How to Deal with Unexpected Car Repairs

There is no convenient time for car problems to occur, but they always seem to happen at the most inopportune moments. You’ve just completed some expensive home repairs or paid the kids’ school fees, and the car decides now is the right time to start acting up or even break down.

When it comes to vehicle maintenance, it pays to be prepared. No truer word was said than “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. But there is more than one way to approach handling unexpected car repair costs. We take a look at what some of your options are:

Finance Options vs. Emergency Car Fund

Some amount of cash on hand in case of emergencies is never a bad idea but accumulating a large emergency car fund that sits there doing little but accruing a small amount of interest might not be the best use of your money. And that’s not to mention how difficult it is, with the rising cost of living, to save in the first place.

Fortunately, there are several finance options available for covering large, unexpected outlays—for which vehicles are notoriously responsible. A set of new tires, for example, can be more expensive than you might think and paying for them in one hit will often sting.

A tire payment plan can come in the form of a “pay over time” or a “lease to own” method and will spread the cost over an extended period into more manageable repayments. Choosing one of these options allows your family to budget more easily and accurately on a month-by-month basis.

My father had an interesting approach. He kept a separate checking account, which he resisted the urge to dip into. Every time he was offered one, instead of taking out the warranty, he would put the equivalent of what it was quoted as costing into this separate account and then only ever use that for repairs. He claimed he saved a lot of money this way, and it seemed to work for him, but I think he might reconsider these days with more modern payment options available.

DIY vs. Professional Repair

I suppose this one succeeds or fails based on how practically inclined you are. And even if you answer “very” to that question, we sometimes have a tendency to overestimate our abilities.

One thing for certain, it’s entirely possible to do more harm than good when trying to repair something yourself. That being said, we’re firm advocates for repairability being designed into everything you buy. Things last longer and it saves the waste of a nearly an entirely functional product being tossed because of one small, faulty component.

Finding and maintaining a good working relationship with a reliable mechanic is invaluable for any motorist. It’s a good idea to start with recommendations from friends and if you have any doubts at all, always get a second opinion before parting with your money.

Over the decades, as cars have become more complex, it’s become harder for the average hobbyist to perform any major repair work. Changing a bulb, a wiper blade or the air filters can still be performed by most, to avoid costly labor expenses but anything more serious will usually require a qualified professional.

One thing you can do to assist a future version of yourself is to make sure you regularly perform basic car maintenance. Some simple steps you can take are:

  • Familiarize yourself with the owner’s handbook
  • Check your tire pressure and condition monthly
  • Change your oil and oil filter
  • Inspect other vehicle fluids: brake, transmission, coolant, and washer

Any large, unexpected cost that we have to endure is undesirable but if you take steps to have a plan in place you can reduce some of the stresses on yourself and on your wallet.

Ben Campbell is an accomplished and experienced freelance writer who has featured in a number of high profile publications and websites. If he’s not reading the financial times you’ll find him listening to live music or at the coast surfing.

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