10 cheap and easy ways to take care of your vehicle’s maintenance

Pay me now, or pay me (a lot more) later. It’s the motto of every mechanic for a reason. They know cars inside and out, so they understand how deferred maintenance can take its toll.

Cars are enough of a money sink, already – from monthly fuel costs to insurance, it’s one of the most expensive things you’ll own. Don’t treat preventative maintenance as a flexible expense, as this will only lead to bigger bills down the road.

Want to keep your auto maintenance bills to a minimum? In this blog, we’ll share ten tips that will save you money in the long run.

(1) Keep your tires properly inflated

In a way, tires are your car’s foundation. If something is amiss with your radials, the rest of your machine suffers. A vehicle with under-inflated tires has worse fuel economy, and they wear down themselves and the engine faster. Most scary of all, they are more susceptible to blowouts.   

Once per month, check your car’s tire pressure, and compare it against its optimal settings. You can either find this information in your owner’s manual or on the inside of the driver side door. Once you know, pull up to an air pump at your local service station. Put all stem caps in your pocket, so you don’t lose them. Fill each tire to their recommended level.

The total cost of this maintenance task? Free to $0.50 per use. It doesn’t get cheaper or more straightforward than that!   

(2) Warm up your car each morning

In a fit of cursing, you rush out of the house, lunch in hand. In a familiar scene, you’re late for work again. You start up the car and immediately pull away from home.

Okay, freeze frame. What’s wrong with this picture? Aside from being habitually late every morning, you’re not giving your vehicle time to wake up. After sitting for twelve hours or longer, the distribution of oil and other engine fluids may be uneven.

When you engage your vehicle seconds after ignition, parts of the engine may not have adequate lubrication. As a result, metal-on-metal contact can occur, ever so briefly. Over months and years, this can lead to engine problems that will cost you dearly.

The only thing this step will cost is a minute or two of your time. Wake up 15 minutes earlier, and doing this won’t be an issue.    

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As you know, auto insurance is mandatory. Drive without it, and the police will impound your car, you may lose your license, and you’ll have to pay a significant fine. In return, though, this policy protects you against damage caused by thieves, as well as liability in an MVA.

However, if your power steering suddenly dies, your insurer will laugh if you try to claim it. Sometimes, your car will develop expensive problems, even if you treat it like royalty.

Situations like this call for an auto warranty. After the dealer’s warranty ends, it leaves people with no protection against unforeseen problems. Rather than get ambushed by an expensive repair bill, owners of auto warranties pay a monthly premium. Whenever an issue arises, they phone their firm. Once approved, the owner goes to an in-network dealer, where the repair is covered (minus a small deductible).

Even if the average cost per year is similar to going without an auto warranty, it’s still worth it. This model offers cost certainty, making it easier to make a household budget.  

(4) Wash your car regularly

It just seems pointless. After spending ten minutes hosing slush and grim off your car, you drive away. By the time you get home, the bottom half of your ride is dirty once again.

You feel like Sisyphus, doomed to push a rock up a hill, only to have it roll to the bottom. However, your efforts are not in vain. Road grime contains compounds that can degrade the body of your car over time. If you don’t wash it off regularly, the body will rust, and the undercarriage will be more susceptible to damage.

This problem can be especially annoying in winter, where it can be nigh impossible to keep your car clean. In this case, try washing off grime at home – this way, your ride will be clean for hours, rather than minutes.

(5) Don’t use it to store heavy objects (unless you’re transporting them)

Our cars can collect serious clutter over time. This weighs it down, decreasing fuel efficiency, and increasing tire and engine wear. Sometimes, you cannot avoid this situation – if you transport stuff for work in the bed of your pickup, don’t worry about it.

However, take that bag of traction sand out of the trunk when spring comes. Lighten the load, and you won’t be changing your tires so soon.

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Sorry to sound like Dad, but it’s true – your engine will die a premature death if its oil dries up.  According to CarMD, if your engine goes, you’re looking at a repair that’ll cost more than $7,000.

All this pain can be avoided simply by changing your oil every 5,000 miles. Synthetic oil provides the best bang for your buck, as it lasts 7,500 miles per change. Finally, if your Dad taught you how, save some cash by changing your oil at home.

(7) Replace your brake pads

Squeeeee – quietly but surely, you hear one of a car owner’s least favorite sounds. Soon, you’ll need to change your brake pads again. Day-by-day, the sounds get louder, and your stops get rougher.

Eventually, you make it into the shop. Instead of paying $300 for two new front brake pads, you’re paying $800 for new pads AND rotors.

Procrastination can get expensive, so book an appointment as soon as you hear the telltale squealing sound. Want to extend the life of your brake pads? Don’t ride your brakes while descending hills and don’t speed excessively.

(8) Change your air filter

Of all the implements in a car, air filters often escape attention. If they get too dirty, fuel efficiency will go down, it’ll get harder to accelerate, and engine wear will increase. Neglecting to change it regularly could add up to hundreds in extra fuel costs annually, and hundreds/thousands in engine repairs over the life of your car.

You could let the costs add up over the years – or spend $60 to change it every 30,000 miles. Your choice.

(9) Check your belts

The serpentine and fan belts are two parts many people don’t know about – until they’re about to break. When they’re worn, they’ll emit a squeaking sound when your car is idling. Left unaddressed, they’ll snap, cutting power to the vehicle, and damaging any component they hit.

When you hear the sounds mentioned above, take your vehicle in for repairs. Typically, replacing a serpentine belt costs $60-$200, labor included. If your car breaks down, you’ll be paying for the belt, PLUS the tow, PLUS any other parts damaged.

(10) Prep your car for long periods of inactivity

Are you going away on a long trip? Don’t just leave your car in the yard – if left idle for extended periods, its systems can suffer damage. Start by filling your gas tank, then afterward, insert a stabilizer additive that will lose its breakdown.

Then, bring it inside. This step will protect it from the elements, and prevent animals from making your ride their new home. Finally, disconnect the negative battery cable. If you don’t, the battery will slowly discharge and eventually die.