If you’re like most drivers, then you look forward to the repair shop like you look forward to a bad cold. And who can blame you? Visits are often expensive and, unless you understand the repair process, it can feel like you’re being taken advantage of. Still, at some point or another you’ll need to have your car serviced.

There are ways you can avoid dishing out big bucks on an auto repair or, even worse, getting ripped off. All that’s required is that you take a proactive role in maintaining your car’s health and do a little homework. Sure, the process can be time consuming, but it’s a lot better than dishing out $25 to have your headlight fluid changed. 

Below are three simple steps to save money on auto repairs.

1. Make Repairs Sooner Rather than Later

Because car repairs are expensive, it's tempting to let them slide. But putting off or skipping certain repairs can be a costly and even dangerous game. In the long run, routine maintenance is cheaper than ignoring a problem and simply waiting for things to go wrong.

Your owner’s manual should outline routine services your car needs, as well as when they should be done. Beware of mechanics who recommend services long before your owner's manual says your car needs them. Keep on top of maintenance now and you'll avoid costly repairs -- and dealing with shady mechanics -- later.

2. Choose a Qualified and Trustworthy Repair Shop

Ideally, you’ll have established good relations with a local auto repair shop long before your car gets towed in. That, however, isn’t always the case.

While it can be frustrating trying to identify a qualified and trustworthy auto repair specialist on short notice, you need to properly vet your choices. One of the costliest mistakes you can make is taking your vehicle to a repair shop that you’re unfamiliar with. It can leave you susceptible to price rip offs, an incomplete fix or -- even worse -- more damage.

An easy first step to take in identifying a qualified professional is asking family, friends and coworkers for recommendations. Most folks will happily steer you towards a trustworthy and qualified repair specialist.  Even if they don't have a shop they like, you'll at least get some information on which to avoid.

Speaking of qualifications, verifying them should be your second step in identifying the right repair shop. Make sure that the technicians who will be working on your car are certified by a credible organization like the Automotive Service Councils (ASC). It’s also a good sign if the shop is approved by AAA or has partnerships with high-quality manufacturers such as Bosch. If the shop is involved in the community or sits on advisory boards, that’s even better.

Also, don’t underestimate the usefulness of reviews. Plenty of websites, like Yelp.com, provide thousands of customer reviews that can help you determine whether a repair shop is good or bad.

Lastly, visit the repair shop and ask lots of questions -- just as you would a doctor’s or dentist’s office. Pay attention to such details as the cleanliness of the shop and the demeanor of customer service representatives. If a shop can't be bothered to be professional up front, who knows how professional they’ll be in the repair bay?

3. Compare Prices

In the past, waiting for a repair estimate was nerve-racking. When it came to repair costs, most consumers were flying blind. Thankfully, times have changed.

RepairPal.com is an online tool that generates a free and independent estimate of what a repair should cost in the area in which you live. All you do is enter your zip code, as well as your vehicle’s year, make, model and problem. With RepairPal.com’s estimate in hand, you’ll know whether a shop you’re considering is on the up and up or taking you for a ride.

Don’t, however, choose the first qualified shop to quote you a cheap-to-fair price. By comparing multiple estimates, you can be sure to get the most for your money. After all, not all shops are out to rip you off. Some charge more than others simply because they use higher quality parts and offer longer service warranties. Since there are so many different variables, make sure that you’re comparing experience and parts costs in an apples-to-apples way.