Cut Down Your Car Repair Bill With Free Fixes

When the Chen family of Silver Spring, Maryland, took their 2011 Toyota Sienna in for new brake pads, they found themselves facing a decision no family wants to make: Christmas present or car repairs.

"We love it and we've driven it on many family road trips, but it is just out of warranty and it's starting to need repairs," Sandie Chen said.

Save big on your car-repair bills

Avoid being taking for a ride by your mechanic

What to know before you go to a mechanic's garage

The "Real Money" team brought in auto expert Charlie Romero, founder of, to help the family's repair bills from spinning out of control.

Romero shared the following tips with the family of five and help save them more than $1,000.

1. Find free fixes. In addition to safety recalls, carmakers occasionally publish service bulletins to fix problems found in their cars.

"The dealers and manufacturers might not necessarily want you to know because it's not a safety issue," he said. "It will cost them but it'll save you a lot of money."

The "Real Money" team found that certain Honda Civics qualified for free paint repair and some Chrysler minivans might receive improved front wheel bearings, which dealerships would install for free.

For the Chens' Toyota Sienna, the team found they could save up to $450 in free fixes by plugging their car's VIN in Under the vehicle owner tab, a car owner can put in the make and model of a vehicle and find out about pending recalls as well as service bulletins.

A device called CarMd also uses the same basic technology that a mechanic's large, expensive scanner uses, but costs around $100.

2. Skip the garage. You may be able to use yourmechanic, in which a repair man comes right to your driveway.

3. Shop around without leaving your home. Use apps like OpenBay and RepairPal to compare repair prices before you take your car into the shop.