Every daily commuter or weekend warrior knows that keeping your vehicle in good running condition is an important part of car ownership. After all, significant repairs can cost a pretty penny. Fortunately, basic maintenance can help keep your expenses down and your wheels on the road instead of in the shop. Here are 11 money-saving maintenance tips to help you keep your vehicle in tip-top mechanical condition.
What Are the Benefits of Regular Car Maintenance?
Here are some of the benefits of routine car maintenance:
Improves Fuel Efficiency
A dirty fuel system, clogged air filters, low tire pressure, and misaligned tires can all cause reduced fuel efficiency. When you cross these things off your car maintenance checklist, you may experience less financial burden at the pump and a lower environmental impact.
Detect Problems Before They Become Expensive
By spotting potential issues early, you can avoid expensive repair bills and long-term car damage. When you take your car in for routine service, most auto service centers will conduct a free vehicle inspection to determine any existing or potential problems. For instance, a technician may notice a leaky radiator hose during an oil change.
Helps Extends Your Car’s Lifespan
Preventive car maintenance can help extend the life of your vehicle. If your car fails due to poor maintenance, you might have to purchase or lease a new car. These expenses may be outside your budget, along with a down payment and other fees. Keep your vehicle running longer and avoid unexpected costs by performing routine car maintenance.
Increase Vehicle Safety
Failing to maintain your vehicle could lead to mechanical issues that may result in an accident or costly problems on the road. If you find yourself in an accident, car insurance can help get back on your feet.
Save Time and Reduces Stress
Leaving your vehicle at an auto service center for substantial repairs disrupts your daily life and budget. Trying to schedule drop-offs and pickups, renting a car, and missing time from work can stress you out. Stay on top of your car maintenance to help you avoid these problems.
How to Take Care of Your Car
Consider these general car maintenance tips to help keep your vehicle a well-oiled machine.
Change Your Oil Routinely
Low engine oil may indicate a leak, leading to major engine problems if left unattended. If your oil appears dirty, it’s probably time for an oil change. Dirty oil can gunk up an engine’s moving parts, and the engine will seize if the oil doesn’t properly lubricate it. Change your oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles or follow your car manufacturer’s recommendations.
Check Your Fluids
Monitoring your vehicle's coolant, transmission, power steering, and brake fluid is fairly simple and can save you hundreds of dollars in repairs. You can easily locate each fluid reservoir by consulting your vehicle’s owner’s manual.
- Coolant — Low coolant levels may mean a leaky radiator or head gasket, which could be disastrous for your engine and lead to overheating.
- Brake and power steering — Brake and power steering fluids are critical to check because, if low, your brakes could fail, which could lead to a collision. Have your mechanic look for leaks in brake lines and the power steering pump and lines if the fluids are low. Catching leaks before they become big can save you from major engine repairs.
- Transmission — Be sure to check your transmission fluid as well. Clean fluid is red, while a brownish or blackish color indicates you may need a transmission flush and a new filter.
Don’t Ignore Your Check Engine Light
The check engine light indicates that something may be wrong with the vehicle and registers an error code sent from the vehicle's computer. The problem may be as small as a loose gas cap or a misfiring spark plug but can also mean a more serious issue with the electrical system, engine functionality, or emissions. Procrastinating could lead to costly repairs, so getting your vehicle looked at sooner rather than later is smart.
Inspect Your Belts
If your engine is whining or squealing, chances are that it’s time to get your belts replaced or that the tensioner pulley holding them tight is failing. A snapped belt can leave you stranded on the side of the road and can cause significant engine damage. Replacing them when they become loose and worn is a relatively cheap fix, which can help you avoid a more costly breakdown.
Pay Attention to Your Brake Pads
The sound of grinding metal when you hit the brakes means it’s time to replace your brake pads. Brake pads are manufactured with metal hair at the bottom to alert drivers when they’re worn. These pads typically wear out anywhere between 25,000 and 70,000 miles. This largely depends on the type of pads installed on the vehicle, the type of driver you are and traffic conditions.
Check Your Vehicle's Suspension
If creaking comes from your vehicle's suspension, this may indicate a bad axle, shocks, struts, or other suspension issues. If your shocks are bad, the other components that make up your vehicle’s suspension will suffer and wear out quicker. If your CV boot rips, the axle can wear out and even snap. This domino effect can rack up repair costs, so it’s best to replace these components as they begin to fail.
Test Your Tire Tread
If your tire tread is looking low, use the penny test to determine whether or not they should be replaced. It’s a simple test where you insert a penny into the tread channel with the top of President Lincoln’s head directed toward the tire. If you can see the top of his head when you look from the side, it’s time to replace your tire.
Rotate Your Tires
It’s also important to rotate your tires to promote even wear because front tires typically wear out faster than the rear ones. Properly maintaining your vehicle’s tires can also mean savings at the gas pump, so pay attention to the only part of your vehicle that touches the road.
Maintain Tire Pressure
Underinflated tires can decrease fuel efficiency, increase tire wear, cause a blowout, and drastically reduce your stopping distance when braking. To prevent these issues, purchase a pressure gauge and check each tire weekly to ensure they’re properly inflated to what your manual recommends.
Keep Your Battery Clean
Corrosion can build up on your battery’s terminals. If they stay corroded, the battery may develop a crack or not perform properly, leaving you stranded on the road. Use a wire brush to clean off the terminals and avoid paying for a new battery and towing expenses.
Replace Dirty Air Filter
A dirty air filter can decrease fuel efficiency and cause major problems for your air conditioning system. If you leave an old air filter long past its prime use, you may ruin your air conditioning system and have to replace it, costing anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000. Change your air filter every 12 months or 12,000 miles to avoid that problem.
Owning a vehicle can be expensive, but if you properly maintain your car, you can help minimize large repair bills, time, and stress. You also want to ensure you have reliable auto insurance if something happens on the road. Mercury Insurance provides high-quality at an affordable rate.