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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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I'm just an average mom, trying to live a frugal life and get out of debt. I write about things that have (and haven't) worked to improve my family's financial situation. What works for me may or may not work for you, and you should always consult a financial advisor before making important financial decisions.
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