5 Things That Can Save You Money on Car Maintenance

Owning a car can be an expensive proposition. You can’t just look at the price of a vehicle (or your monthly car payment) and think that is your only cost. Maintenance costs can sometimes overwhelm a tight budget, but it would be even more expensive to avoid routine maintenance. At the very least vehicles need consistent oil changes and tire rotations. Skipping oil changes will eventually destroy your engine — a cost much higher than all of the combined skipped oil changes together. Missing tire rotations means they will wear unevenly and be less safe when you are flying down the highway.


How to Save on Car Maintenance

Being committed to keeping your car in tip-top condition does not mean that you have to pay top dollar to do so. Here are some suggestions for making sure that you never pay more than you have to for maintenance:

1. Know Your Car

The cardinal rule of keeping down the cost of car ownership is to know your car. Spending an afternoon reading your owner’s manual might not be your idea of fun, but it will tell you all the details that are most important for maintenance. Things like what octane gas to use, how often you need to change the oil, when to replace your timing belt (which, by the way, is one of the most common deferred maintenance problems that can potentially destroy the engine). Your owner’s manual is the only place to get the unvarnished straight story on these and other types of routine maintenance — it’s not trying to sell you any service.

2. Buy OEM Parts Online

Use the internet to your advantage. You do not necessarily have to purchase parts from the dealer or mechanic when you can find them cheaper online. Then you will only owe your friendly neighborhood mechanic for the cost of labor, rather than parts plus labor. Just make sure you buy parts that are OEM — Original Equipment Manufacturer. Sticking to OEM means you know the part was designed for your car’s specific application.

Buying parts online might be a overwhelming to jump into if you are not generally knowledgeable about cars, but everyone can feel comfortable purchasing tires online. It is a great deal less expensive to buy your tires from an online retailer (TireRack.com, TireBuyer.com, TireSavings.com, and DiscountTireDirect.com are some examples), and with the ease of internet research on the best tire for your car, you can feel comfortable with your choice.

3. Change Your Own Oil

Learn how to change your own oil, and then do it yourself forevermore. An oil change is a simple DIY project that nearly anyone can learn. (Check out YouTube for a tutorial if you don’t know an oil pan from a funnel.) Handling your own oil changes does require an initial investment in tools: jack stands or ramps, an oil filter wrench, a funnel and an oil drain pan, as well as the new motor oil. All told, you will probably spend about $50-$60 the first time if you have to buy all new equipment.

If you continue to handle your own oil changes, that investment will certainly pay off. Just make sure you keep safety first. Having a friend around while you climb under the car is generally a good idea. You don’t want to risk the car coming off the jack stands and landing on you.

4. Top Off Fluids Yourself

Top off your car’s replaceable fluids. Letting your mechanic top off antifreeze or windshield wiper fluid may cost you (some will throw it in for free when you get your car serviced). Considering the fact that a top off is as simple as unscrewing a cap and pouring a liquid in, there’s no need to pay a premium for that labor.

5. Handle Small Repairs and Tasks Yourself

Small repairs and replacements are excellent ways to learn. From putting on new wipers to changing your air filter to replacing a headlight bulb to swapping out a taillight assembly, you can do all the little repairs on your car rather than pass the money on to your mechanic. Learning how to do these little repairs can also help you gain the confidence to tackle more – or just help you save your cash for when you know you’re in over your head. Additionally if you’ve purchased the tools to do an oil change, you can also perform a tire rotation. Just get the car safely on jacks and move the front tires to the back and vise versa.

Photo by Photo Plod.


By , on Jun 12, 2013
Emily Guy Birken Emily Guy Birken is a freelance writer, recovering English teacher, and stay-at-home-mom. She lives in Lafayette, Indiana, with her mechanical engineer husband and infant son. Her musings on life and parenting can be found at The SAHMnambulist.


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  1. Anonymous:

    Please, someone hit me in the face. Why do you change your oil 3-4 times a year?

    You only need to change oil every 12-15k miles, using fully synthetic oil with extended performance, like Amsoil, Mobil1 or Castrol. The damn thing says “15k miles guaranteed”. Get the same GOOD filter and you’re good to go (not the crappy one). Change your filter twice within the interval will help with more protection.

    Do that math and research if you want to save money, people! It costs less, it takes less time, it is more protective and it’s science.

    crappy oil change = $15 or more, 3k miles
    Mobil1 synthetic extended performance + filter = $40-45 (30 if there is sale @ autozone, o’reilly), 12-15k miles.

    now, how much you save in time, effort, environment and oil consumption? leave alone synthetic oil seals better, especially 0-30 so it improves mileage too

  2. I’m big on doing as much maintenance as I can on my car, but the oil isn’t ever going to be one of the projects I tackle! Changing the air filter and wipers, and checking/replacing fluids as necessary are key to keeping my car running well.

  3. danielle:

    my guy friend showed me how to change the oil in my car once, which actually wasn’t very complex. i still prefer to change it at the shop only bc i don’t have anyone around to monitor the change, and i wouldn’t want to end up on the side of the road bc i did it wrong. plus the $20 – $30 includes tire air, fluids and an occasional rotation. i’m sure anyone at any Auto Zone or Pep Boys could help you change your air filter if you can’t find a friend to show you, so good tip. i think one time Masterlube wanted to charge me $25 for it

  4. I used to do all my own work but i do confess that I’m a little nervous about doing on my new car. What with all the computers and what not.

  5. Jan:

    All good ideas to keep your car running more smoothly. Take a few moments for prevention and you will save yourself a huge headache down the road.

    Another I might add is keep your tires properly inflated. Get a little tire gauge and keep it in the glove box. When you get gas, check those tires.

  6. Sam:

    All the damage under the hood of my car is due to oil change places so I won’t let them touch my car unless I’m deathly ill & out of oil.

    An example being – the housing for my air filter is broken because some nim-rod was too lazy to take out the screws that held it closed and instead just pryed it open. And they weren’t even supposed to touch the blasted filter.
    In total I’ve had about 8 or 9 broken parts under the hood thanks to those places.
    The piece of mind is priceless and worth any mess I have to deal with.

  7. Sheila:

    I have found that at many parts places, they will replace things like batteries, air filters and windshield wipers free of charge. You may have to wait a minute or two for them to finish with other customers, but I have always found them to be extremely helpful and happy to do this.

  8. I’ve always suspected that the changing of the air filter was something I shouldn’t be paying for. I tend to get my oil changed at a quick lube place (using coupons of course) as I’m not the ‘get dirty’ type when it comes to cars, but it does sound like I could probably take care of the air filter myself.

    Thanks for the tip!

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