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Short and Sweet Summary: It’s frustrating trying to maintain your car on your own. When do you take it in? Where do you take it? While trips to the dealership or auto repair shop are sometimes necessary to evaluate your car’s performance, the dirty little secret that they don’t want to tell you is that you can get lots of FREE car inspection services before you ever set foot inside their door.
I understand cars about as much as I understand a foreign language. Like, nada. Zilch. Zero.
And I’ve unfortunately had my fair share of car-related issues over the years since my husband died. I’m talking flat tires, dead battery, fluid leaks, transmission issues, you name it. And my gear-shifter-knob-thingy actually came off in my hand one day as I was trying to put my van in reverse.
It’s frustrating trying to maintain your car on your own. When do you take your car in? Where do you take it? While trips to the dealership or auto repair shop are sometimes necessary to test your car’s performance, the dirty little secret that they don’t want to tell you is that you can get lots of FREE car inspection services before you ever set foot inside their door.
I have a ten-year-old van and even though it has relatively low mileage, I still have to deal with minor irritating issues. As a result, I’ve uncovered lots of ways to get FREE vehicle inspections over the years since I’ve been widowed.
These services have been lifesavers for me. I hope they help you, too.
Screw the dealership.
Free TPMS Light and Tire Pressure Checks
If your car was built after 2007, you have a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS). This monitor alerts you when your tire pressure is low, which is super helpful to know so you don’t end up on the side of the road with a flat. Because no flat tire ever comes at a convenient time.
The TPMS is the hardest working sensor in my van, and I’ve seen this dashboard light more times than I can count (2010 Chrysler vans have lots of issues). If you see this warning light on your dashboard, it means that your tires may be losing air and should be checked ASAP. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have a flat, but your tire pressure is decreasing so it’s best to swing into a tire store to get it checked out.
The best place to go is Discount Tire if you have one near you (if not see other options below). They offer free tire air pressure checks whether or not you purchased your tires from them. The air pressure check involves inspecting all four tires and filling them to optimal capacity if they’re low. Also, the TPMS sensors can become corroded or just wear out eventually, so the guys at Discount Tire will manually check each sensor and clean off any corrosion.
Most stores have a dedicated lane for air pressure checks, so you can zip in and out in a matter of minutes. It’s super easy. Discount Tire recommends monthly air pressure checks, so it’s a good idea to put a reminder on your calendar to check your tires every month and make sure they’re in good working order.
I’m not affiliated with or financially compensated from Discount Tire in any way, but I use them exclusively for all of my tire needs because they’ve saved my tires (and my sanity) MANY, MANY times over the years.
Most tire stores will check your TPMS light for free. I say most because some tire stores only work with buyers who purchased a tire warranty from that store. And if you don’t have any of the aforementioned stores near you, just google “free TPMS and tire pressure checks near me” to see about local tire shops in your area who do offer the service.
Free Tire Repair
When you need to get your tire repaired because it’s leaking air from a nail pop or screw, you can find tire stores that also repair tires for free.
Discount Tire will repair your flat for free even if you didn’t buy your tires from them. As long as it’s in a “repairable” area of the tire, Discount Tire will patch it up and send you on your way. For FREE. This is, by far, one of the best free car inspection services I’ve ever used.
It doesn’t matter how many times you request this service. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never purchased anything from them, ever. They will still repair a repairable tire for free.
In the first three years after my husband died, I visited Discount Tire 17 times for free tire repair. Seventeen times. Why did I have so many nails and screws lodged in my tires all the freaking time? Who the hell knows? All I know is that my tires were patched for free every time.
So, of course, when the time came to replace all four tires I went straight to Discount Tire. After all they did for me over the years, the least I could do was buy some tires from them. You just don’t find that kind of customer service very much anymore.
What if you don’t have a Discount Tire near you? Pep Boys, Firestone, and Goodyear also provide this free service. Or google “free tire repair near me” to see about local tire shops in your area who do offer this service.
If you purchased tires and a tire warranty from a particular tire store, like Costco, the warranty generally offers free flat tire repair. Or some places, like Walmart, charge $10 per flat tire repair if you don’t have a tire warranty.
Free Battery Test or Charge
If you think something’s wrong with your car battery, or it’s flat-out dead because you left the lights on overnight, some auto parts stores, like Auto Zone, will test and/or charge your battery for free. AutoZone also offers overnight battery charging for 6 or 12-volt lawn and garden, motorcycle and marine batteries.
What if you don’t have an Auto Zone store near you? Advance Auto Parts, O’Reilly Auto Parts, Pep Boys, Firestone, and Goodyear also provide this free service. Or google “free battery test near me” to see about local shops in your area who offer this service.
Free Starting and Charging Systems Test
If you’re having trouble starting your car, it could be the battery, starter, alternator, or another component of your starting and charging system. Before you go replacing unnecessary parts, let Auto Zone inspect and test each component to verify the cause first.
Once you know what’s wrong with your car, you can either purchase the part from the auto parts store or take it to your dealership/auto repair shop to fix. Either way, you’ll know the cause of your issue before someone (ahem…dealership…cough…cough) tries to sell you something you don’t need.
What if you don’t have an Auto Zone store near you? O’Reilly Auto Parts and Pep Boys also provide this free service. Or google “free starting and charging systems test” to see about local auto shops in your area who offer this service.
Free Check Engine Light Diagnostic
Do you freak out when your check engine light comes on?
I do. Ugh. It’s a freak-out-fest of epic proportions when I see this god-forsaken light illuminate because I’m convinced my van is finally going kaput. But, you know what? The check engine light comes on in my van when I haven’t screwed the gas cap on tight enough. No lie. It’s stupid.
When your check engine light comes on, don’t freak out like I do. And don’t take your car to a local dealership who will charge you WAY too much for diagnostic services.
Take your car to an Auto Zone store instead for a free diagnostic check. These folks have free code retrieval tools that will help you figure out the check engine problem before you take it in for service. Sometimes it’s a quick fix – like tightening the gas cap – that doesn’t require a trip to the dealership or auto repair shop. Either way, Auto Zone will provide you with the diagnostic code so you can decide what your next steps are before you take it somewhere to be repaired and someone (ahem…dealership…cough…cough) tries to sell you something you don’t need.
What if you don’t have an Auto Zone store near you? Advance Auto Parts, O’Reilly Auto Parts, and Pep Boys also provide this free service. Or google “free check engine light diagnostic near me” to see about local auto shops in your area who offer this service.
Free Wiper Blade Installation
When you buy new windshield wiper blades, you can usually get them installed wherever you bought them. For example places like Auto Zone, Advance Auto Parts, and O’Reilly Auto Parts will install your windshield wiper blades for you if you ask!
I always ask. Because I don’t want to do it. Because I have zero patience. And I don’t want to break anything.
So let someone else help you, like I do.
Widow Wrap Up
Free car inspection services are a boon to those of us who don’t know a lot about cars or how to fix them.
Of course, the tire repair shops and auto parts stores perform these free services to get you in the door and hopefully spend money in their store. As they should. If they’re going to help get me out of a jam, I have no problem becoming a regular customer when the time comes for me to buy a new part or tire.
I’ve saved hundreds of dollars at Discount Tire just by using their free tire repair service. I will absolutely buy tires from them from now on. Not only are they aces at offering free car inspection services, but they’re also reasonably priced.
And the free diagnostic tools?
They give us great negotiating power at the dealership or auto repair store when we do have to get something fixed and we already know what it is.
No more taking advantage of the ladies. We’ve got the deal figured out before we walk in the door. It’s a win-win. For all of us.