If you’re like me, your car was probably made when you were in grade school or younger. But regardless of when it was manufactured, consistent and quality maintenance will help keep your car on the road for a couple more years — saving you cash. Here’s the breakdown of car upkeep.
Maintenance requires regularity — always check your vehicle manual for maintenance schedules, fluid types and other car maintenance information specific to your vehicle. Then, here’s what to check…
- Fluid levels. Coolant, oil, transmission and power steering fluid. Running low can seriously damage your engine.
- Oil grade. Use your vehicle’s recommended grade of motor oil.
- Replace oil filter. This ensures you keep solid contaminates from prematurely wearing down your engine.
- Air filter. Check and potentially replace the air filter.
- Hoses. Make sure they aren’t cracking, drying or leaking.
- Brake fluid. See if it’s at the proper level.
- Tires. Check the inflation. Underinflated tires can reduce your gas mileage.
- Lights. Brake lights. Turn Signals. Head lights, both high and low beam.
An in-depth checkup is usually recommended every 15,000 miles to 30,000 miles. Expect to pay $150 to $250 to:
- Inspect and rotate tires. On a quarter, place George Washington’s head between the treads. If you see his wig, you have less than 1/8 of an inch of tread left and need new tires.
- Replace fuel filter.
- Inspect cooling and braking systems.
- Replace the air filter and spark plugs.
Eventually you’ll need a mechanic. There are two main components for your search:
- The dealership. Normally expensive, but often guaranteed.
- Chain stores. A (sometimes) inexpensive alternative, usually specializing in a particular area of car maintenance.
- Independent garages. The neighborhood mechanic might have some good deals and personalized service.
- Search the Better Business Bureau online at bbb.org for accredited mechanics.
- Look for technicians certified for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) and accredited by the American Automobile Association (AAA).
- Check the mechanic’s service warranty offer — the longer, the better.
If you like to do it yourself, you might be able to save labor costs and avoid dealership or mechanic markups on replacement parts. Oil changes, for example, can be done fairly easily and inexpensively, but don’t neglect important components of your maintenance program. Decide what projects you have the capacity to complete. If you’re not ready or able to complete a repair, take it to a shop.
Average hourly shop rates vary, but expect $50 to $60 at a dealership and $25 to $40 at a non-dealership mechanic. Also, don’t be surprised by fees for a mechanic to inspect your car. Often the inspection cost is applied to the repair cost if you elect to have the repairs made at their shop. Check out edmunds.com for cost estimates for your specific car.
Whatever your choice, make sure to maintain your vehicle on a regular schedule.
Paying attention to general maintenance under the hood doesn’t mean you should ignore the outside:
- Park away from the crowd to avoid scratches and dents.
- Wash and wax your car regularly to protect the paint job.
- Watch for chips. These can be relatively inexpensive to fix before they grow into cracks. If the windshield is cracking, repair or replace it. Temperature changes can make the crack grow over time and inhibit vision.
- "Free chip repair." Many of these offers are free to you, but are billed to your insurance. Before you sign up, check with your insurance company to see if rock chip repairs are covered on your policy and what effect filing this kind of claim will have on your premium.
If you need new tires, a good auto detail, or windshield repairs, check out aaa.com and search for approved repair and service providers.