While we’ve discussed how to seriously save money on auto repairs, more than a few people have pointed out that preventative maintenance is one of the best ways to save money – not actively, but long term. Spending money now on these basics will save you more expensive repairs later:
1. Do your own inspection It’s simple, but give your car regular breaks so you can catch anything that looks unusual. Make sure all your lights are working. Check your tire air pressure about every month (buy an inexpensive gauge and keep it in the glove box). It’s good for your tires, improves your mileage, and saves you money on gas when you find the pressure has run out. Listen for strange noises, inside and outside. Make sure your tires have adequate tread. You can use a penny for this or watch the wear indicator on the tread. If something is unusual, don’t ignore it.
2. Learn to control your fluids Even if you’ve never learned how to change your antifreeze, power steering, coolant, or even windshield wiper fluid (though seriously, don’t let anyone charge you for a wiper fluid change) , you should learn how to check the fluid level. In some cases you can see the tank level in real time, but most have a dipstick or dipstick you can pull out to compare the current level with a notch that shows the optimum level. Even if your owner’s manual doesn’t say much about checking your transmission fluid or antifreeze, don’t be afraid to pop the hood and see if you can find it. If you miss some, add more (if you can) or edit. Above all, never ignore a leak.
3. Check and replace your timing belt and serpentine belt if necessary Many people will tell you that you should replace your timing belt every 60,000 miles or so, and your serpentine belt should be replaced every 40,000 miles or so. Again, your owner’s manual provides the actual number for your type of vehicle. If you can’t find the manual, search for it online. You can find current recommendations for your car. Use that as a guideline and have your mechanic check the belt when it’s time to replace it based on mileage. If it’s still in good condition, don’t worry, but if it’s worn out, replace it before it breaks. If you wait and the belt fails, you will be damaged, and a damaged belt can damage other accessories, making the repair more expensive.
4. Check your oil and change it regularly Whether your car has a dipstick to check oil color and level, or the dipstick has been replaced with an electronic dipstick, you need to know how to check it. Knowing the difference between clean oil and cloudy oil will save you a lot of unnecessary oil changes and allow you to see if there is something wrong with your engine (for example, the oil looks bad, but you just replaced it). It’s hard to give universal recommendations on how often to change your oil, but the answer – as we said – can be found in your owner’s manual. Don’t just follow the 3000 mile, for most vehicles it can be up to 10,000 miles depending on what oil your vehicle needs (slightly different in the manual).
5. Check your battery and clean the contacts (if necessary) Most batteries today don’t require much maintenance, but you should know where they are and inspect them to make sure they aren’t leaking and that there are no minerals or other deposits on the contacts. If so, clean it with a battery cleaning brush. It will cost you a few dollars at any auto parts store or department store. Buy one and keep it in the trunk. While you’re at it, consider getting an inexpensive battery tester or jump starter. No need to call someone or wait for AAA (or friendly pedestrians) to blow you up.
6. Replace your windshield wipers when visibility becomes streaky I know people who ignore their windshield wipers until they are replaced as part of a bigger job. Windshield wipers are cheap and easy to replace yourself. Don’t wait until you can barely see through your windshield. Your visibility is important and you wouldn’t wait to see your eye doctor to have your glasses cleaned, would you? While you’re at it, give your windshield a good clean inside and out – if it’s hard to see, the problem could be on the inside, not the outside.
7. Replace your cabin air filter Replacing the cabin air filter is probably one of the easiest things you can do to keep your car comfortable. Most vehicles make the cabin air filter easily accessible and replacing it is as simple as opening the box. You can get a suitable filter at any auto parts store. It may not be essential to the operation of your car, but it’s convenient, it makes driving more enjoyable and it’s a repair you don’t have to pay someone else for.
8. Replace your engine air filter Obtaining an engine air filter can be a little more difficult depending on the vehicle you own, but it is important to replace it regularly. Your owner’s manual will give you a mileage estimate for how often you should replace your engine’s air filter, but if you can do it, check it out. If it’s dirty, replace it. If you drive a lot, especially in heavy traffic or for long distances, your engine’s air filter may get dirty faster than someone who rides on public roads or only rides on weekends. If you need help, or if your user guide doesn’t explain exactly how to do this (although it should), this guide from Jalopnik can help.
9. Rotate and balance your tires and check your alignment Your owner’s manual will tell you how often you should do this, and it’s important to do this to ensure your tires wear evenly and your car runs smoothly. You can make your tires – which are expensive to replace all at once – last by getting them from someone who has had them done multiple times – by rotating and balancing them. Your alignment is just as important. If you’re having trouble keeping your car upright, this is a bad situation that’s easy to fix.
10. Replace your spark plugs. If your spark plugs are worn or closed your engine will not run efficiently. It can cost you money in fuel for one, but it can also cause damage. It may sound daunting, but in some cases checking and replacing isn’t that hard. If you don’t want to do it yourself (or if it’s a big, messy job for your vehicle), follow the recommendations in your owner’s manual and replace it regularly – for most spark plugs and vehicles in standard copper this is around 30,000 miles (but again it varies – some iridium spark plugs can last up to 100,000 miles).
These are just a few of the things every vehicle needs, and most of them can be done yourself. We can’t stress enough the importance of checking your owner’s manual for anything we missed here or anything specific to your vehicle. If you don’t have the manual, you can easily find it online.