Cars cost nearly $100 a month to maintain, according to AAA, and the older your car gets, the more you’ll pay to keep it in good shape.
Avoiding necessary car maintenance is never a good way to save money, because you’ll just owe more later on when you car needs extensive repairs. You can, however, take steps to ensure you’re not spending more than you need to.
Consult your car’s manual
Your car’s manual spells out exactly which components need to be repaired or replaced, and how often. Sometimes when you take your car to the mechanic for one repair, they suggest adding on a few more (for an additional charge, or course). But you might not need all those repairs yet, so you can insist that your mechanic stick to only what needs to be done now.
Don’t get an oil change too often
When you got your first car, your parents may have taught you to get your oil changed every 3,000 miles. That’s because that was the standard suggestion years ago.
Thanks to evolving engine and oil technology, that standard has changed, especially if you use synthetic oil. Many cars can go more than two or three times that distance before needing an oil change. As always, consult your car’s manual.
In an effort to reduce the environmental impact of used motor oil getting into the bodies of water through the storm water system, the California state government created an online tool where you can learn more about how often your specific car needs an oil change.
Don’t default to premium gas
The majority of cars don’t require high-octane gas. Your car’s manual will indicate if you must use premium gas (in which case, you should), or if it’s simply a recommendation.
If your car doesn’t need premium gas, stick to regular to save money, because there are no benefits to your engine’s health or performance if you pay more for premium.
Learn how to DIY
There are many simple repairs that you can learn to do yourself. You’ll save money on labor costs by avoiding a trip to the mechanic.
It pays to learn how to do things like replace your air filters, wiper blades, and lights. If you need guidance, just search online for your car’s make and model and the repair you need to do. Odds are, there’s a free video tutorial available.
Don’t make bad choices to save money
Attempting a repair yourself when you have no idea what you’re doing can backfire. In some cases, it pays to get the help of a professional so your car will continue to run safely. Repairs to major components like the transmission, timing belt, windshield, or airbags are best left to a trustworthy mechanic.
Likewise, there are times when spending a few dollars is worth it. For example, you should put actual windshield wiper fluid in your car instead of water. Water can cause a bacteria build-up or freeze in your car.
If you need an expensive repair, do research on the typical cost on a site like Repair Pal, and get estimates from more than one mechanic.
If you need a component replaced, you may save money by buying the component on your own, instead of through the mechanic or car dealership. You can bring that component to the mechanic for installation.
Pay attention to tire pressure
The air in your tires affects more than you may think: the gas mileage your car gets, the wear on your tires themselves, and even the ease in which your car maneuvers. Tires lose up to two pounds of air per month, so you should check your tire pressure often.
While you can put air in your tires at a gas station, you’ll often pay a small fee to do so, and you may be stuck in a remote area without a gas station around for miles.
Consider buying a portable tire inflator. This one is under $30 and can inflate car and bicycle tires, as well as air mattresses and basketballs. It’s an extremely useful device to store in your car, and makes topping off your tires easy to do from anywhere.