Preparing for the inevitable: Car repairs

By Cherie Lowe

It’s been one of those weeks. I’m sure you’ve had them, too. On Monday, you forget that it’s school picture day and send your youngest child to school with barely brushed hair.

On Tuesday, you take your car into the shop for an oil change and a brake change and find out you need close to $1,000 in repairs.

By Wednesday, you’re ready to throw the towel in and hit the reboot button, for sure. If only life were that easy, right?

But let’s return to the unanticipated car repairs. Although, I can’t really say the call shocked me. For a number of weeks, I listened with angst as my brakes squeaked each and every time I urged the car to stop.

Like most drivers who hear a suspicious rattle, squeal or rumble, I did my best to ignore the warning signs. I pretended the noise didn’t exist. I denied it was a problem at all. When things moved from a squeak to more of a grunt, I knew I was in trouble.

Even if you’re in less denial about the current state of your car, vehicles break down. The constant wear and tear causes even the most stalwart vehicle to run into trouble now and then.

Rather than hiding your head in the sand, you can prepare. While no one loves forking out more than $900 to replace tires and brakes, caring for your car doesn’t have to eviscerate your budget.

Start a car fund today

Like emergencies, it’s never a question of whether your car will have issues but when. For this reason, it’s wise to begin a savings fund designated explicitly for the replacement or repair of your vehicle(s). We chose to set up a savings account connected to our checking account with the express purpose of placing a percentage of our income in that fund.

Do note we also have a separate emergency fund in case catastrophe strikes — a job loss, a medical crisis or worse. From the car fund comes the money needed for regular oil changes and items such as tires and brakes.

Over time, we’ve also built up this fund more than once to purchase new vehicles with cash, too. Start small if you don’t currently have anything saved. If ever you pay off a vehicle, continue putting your car payment sum into a car fund to quickly build up a reserve. If you currently don’t have a car note, place the monthly sum you would be paying in the account so you’re prepared when a need arises.

Trust Your mechanic

If you’re not mechanically inclined, it’s easy to feel confused and overwhelmed when taking your car in for regular maintenance or major repairs. While auto service chains may offer coupons and discounts, it’s better to find a local mechanic you know and trust to care for your vehicle.

We’ve taken our cars to the fine people at Debaun’s Auto Service, Inc. on Main Street in Greenwood for more than 15 years. The working relationship we’ve developed has helped us know when we might have a major repair on the horizon.

In case you were wondering, I’d been told to keep an eye on my brakes at my previous oil change. When you know your mechanic on a first name basis, you’ll be more confident in the repairs suggested. Even though the price of a routine oil change might cost a few dollars more than a discount chain, a mechanic who knows your vehicle well and keeps records of your repairs will save you hundreds of dollars in the long run.

When my phone rang with the not-so-good-news, I didn’t hesitate to trust the repairs were necessary. When I arrived to pick my car up, like usual, our mechanic offered to show me the parts he replaced so I can witness how worn down they were. Don’t know a mechanic in your area? Ask people in your network for references.

Kick the tires

In between regular maintenance, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your tires. Proper tire inflation doesn’t just keep your ride smooth, but influences your gas mileage. So keeping the tires in check can reduce how much you’re paying at the pump, too.

If you’re able to change your own oil, I’d recommend doing as much maintenance as you’re capable of on your own, too. But, if it’s not already in your skillset, leave the job to the experts. You might end up doing more harm than good.

If you’ve never established a sinking fund for car repairs and replacement, I’d highly recommend beginning that journey today. Your phone call might come sooner than you’d expect and you need to be prepared when it happens.

Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. She is the author of “Slaying the Debt Dragon:How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster
and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After.”Send questions, column ideas and comments to