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How We Saved $425 On a Car Repair

Lana emailed me about how they saved a big chunk on car repairs by thinking outside the box. I loved her story and thought many of you would enjoy it, too:

We have a 2000 Chevrolet Malibu that we paid cash for about four years ago. It has been a great, reliable little car, but, we have been having trouble with the air conditioning turning itself off and thought we had a loose wire.

We took in to our mechanic who said we needed an air conditioning control panel and it would be $425. Ouch! We decided not to make the repair and just live with the aggravation since the vehicle is 11 years old.

Over the next few weeks I noticed that I seemed to always be fiddling with the A/C switch when I was driving that car and commented to my husband that we were going to end up rear-ending someone and that would cost way more than the repair. My husband thought maybe he could remove and replace the part himself and started doing some research online.

He found that the contacts get dirty on that part and then it has the problems we had. The site he found went on to say that replacing the part would only help until the contacts were dirty again in typically two to three years. He followed the instructions for removing and cleaning the part and it works like a new one now!

I am thankful for my husband doing the research and making the simple repair that took him only an hour!

Lana Dixon and husband Bill, live in Wellford, SC. They homeschooled their five children for 23 years. Two of their children are married and three are in college. They are proud Poppa and Nana to three grandchildren.

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  • Janine says:

    I’m going to have my husband read this b/c the A/C has been out on both of our vehicles this summer and he has refused to even take them in to get looked at b/c of the cost. Maybe ours will be a simple repair!

  • Deb says:

    I LOVE googling junk like that for cars. The trunk latch broke on our 2001 Sienna (186k miles) and the dealer wanted a fortune, I googled it and DH fixed it for nothing, now if only we could fix the broken door handles the same way…….;)

    • Tanya says:

      You might try a junkyard for new door handles 🙂 Locally we have an imports only junk yard where we’ve gotten parts for my hubby’s old Nissan. They almost always have what we needed (including a transmission bolt that the dealer wanted $30 for!!) for a small fraction of the new price. We even bought replacement windows when someone broke in through the back window!

    • Sarah says:

      I had broken door handles too, but was too cheap to even look at junkyards since I’d still have to pay someone to put them in. My husband just used superglue or some sort of industrial glue and it would work for several months. Didn’t really bother me and it was better than no door handle. LOL!

    • Deb says:

      Unfortunately, we have the “denim blue mica” color which raises the price and Sienna parts are VERY hard to find at junkyards. My friend had a black Sienna and got the handles off of Ebay, but she said they were a pain in the neck to put in and her husband is SUPER handy….so we live with the broken handles, they still work, they are just cracked. We are also missing one hubcap, which we have replaced twice only to have it fall off again (they just pop on and off for that matter), reminds me of the ol’ blue van story a while back, but it still runs and we have abused that car, lots of miles, spills, road trips, Lowe’s loads, etc. it has been a great car, just cosmetic stuff…..

    • Erin L. says:

      My rear trunk latch for our 2001 Sienna broke too. Apparently it is a common problem. Why Toyota would have made this part plastic I will never know, it just snapped one day when I went to open it. Now we read lots of websites on how to fix the plastic part (like the one below) but decided to spend a little more than the website below and buy a metal part. We got a METAL latch from Ebay for $20 to $30 bucks and my handy DH used this tutorial to figure out how to take the rear panel off and saved us a bunch.
      We did not have any luck finding Sienna’s that year in the junkyard, nor did we want a plastic part again.

  • K Wessel says:

    Thank You! Bought a cheap car for teenage daughter. Every car we looked at did not have a working air conditioner So, we went with one without working AC. Now going to google this.

  • Natalie says:

    We had a similar situation a few years ago out of the car I was driving. As I was driving down the interstate, it just quit running! I worked at a car dealership, so we took it into the service department. They told us it would cost over $400 to fix, even with my employee discount! After talking to my dad, who has worked on cars all his life, we tried changing the spark plug wires (which was a very minimal amount of money) and it ran perfectly again!

  • Crystal says:

    Wow! I’m am so grateful (and very surprised!) by this post! I have a 2005 Malibu that is doing the EXACT same thing right now! We too got a quote… much the same as yours, and alas we chose not to fix it. I’m going to send my hubby this article to see if you can do the same! Keeping our fingers crossed!

    Thanks again for your wonderful time and money saving tips! 🙂
    xoxo from CA -Crystal

  • Wish we’d known about that issue/solution a couple months ago. I drive a 2001 Malibu, which had a similar problem with the A/C… My dad, however, took it to the mechanic and dropped the $300+ into it. Oh well – live and learn, I guess.

  • Becka says:

    please post the info on how to fix this issue. My mom has been having problems with her AC on her Malibu too. it works but it switches from recirculating air to fresh air all the time and it’s rather frustrating.

