How to maintain your car without breaking the bank

Man fixing his car

When you purchase a car, new or pre-owned, you don’t necessarily factor in the cost of maintenance or repairs. Ensuring your car is in good, working condition helps keep you safe and extends the life of your ride. Routine maintenance keeps it running every time you step on the gas. So why do most people stall when caring for their vehicle?

Car maintenance isn’t cheap, and it’s somewhat inconvenient—especially in our hectic lives. Think about it, though. If your car breaks down on the side of the road, it’ll likely be more expensive and ill-timed than the alternative.

It’s smart to add a line item to your monthly budget and start planning your car’s recommended maintenance schedule. All maintenance doesn’t need to be done at the dealership, unless you have a new car with a warranty—those services must be completed by your dealership at the required intervals to maintain coverage. If you’ve purchased a used vehicle, or your car is no longer under warranty, it’s time to make friends with your local mechanic or even test out your own skills.

Here’s how you can maintain your car without breaking the bank:

Change your oil

Changing your oil is one of the easiest care requirements to follow. Check your owner’s manual to see the manufacturer’s recommendation, but the majority suggest an oil and oil filter change every 3,000 to 7,000 miles.

Consider checking out local high schools or technical schools that offer free or discounted oil changes carried out by their students. While you could attempt to do it yourself, it requires certain initial expenses, such as an oil drain pan, a jack, a jack stand, a funnel, and towels. Although doing it yourself may save you money in the long run, it poses environmental concerns and can get messy. If you prefer not to engage in DIY projects, use a coupon or Groupon before visiting a drive-through oil change shop.

Replace your air filter

Your air filter keeps dirt and debris out of your engine and should be changed every 15,000 miles. A technician will almost always ask you if you want it done while changing your oil, but it’s much less expensive to do it yourself. YouTube offers quick tutorials, and it’s an easy 15-minute DIY project that’ll save you some cash.

Change your brake pads

Now, changing your brake pads sounds a lot harder than it is. It requires an initial investment to buy the necessary tools, plus the cost for replacement pads. It might take a few extra hours to determine the process, but after the first time, you’ll be an expert. In the future, one afternoon is all it will take. You’ll also save hundreds of dollars over the life of your car, and you can put the money you would save into a high-yield savings account, like a CD or Money Market.

Replace your windshield wipers

Worn-out windshield wipers are not only frustrating, but they’re also dangerous. The cost to replace your wipers will vary depending on the type, length, and number of blades—don’t forget your rear wiper blade if your car has one. If you prefer, you can replace them yourself or visit an auto parts store and a technician will install them for free rather than having them professionally replaced. While you’re there, you may also want to refill your windshield wiper fluid. It’s a simple process and is as easy as pumping gas. Open the hood, locate the windshield wiper reservoir, and fill it until it reaches the full or max line.

Most cars have an indicator informing you when you’re low on fluid—if you don’t have this feature, you’ll need to show extra caution. Avoid activating windshield wiper fluid when the reservoir is empty. If there’s no fluid, the pump could overheat and fail, resulting in a not-so-cheap repair.

Flush the radiator

Keeping your car’s radiator coolant fresh is essential to maintain optimal performance and prevent overheating. Regularly flushing the coolant prevents rust build-up and keeps the metal engine components in top condition. You can perform a DIY flush at home using a flushing agent, new coolant, and distilled water. This will save you a considerable amount of money compared to taking it to a mechanic. It’s a smart investment in the long run.

Repair your flat tire

If you have a spare and some elbow grease, you don’t need to run out to buy a replacement tire or even pay for a tire repair. If you have some tools and a patch kit, you can save yourself at least $20 and maybe the cost of a new tire. Better yet, if your tire is underinflated and leaking air or completely flat, take it to a tire shop that will fix your flat for free.

Ensure your tires are always inflated to the appropriate pressure and rotated as recommended by the manufacturer. You’ll get greater fuel efficiency, and the tires will wear more evenly and extend their useful life. Check the shop where you purchased them since many offer free tire rotations. If you have a jack, it’s an easy DIY, too.

Diagnose your car for free

Is your check engine light on? When it is, it’s critical to find out why, but paying $75 -$100 for a technician to hook it up to a computer and spit out a report will only add to your frustration. Head to AutoZone or Advanced Auto Parts, and they’ll happily diagnose it for free. If it’s a fix that you can handle, you’re already at the store, so pick up the parts you need and get to work. It’s an answer and a solution in a matter of minutes.

At the end of the day, it’s important to keep up with scheduled maintenance and make the necessary repairs to your car as soon as they’re needed. An inexpensive repair can grow into hundreds or thousands of dollars when not addressed. With tons of information and DIY tutorials, there are many things you can do to save money, but don’t sacrifice the safety or the quality of your ride.

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