It's just a normal Thursday afternoon. You're driving down the freeway and suddenly you're engines making a noise you've never heard before. As you pull over to the side of the road a quarter-mile later, smoke starts coming out from underneath your hood. It's obvious that you won't be able to drive to a mechanic. If you've got Triple A, you can get your vehicle towed for free. If not, then you've got to hire a tow truck, costing you upwards of $150 before you even get to the mechanics shop. Automotive problems strike when you least expect them, but if you know a few tricks, you'll be prepared to weather the storm.
The first thing to do is take your vehicle to a reputable mechanic for an estimate. If you don't know one, you should probably take it to a dealership that sells your type of car. While you are waiting for the tow truck to get there, use that time to call around and ask a few different mechanics about your problem. Explain what happened and ask them what they would charge to diagnose your vehicle. Most places will offer a flat fee for doing a diagnosis, but if the problem is really bad, an hourly rate might be quoted. Use your best judgment and have the tow truck driver take your car to the shop that sounded the most reasonable and honest. I usually lean toward dealerships for this step because they often know the most about your type of car, but if you are paying out-of-pocket to have your vehicle towed, it may be more prudent to tow your vehicle directly to an independent shop and have a dealership review their estimate at a later date.
Once you've gotten an estimate, you can see the list of auto parts required to fix your vehicle. It could be a short list of just a few parts or it could be very long; anything from brake rotors to radiators to alternators. If you got the estimate from a dealership, the list of necessary parts should be complete. If the estimate came from an independent mechanic, have it reviewed by a dealership or another mechanic to make sure there aren't any problems or oversights on labor charges. It is important to pay attention to the mechanics thoughts on the labor; some may try to bid fewer hours to gain your business. If they do this, get their estimate in writing so you can hold them to it.
Once you are confident that the estimate is accurate and complete, you can begin to order your auto parts. Why would you want to order the parts and not get them through the mechanic? To avoid high convenience charges on the parts, that's why! With the proliferation of the internet, it has become much cheaper and faster to order your auto parts online than purchase them directly from a mechanic.
When all your parts arrive, you can take them to a mechanic to have them installed. This is the last part of the process, and while the ultimate goal is to have your vehicle fixed correctly by a knowledgeable mechanic, you should have also saved some money on towing, parts and labor by following these simple steps.