Picture this.  I’m driving my awesome minivan to pick up my youngest daughter from daycare.  Big girl in the back.  The stereo bumpin’ some happy tunes.  My daughter’s cracking up and dancing in her booster seat and I’m thinking about what we should have for dinner.

Then, all of a sudden, it happens.

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. 

My van starts making one of those sounds that no one ever wants to hear.  I pull into daycare and discover that my left tire is looking seriously F.L.A.T.  One of the other daycare moms feels sorry for me and suggests I try to get my van to a Firestone shop only a few blocks away.

“Will I make it?” I asked.

She looked at my tire and shook her head.

“We’ll see,” she said.  That didn’t sound very promising. 

A Wheel Costs What?

Fortunately, I did make it to the Firestone store.  Unfortunately, I needed two new tires – one to replace the one that was already flat and another to replace the opposite side.  But no big deal, right?  This is exactly why we have an emergency fund and why we are so careful with money to begin with.  I called my husband to pick me up and told the Firestone people I would pick my van up and pay just as soon as they were done.

But that wasn’t  the end of it.  Firestone called me the next day with some relatively bad news.

“Your whole wheel is cracked on the other side,” the gentleman said.  “We can’t replace your tire without a new wheel.”

My husband drove to the Firestone shop to check it out and quickly saw what they were talking about.  Apparently, I cracked the metal wheel on the other side without knowing at some point, and it looked awful.  Great.

With my tail between my legs, I called Firestone to order a new wheel and get on with it.   And that’s when they told me something absolutely crazy.

“A new wheel from the dealership costs $900,” they said, “but we’ll put it on for free.”

Gulp. 

My front wheel is now slightly shinier than the rest, but at least it matches!

My front wheel is now slightly shinier than the rest, but at least it matches!

To put things in perspective, my entire minivan is probably only worth $4,000 or $5,000 tops.  I obviously didn’t want to spend 25 percent of its value on a stinkin’ wheel.  Obviously.

So I told the dealership I would call them back and immediately got on the internet to see if I could find some sort of cheaper option.  Because, let’s face it, even buying a junker minivan off craigslist and taking the freakin’ wheel off would probably cost less than $900!

Online Parts Providers Have Crappy Service

The good news was, there are plenty of places to buy new and used wheels on the internet.  Unfortunately, I quickly found that not a single one of them will answer their phone.  In fact, I called several providers repeatedly to see if the wheels they had in stock would match my minivan’s VIN number, and no one (and I mean no one) ever answered, even though I waited on hold for an entire hour with one.

I did eventually get one of them to reply to me via email, but only after being really annoying and sending several inquires.  And through that dealer I found a wheel that matched my minivan perfectly.  The cost?  $120.

Yes, you read that right.  One hundred and twenty dollars cash, and they even threw in free shipping.

The Internet Saved Me $780…And I Like It

Since that’s obviously a huge discount from the $900 the dealership wanted, I ordered right away.  And within three days, my bright and shiny wheel was sitting on my front porch.  The dealership offered to put it on for free too, so I didn’t pay anything extra out-of-pocket for cutting them out of the equation.  And in the end, my total bill for the new tires, an alignment, and a few other services came out to $320.

The bad news: I’m officially over budget for the month of November – and through no fault of my own.  On the other hand, I totally avoided the $780 in additional funds I would have paid as a tax for being a lazy-ass.  And for that, I’m extremely grateful.

How has the internet helped you save money lately?  Have you ever found anything significantly cheaper online?