Food & Drink

Saving Centsably: Check-engine light savings

Recently my van’s check-engine light came on. Unfortunately, the check-engine light would not stay on -- therefore, my husband and I assumed that our problem was pretty minor.

I would get in the van, crank up, and then drive several miles before it would light up. The “lighting up” was so irregular that it did not even come on each time I drove the van. We discovered that it did not matter whether I was taking a long trip or a short trip -- sometimes the light would come on and sometimes it would not.

Because we were in the process of preparing to drive our van to Washington, D.C., for our family vacation in May, I decided I would have the problem checked out before we left. The first “multi-purpose” automotive shop I stopped at told me there would be a $69.99 charge to determine what codes my engine was displaying through the check-engine light. I turned around and headed right back out of the door of that facility. I certainly did not have nearly $70 to spend just to determine what the problem was with my van.

The second place I took the van told me they would charge $50 to assess the check-engine light. They did assure me that if I chose to have them repair the van, that $50 would come off the price of the repair. However, I still was hesitant because I felt like my husband might be able to repair the van for less than what a dealership or an automotive repair shop might charge.

I remembered that there are several automotive retail stores which advertise that they will check and diagnose a check-engine light at no charge. One afternoon I stopped in to have the AutoZone near me tell me what was wrong with my van. As it turns out, the check-engine light was alerting me to nine codes.

Armed with that knowledge, I took my van to the local Honda dealership. Normally, I would not take my vehicle straight to the dealership, as I believe the cost for repairs there exceeds the cost of repairs at a reputable automotive repair shop.

However, at least two of the codes the check-engine light was alerting us to involved a recall on certain parts of my van. Therefore, the Honda dealership was the best option for our repair.

I tell you all this to explain that there are ways to go about diagnosing the check-engine light codes on your vehicle without paying the fee required at many dealerships -- especially if you are a do-it-yourself repair person.

While I was at AutoZone, I registered for the AutoZone rewards program. Because the purchase of some small items totaled about $50, I received a coupon in my e-mail for a future purchase.

I learned that AutoZone has a program much like other stores (CVS, Kroger, etc.), which tracks a customer’s purchase and then rewards them with coupon savings on future purchases. Whether the coupon is for a $20 discount (which customers receive after making five $20 or larger purchases) or for 25 percent off the next purchase, these are the types of coupons and savings I hang onto for times when the car battery dies, a spark plug needs to be repaired, or oil supplies need to be purchased!

Contact writer Rachael Mercer at