  • Carolyn says:

    I’ve started taking my car to the local joint vocational school. They only charge $5 plus parts for repairs. The students are supervised by certified mechanics/instructors, and I have been very pleased. I’m not mechanically inclined – from past experience I know better than to even try! – and as a single mom, this is a great resource.

    • What a great idea! I already go to a cosmetology school for manicures and pedicures (my roommate cuts my hair) – I had never thought of finding a vocational school for car repairs!

      • Carolyn says:

        Our JVS offers everything from construction to landscaping to cosmetology to party catering to computer services and web design. Most programs charge just the $5 plus supplies, although a few have a specific price list. They also charge transportation fees of about $10 (depending on location) if they have to come to you, for example, if the landscape class is working on your yard. Very reasonable, I think.

    • Kristine says:

      Great idea. I’m not mechanically inclined, and neither is my hubby, so I would be afraid to try any DIY ideas other than very simple things.

    • Yvette says:

      This is a great tip. Also, community colleges that have automotive programs may allow you to do the same. My brother was taking an auto class at our local college and was able to take my car in. I just had to pay for the part and the labor was free since their time used was a learning experience. As Carolyn said, their teacher is there and since they’re working for a grade they’re going to do their best. If there’s a mistake, the instructor’s right there. It’s really worth checking out.

  • Sarah says:

    That’s awesome! We did a similar thing with our refrigerator. Found out doing online research that our particular model had a flaw that caused the constant icing up. No parts were broken; it was only a design flaw that caused persistent problems. Had talked to our local repair shop and knew that they would not be able to fix it, since no parts were broken (we checked)…they didn’t know what to tell us and we weren’t willing to pay a minimum of $250 for them to troubleshoot what we already had. Thanks to others in forums, including an appliance repair person who posted the parts layout of our fridge, we fixed it. Cost some time and about $1 of copper wire from Ace Hardware. Has worked perfectly for over a year now, whereas it had previously constantly iced and frozen since we’ve lived here (10 yrs.).

    • Corrine says:

      We had a similar problem with our fridge a few years ago and thought we might need to replace it. I googled the problem first and discovered we could easily fix the problem on our own (we kept getting drainage from the back of the freezer down into the fridge). It has worked great since!

      • Mollie says:

        We have done same multiple times as well! I have just read many appliance forums to “solve” our problems and have saved TONS of money!

  • Monica says:

    The community college in my area does maintenance and car repairs for literally the cost of parts. Students work on them as part of their class and are supervised by an ASE certified instructor. I have always had amazing service with them and even if I didn’t, there is no labor cost so not much to complain about.

  • Sarah says:

    Can you tell us the site your husband found? My parents car air conditioning is out as well and the cost estimate is similar to what you got.

  • Joy says:

    Yes, Lana, can you please post the link? We also have a Malibu that is doing the same thing!!!

  • Kelly R. says:

    Sometimes AC’s just need to be charged. You can buy the freon and with a gauge at local parts stores. Also, if you are needing an AC pump or other part you might find them at a junk yard and then find small shop, instead of a dealer, that will put it in for less. Not all shops let you bring in your own parts, but some do and it is worth a try! I say unless you are driving a brand new or something that is only a couple years old don’t go to a dealership.

  • Marty says:

    I love stories like that and have done many things around my house that saved me calling a repair person to fix the problem. Since it’s $100 just to have a plumber or a repair person step in your door it’s worth doing a little bit of research to see if there is stuff you could fix yourself. The internet seems have all the great info out there all you have to do is search it out. 🙂

    • Kristine says:

      That’s one advantage of renting. We don’t have to pay anyone to fix things around the house; we can just call the maintenance people. I’m not good at DIY stuff like that anyway.

  • Jolean says:

    My DH just did an amzing job this week with our car repair. They came in and said the repair would cost near or above $500. He went into research mode. He called the dealer for the part price, he called shop after shop to make sure that the repair was necessary in the way they planned to do it, he looked for coupons on the mechanic’s site and on competetor’s site (they matched coupons) and in the end he saved us about $100! He was amazing! I was so thankful for all his work, b/c $100 is absolutely huge for those of us on the first couple of baby steps. 🙂

  • Lena Christine says:

    The A/C must be a common issue with the older model Malibu. I drive an ’01 as well and have those problems. However, I also have a wiring issue somewhere in the dash that causes my emergency flashers to kick on sporadically by themselves and forces the turn singles to have moments when they do not want to work. Probably the worst problem I’ve encounter with the car, however, is the driving lights started staying on even if you manually switched them off, so my battery was drained all the time.

