You don’t have to know a lot about the inner workings of a modern vehicle to save money on car maintenance. A little bit of knowledge about the industry and being willing to get your hands dirty can go a long way toward saving you money on maintenance though. The 15 tips below are a great place to start putting more money back in your pocket.
Buy a good car to begin with
Ok, so this might not exactly be preventative maintenance, but it’s important! Even if you’re not car savvy, it’s pretty easy to figure out how likely a vehicle is to cause you problem. Some manufacturers produce vehicles that are generally less reliable. That said, you want to check out reviews on the car you’re planning to buy from currently owners.
Definitely focus more on real data and average review ratings more than anecdotal opinions from friends and family. Even if a particular model has been good to a friend, if the overall ratings point to poor reliability, it’s safest to avoid it altogether.
There’s not substitute for having a well-built vehicle. If the car you drive is unreliable, it’s going to cost you more money no matter what you do to try and save on maintenance.
Check your car over weekly
I’ve been a commercial driver for over a decade. When driving a commercial vehicle, I have to inspect the vehicle completely and fill out a pre-trip inspection report.
Doing a half hour pre-trip inspection might be overkill for cars, but you should give your car a basic check over once per week or at absolute minimum, once per month. There are lots of things that you just won’t notice day to day such as a tire that’s getting soft or a light bulb that’s out. Making a point to check over your car will help save you expensive maintenance when small problems that have gone unnoticed turn into big ones.
Read your owner’s manual
Many of us (particularly guys) don’t bother reading owner’s manuals. I think this is a mistake. Not only does your owner’s manual outline the maintenance schedule that the manufacturer recommends, but it also has a ton of other helpful info about your vehicle.
Do you know exactly where you spare tire is and how to use it? In our van, it’s under the vehicle between the driver’s and passenger’s seats. You have to lower it down with a crank in the floor. I had no idea until I read the manual. It would be super lame to spend $75 getting a tow truck out just to help you do something simple that your manual outlines.
Another time when this can be useful is for jump-starting. If you know how to jump your car, you can sometimes get away without a tow if/when your battery dies.
Take it easy
Accelerating slowly and keeping to the speed limit won’t just save you money on fuel costs, it also slows down wear and tear on your vehicles components. Rapid acceleration is harder on our engine and drivetrain than slowly getting up to speed.
The same is true for braking, planning in advance and braking slowly will help your braking system last a lot longer than hard stops.
Rotate your tires
This basic tire maintenance that many people overlook. Rotating your tires regularly helps ensure that they all wear at the same rate. You can get 5000 or even 10,000 more kilometers out of a set of tires just by rotating them properly.
Buy tires two at a time
It’s pretty common for your front tires to wear out before your rear tires. This is particularly true if you don’t have them rotated often enough. You don’t need to default to buying four tires at once if you still have two that are usable. Why not pick up a pair this year, and if you can wait, another two next year?
There’s usually not much pricing difference between buying four tires vs two anyways.
Last time I put tires on our car I bought them at Costco. Though they were around $50 cheaper than they would have been at the local tire shop (not accounting for the fact that Costco is a half hour drive from my home), they don’t do free flat repair or rotation.
There is a tire shop about three blocks from my home that offers free flat repair, pressure checking and rotation if you purchase your tires through them. I’m not going to drive half an hour out of my way to have a flat fixed so I’m stuck paying for flat repairs. Next time I buy tires, I’m going to purchase them at the local shop so I can have access to the free stuff close to home.
Don’t ignore lights
Newer cars have lots of different indicator lights. Service soon, check engine, low tires etc. I know people that will just ignore the lights and keep driving. Don’t do this!
Ignoring a service light can void your warranty. Ignoring a tire light can result in a costly blowout. Ignoring a check engine light can turn a simple repair into a breakdown leaving you with a hefty bill for towing and repair.
If a light comes on in your car, either get an OBD2 code reader and investigate it yourself, or take it to a trusted friend or mechanic. You’ll be glad you did.
Don’t ignore noises
Sometimes they’re nothing. Our 2005 Grand Caravan has had a clunking sound coming from the front end for over a year. We took it in and had it diagnosed right after it started and it turns out it’s a worn upper strut mount. The mechanic ensured us that we could safely continue to drive it this way and we haven’t bothered to fix it. I should probably do that…
That said, squeaks, creaks, clunks and groans can indicate serious mechanical problems. Often, ignoring these noises will result in the problem getting worse and more expensive to fix.
Get an OBD2 reader
With an OB2 reader, you can figure out why your check engine or service light is on. This can help you in a couple of ways. First off – When you go to the shop, you’re in a better position if you already know what’s wrong with your car. Hopefully you’re workin with an honest mechanic, but either way, it’s a good idea to be able to tell the shop what codes your car is throwing when you drop it off. It helps save you money by giving them an idea where the problem might lie so hours aren’t wasted (and billed) for diagnostic efforts.
Find a good local mechanic and stick with him/her
In a price and speed focused world, loyalty still counts for a lot, especially when it comes to local business. A trusted shop or mechanic can help save you money. Often, a trusted mechanic will do their best to give a deal to a repeat customer. Especially one who recommends them to friends!
If you don’t have a mechanic, ask for recommendations from friends and family. Often somebody close to you will be able to recommend a shop that they trust and as a referral, they will treat you with extra care so they don’t risk losing your business as well as that of the person who referred you.
Call around when getting work done or buying parts
Even if you have a mechanic that you prefer to use, it never hurts to call around and get a few estimates. When I was looking into having the struts on our van changed a few weeks ago…I was quoted $1500 by the first shop I called.
By the third shop I called, the price was down to under $1000. That’s a 33% savings just for making a few phone calls. It’s not hard to do and it can save you big money.
Understand common issues with your car and how to deal with them
Spend some time getting to know your vehicle. What are common issues for that make and year? Are you prepared for them? For example, if excessive electrical draw causing dead batteries is common for your car, it makes sense to carry a set of jumper cables or a booster pack in your trunk.
Learn how to change your own filters
All vehicles need filters changed regularly. Even electric cars have cabin filters to keep the air coming in through your vents clean. Engine air and cabin air filters are almost always easy to replace. It might mean removing a couple of screws, but you can handle that, right?
If so, you can save a lot of money. You can get filters for much less from the parts store (or Amazon) then you’re going to pay at the shop. Even better if you have yours changed at the dealer!
Change your own oil
I get it – not everybody wants to lay on the ground underneath their car to save a few bucks. That said, you can actually save quite a bit by changing your oil by yourself in your driveway vs taking it to a shop.
Where I live, oil changes are now regularly $50-80 bucks a pop (not including the extras that the lube shop will try to sell you). A filter and a gallon of oil often comes out to less than ten bucks. Presuming you change your oil twice per year, you can save $80-$140 annually per car.
Not a ton of cash, but it adds up.
Change light bulbs at home
If you have a good mechanic, they might just throw a light bulb replacement in for free with another service. If you don’t, it’s worth changing them out on your own. Most bulbs can be bought for less than $10 and installed in a few minutes. Check out YouTube for how to videos on changing bulbs in your car. Unless you own a 1970s Fiat, there’s probably a video up there to help you out.
Question for you:
How do you save money on car maintenance?
- Living In An RV in 2020 – Save Money And Crush Debt - June 5, 2020
- Tangerine Review 2020 – Best Online Bank In Canada? - April 14, 2020
- EQ Bank Review 2020 – The Best High-Interest Savings Account In Canada? - March 31, 2020