person pouring coolant in their vehicle

Five Money-Saving Car Maintenance Tips to Suit Your Budget

Every daily commuter or weekend warrior knows that keeping your vehicle in good running condition is an important part of ownership – after all, significant repairs can cost a pretty penny. Depending on the make and model of your vehicle, maintenance and repairs can cost anywhere between $25 for a standard oil change1 up to $22,856 for total engine replacement!2

Fortunately, regular maintenance can help keep your expenses down and your wheels on the road instead of in the shop. Here are five money-saving maintenance tips to help you keep your vehicle in tip-top mechanical condition.

1.Check Your Fluids

Monitoring your vehicle’s oil, coolant, transmission, power steering and brake fluids is fairly simple and can potentially save you hundreds of dollars in repairs. You can easily locate each of these fluid reservoirs by consulting your vehicle’s owner’s manual, which is usually found in the glove compartment.

Low engine oil may be indicative of a leak, which could lead 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.

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 fluids are critical to check because, if low, brakes could fail and this 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. Be sure to check your transmission fluid as well – clean fluid is red while a brownish or brackish color indicates you may need a transmission flush along with a new filter.

These fluids should be changed as recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer. Check your owner’s manual to determine how often you should service fluids.

2. Don’t Ignore Your Check Engine Light

Most of us have experienced that moment of panic when the check engine light illuminates on the dashboard. This little light is an indication that something may be wrong with the vehicle, and it also 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.

Sometimes dash lights – like the battery or oil indicators – can provide clues to what the problem may be. If your check engine light is blinking, the vehicle has a serious issue that needs to be addressed immediately. A solid check engine light means you should bring it into your mechanic to have a diagnostic run as soon as possible. Procrastinating could lead to costly repairs, so it’s smart to get your vehicle looked at sooner, rather than later.

3. What’s that Noise?

Squeaks, creaks and the grinding sound of metal-on-metal are sounds that shouldn’t be ignored. If your engine is whining or squealing, chances are that it’s time to get your belts replaced or that the tensioner pulley that holds 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, and this will help you avoid a more costly breakdown.

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 are worn, and these pads typically wear out anywhere between 25,000 and 70,000 miles. This is largely dependent on the type of pads installed on the vehicle, the type of driver you are and traffic conditions.

Another sound to listen for is creaking coming from your vehicle’s suspension. This may indicate a bad axle, bad shocks or 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.

4. Tire Maintenance

Tire maintenance is an often overlooked, but important item on your vehicle maintenance checklist. Worn or underinflated tires can drastically reduce your stopping distance when braking, and improper alignment can cause tires to wear unevenly. 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.

It’s also important to rotate your tires to promote even wear because front tires typically wear out faster than the rear ones do. 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.

5. Use a Trusted Mechanic

Remember, a little tender love and care goes a long way in helping to keep your vehicle running smoothly!

1 According to Angie’s List

2Average repair estimates based on Alldata® repair costs