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Should you invest time searching for financial assistance and free servicing when you need to pay for car repairs but have no money in savings?

The need to commute to and from work when your ride is at the auto garage can create an emergency cash shortage for people living check-to-check. In these cases, financing and insurance provide the fastest answers.

On the other hand, people with less urgent needs can take the time to find other possible solutions. Government programs and charitable organizations are the logical places to look for low-income families, single mothers, and veterans.

However, direct, free support will prove hard to find.

Help with Emergency Car Repair

Finding financial assistance for emergency car repair might prove challenging, given the limited you have to find a solution. You may be unable to afford the luxury of shopping around for government programs or waiting for charitable organizations to have an opening.

Urgent needs dictate fast answers, and financing and or possible insurance claims are the quickest ways to resolve your lack of money to pay the mechanic.

Financing Programs

It’s easy to get a personal loan! Borrowing money from a finance company sometimes provides the only way to get immediate help paying for emergency car repairs. Online lenders can make a quick underwriting decision and deposit the funds directly into your checking account for immediate use after the transaction clears.

Financing programs come in many shapes and sizes and can provide drivers with the resources to pay the mechanic and get their vehicle back on the road again right away. Compare the projected borrowing costs (origination fees and interest charges) to any lost income associated with your inability to commute to work for several days.

You may find that taking out a loan is the more affordable option.

Auto Insurance

Your auto insurance coverage could be the ideal place to turn for help paying for emergency roadside assistance after a mechanical breakdown and the repair of your vehicle after an accident. Once the tow truck hauls your wreck to the body shop, the staff should assist you in filing the claim.

Check your policy declaration page to see if any of these optional features might provide the monetary resources needed. Claim checks can go out swiftly.

  • Collision covers losses from crashes with another vehicle or fixed objects such as telephone poles or street lights
  • Comprehensive pays for damage from non-driving incidents such as theft, vandalism, hail, falling tree branches, etc.
  • Extended warranties or vehicle service contracts cover the breakdown or failure of many critical components such as transmissions, engines, drive axels, etc.
  • Substitute transportation pays for the cost of rental cars, buses, trains while your vehicle is in the shop

Government Assistance with Auto Repair

Government programs offering direct assistance with car repairs will be difficult to find. Federal agencies do not provide grants (free money) to individuals with specific needs. Instead, the dollars flow to universities, state agencies, and non-profits.

However, several grant recipient entities may provide indirect help using slightly different labels.

DHS

The Department of Human Services (DHS) is a federal government entity that offers cash support to vulnerable groups in many states. DHS programs with explicit labels for car repair assistance are rare.

However, you can find indirect support from DHS buried in the fine print. 

Most state DHS agencies administer the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This welfare program provides cash benefits for food, clothing, shelter, and other needs.[1]

The government encourages welfare recipients to work to become self-sufficient. Therefore, families can use a portion of their welfare (TANF) money to fix a motor vehicle needed to commute to work.

DMV

In many states, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offers emissions-related vehicle repair assistance. In others, a different government agency may administer a similar program.

For example, both California and Texas[2] offer monetary help to needy drivers whose car failed emissions testing. The goal is to improve air quality. You may be eligible for two types of benefits.

  • Money for smog-related maintenance
  • Incentives to retire a gas-guzzler

JARC

The Federal Transit Administration established the Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC Section 5316) initiative to help welfare recipients with transportation needs from urban homes to suburban jobs. However, the government agency terminated JARC and replaced it with two grant programs that deliver technical know-how to local transit agencies.[3]

  • Urbanized Area Formula Grants (5307)
  • Formula Grants for Rural Areas (5311)

Like most government grant programs, individuals cannot apply for free money -the resources flow to universities, state agencies, and non-profit organizations.

Free Car Repair Organizations

When researching non-profit organizations that might provide free car repair, keep in mind that you will find budgetary and practical limits on their ability to serve others. Donor-supported entities will face two constraints.

  1. Replacement parts require out-of-pocket expenditures
  2. Skilled labor from volunteer certified mechanics is scarce

Charities

Be on guard for potential rabbit holes when researching nationwide charitable organizations that offer free car repair services. Many have advertising budgets designed to draw traffic from individuals who might donate their broken-down jalopy.

Vehicle donation is a proven fund-raising tactic that supports the missions of many non-profit organizations. They often will send a tow truck to retrieve a clunker and strip it for parts or invest in upkeep before resale.

Examples of charities that use donated vehicles to raise money are too numerous for an all-inclusive list.

  • Salvation Army
  • United Way
  • Catholic Charities
  • Red Cross
  • Kars for Kids

Churches

Finding churches that provide free car service to non-members will be hit or miss. Outreach ministries require specialized skills from servants and funding for any replacement parts by the driver.

The few churches that publicize vehicle maintenance outreach serve local geographic areas exclusively because they need lifts, tools, and garages.

Vehicle Repair Help for Groups

Sometimes looking for resources tied to marginalized groups can make it easier to find local assistance with vehicle repair. While you may not locate the direct help you are looking for, by addressing another need, you could free up enough cash to pay the mechanic and cover the auto parts costs.

Low Income

Low-income families seeking car repair assistance can follow a two-pronged strategy, starting with government programs, and then utilizing searches for local entities.

  1. Many government programs target aid to low-income families using federal poverty guidelines to determine eligibility. While these initiatives do not pay for auto servicing directly, the resources can free up extra cash.
    1. Subsidies for health insurance premiums
    2. Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8)
    3. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or Food Stamps)
    4. Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
  2. Low-income individuals can also find direct help from local entities that serve people in need. Other online resources do an excellent job of compiling these data.

Single Mothers

Single mothers seeking help with auto repairs can also follow a two-pronged strategy, with a minor twist. Women raising children alone have difficulty working a full-time job and earning enough money to support the household.

  1. Single moms can tap into the same government programs targeting low-income households. Plus, two additional initiatives for women with children can free up cash for other needs.
    1. The Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC)
    2. Child Daycare Vouchers
  2. Churches are also more sympathetic towards single mothers, as scripture urges them to support this vulnerable group.
    1. Psalm 68:5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling
    2. James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world

Veterans

Veterans trying to locate free auto repair resources can follow a four-pronged approach. The men and women who served our country in uniform made sacrifices that later open the door for others to give back.

  1. Veterans who suffered service-related disabilities could be eligible for a VA automotive allowance towards the purchase of a specially equipped vehicle or make adaptations such as power steering, brakes, seats, windows, and lifting equipment.[4]
  2. Veterans with disabilities also may head low-income families, making them eligible for many of the government supports targeting households living in poverty (see above).
  3. Veterans often become single parents due to the long deployments away from family and the stress of constant relocations (see above).
  4. Many local charitable entities (see above) dedicate their mission to aid former service members with a broad range of needs. This partial list includes those that specifically mention transportation.
    1. Operation Home Front
    2. org
    3. Modest Needs
    4. Operation First Response
    5. Veterans of Foreign Wars

Footnoted Sources:

[1] US Department of Human Services

[2] Texas Department of Public Safety

[3] US Federal Transit Administration

[4] Veterans Administration Adaptive Equipment