  • Ryan says:

    Ha, this reminds me of when I fixed my roommate’s car radio and dashboard. I pulled the fuse for them and seeing it wasn’t broken proceeded to take a rubber eraser to the contacts. I put the fuse back in and it has worked ever since. Got to love it when you can put in minimal money and effort into something and get such a big return.

  • Kelly Lanning says:

    We had a similar situation with our oven the other day. My husband googled the problem and was able to fix the contact on some circuit (I think- I was the one cleaning the oven when he pulled it out from the wall).. Thank goodness for our handy men!!

  • Marie says:

    I love this post. Thankfully my husband will spend hours researching something before ever going to a mechanic! I’ve come home to find him boiling car parts on the stove etc. and get a little worried but in the end he always manages to fix the problem. He’s even able to find people who post pictures of step by step instructions. It’s amazing. Also if you have an Oreily’s auto store by you they “rent” out expensive tools for car repairs. We just had an issue with our brakes and once we got the old brakes off we couldn’t get the caliper to go back in. The dealer was saying we’d have to replace the calipers, which were a couple hundred dollars. Hubby went online and found out about a special tool and sure enough Oreily’s had it. It worked and we didn’t need the parts!!! You pay for the tool but get the money back when you return it.
    I am very thankful to have a husband who’s willing to try anything!!!

  • Camille says:

    We always try to fix our car first and thus far have been able to take care of most of it. I would recommend Auto Zone for parts. If you buy their brand products, they have terrific warranties. We’ve gotten brakes replaced free (they have a lifetime warranty!) and our battery when it died before the warranty.

  • jennifer brown says:

    Look on ebay and you can buy replacement AC panels for about $40 used or $100 new. We have messed with out 99 malibu’s contacts a f ew times but it never lasts.

  • Willa says:

    That’s awesome! We had a similar situation when our dryer heating coil went out. Everyone was telling us that we just needed to buy a new one because having someone come to repair it would cost more than it was worth (although still a little cheaper than replacing, but not by much). But, my husband did some research and was able to order the part off of Amazon for $30 and replaced it himself. It’s worked great ever since. Saved us a repairman service call, full price on the part (manufacturer website said $60 for the part) and instillation costs!

    I know it’s not always possible to do things on your own, but sometimes it’s definitely worth doing a bit of research!

  • Jennifer H says:

    My husband has a 1995 Ford Explorer that he drives back and forth to work. It belonged to my parents, so it has always been in our family. The old girl is 16 years old, and has had several problems over the past few years. By purchasing a Haynes Manual for our vehicle from Auto Zone we have saved quite a bit of money doing the work ourselves. If your husband is willing and you can find a Haynes Manual for your car, it is well worth the investment. It shows you step by step how to replace all the different parts of your vehicle. I estimate we have probably saved over $1000 on repairs in the past couple of years.

  • Rebecca says:

    Thank you, thank you! We also have an ’05 malibu and the AC constantly switches on and off and from recirc to vent. It has been sooo frustrating! I am hoping this will do the trick 🙂
    I am thinking that this must be a common problem with the malibu as my mom has the same car and it does the same thing. My car also honks the horn at its own leisure, even when I have turned the car off and gotten out of it. Sometimes it even makes a beeping sound (like the beep it makes when you are setting the preset radio buttons) randomly while I am driving. My mom has paid hundreds of dollars to try to get these problems fixed on her car to no avail. Maybe the same type of cleaning trick would work on the contacts for these other electrical connections?? Worth a try 🙂

  • Darrell says:

    Yay! I’ve started looking up how to repair the car (and even the lawn mower once) before we take the car in. Auto message boards are a Godsend! Also, once I have an idea of what we might need to clean or replace, I check to see if their is a video on youtube about it. That really helps my husband know exactly what he is doing(he hates doing car repairs but will try it if there is a video). This has totally helped us save money:)

  • Amanda says:

    That is pretty great. It’s nice when it works out great, I am sure some people have tried it themselves and made it worse!

  • Niki says:

    Wow!!! We have a 2000 Malibu and it does the same thing! We also live in SC, and we definitely need good a/c!! Can’t wait to tell dh!!
    Thank you for sharing!!!

  • Erin says:

    This sort of thing happens all the time with all sorts of products, and my husband always googles for a solution first. We’ve gotten parts for our car from the junkyard, he’s fixed our AC for $18 (No way a repairman would have even looked at it for that much!), and most recently, resurrected my four-year-old, $2500 MacBook after the Apple “genuises” claimed that the malfunction was not the warranty issue so many others experienced with this model and would cost $900 to fix. It almost always pays to explore do-it-yourself options first.

  • Chris says:

    The AC is a common problem with Malibus. I had a 98 and had the same problem. It only wanted to work when it was 65 degrees out (!). I never had enough confidence to try to fix it myself and couldn’t justify the expense.

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