information can save you money

Picture this. Your truck is losing coolant & overheating again. You’ve already replaced the water pump (or had it replaced, because it was obvious that coolant was gushing from it.) You take your truck to a shop, and tell them that the water pump, serpentine belt, and thermostat were recently replaced. They diagnose your truck, and tell you that you need a new radiator, water pump, and thermostat.

Do you replace those again, plus the radiator? Or do you ask them why they think that? We’re talking nearly a thousand bucks here. Me, I ask them to explain why they think that.

The mechanic started out by putting the truck on the lift and pointing at a part. “See that black thing?” he asked. “You mean the fan shroud?” I replied. He pointed out a few more parts (why, I have no idea), with me naming them each time, and then pointed to a stain of coolant. He told me that he thought the water pump was leaking because of the stain near it. I pointed out that yes, it had been leaking, but that we’d gotten it replaced a few months back and so it was probably an old stain. (It seems the front office had failed to pass along that little tidbit.)

Ask the right questions, get a different answer

So instead of sticking with his original diagnosis (a bunch of expensive but logical-to-replace parts), the mechanic went on to do a few more tests and narrowed the problem down more.

Basically, because I knew enough to be dangerous, I saved a ton of money. (Turns out that the radiator was leaking, and that it had a bad fan clutch. The water pump and thermostat were fine.)

You can learn enough to identify car parts and ask intelligent-sounding questions from a book. (Auto Repair For Dummies is pretty awesome, if you’re looking for one.) Read your car’s manual, at the very least. A little knowledge can save you a bunch of money, both at the mechanic’s and by preventing larger problems.


  • I’ve gotten better with things and can now go under the hood and check pretty much all the fluid levels and fill them if need be. I also check the tire pressures and keep up on greasing the doors and other components, all of which goes to making the car a little less squeaky and hopefully run better :)

  • Knowing your car is insurance for your budget because if you let things go it leads to really expensive fix-ups.