June 30, 2012, 7:03 AM — If you're like a lot of folks, today's still-shaky economy is pushing you to live more frugally--including keeping your car on the road as long as possible. And with gas prices bouncing around $4 a gallon in many areas, the last thing you need is to get hit with pricy repairs, traffic tickets, or other unexpected auto-related expenses.
Help is as close as your smartphone. Dozens of mobile apps are available that can help you stay on top of basic auto maintenance, find the most reputable repair shops, avoid traffic backups, track your fuel efficiency, and generally keep your car on the blacktop and your bank account in the black. Here are a few examples.
RepairPal (for Android and iOS, free): RepairPal provides estimates for common repair jobs and helps you find the best shops in your town to do the work. For example, when the Check Engine light lit up in my 2000 Honda Odyssey, RepairPal advised me that the light indicates a fault in the emissions system and that it would likely cost between $97 and $123 to diagnose. The app recently added a feature called "Top Shop" that lists local repair shops that are highly rated by consumers and that promise to match RepairPal's price quote; some also offer warranties for their work. RepairPal also offers roadside assistance for breakdowns, maintenance advice and checklists, and repair history logs for multiple vehicles.
Car Minder Plus (iOS, $3): Doctors and car mechanics agree: a little preventative maintenance can go a long way. This app stores a maintenance and repair log listing details like oil changes, tire rotations, and tune-ups to help you keep track of what needs to be done when. You can also monitor your fuel efficiency for fluctuations, which could help identify potential problems early. All data is backed up to your computer, and you can email customized reports as needed.