Start by keeping up with regular car maintenance. Each car has an owner’s manual with a schedule of when to take your car in for routine maintenance such as tire rotation, oil changes, and fluid refills. Often, dealerships will charge several hundred for these procedures, when you can have them done for a fraction of that cost.
For example, take tire rotation. At a dealership, this procedure can cost around $60. All that this service is, however, is taking the tires off the car and moving them around the vehicle so that the front tires end up in the back, and vice-versa. Doing this makes the tires last longer because it allows the tires to wear out evenly. Save money by doing this yourself (or with a good friend) in an afternoon. Together, it will probably take about two hours, and is the equivalent of changing four flat tires. If possible, see if your area has a public auto shop with a car lift. While you’re changing the tires, be sure to check the air pressure, and use a free air machine (typically found at a local gas station) to inflate them if needed.
Changing and topping off the fluids in your car can typically cost between $40 and $200 depending on the fluids that need to be changed. This is probably the easiest thing to do yourself on a car. Make sure you have enough anti-freeze, windshield washing fluid and engine coolant every time you change your car’s oil. Your car needs an oil change at least once a year, even if you haven’t put enough miles on the car to meet the standards required by your car’s manufacturer on when to change the oil. Learn to do this service yourself, or look for specials on this service at your local automotive mechanic’s shop in order to save money. All of the other fluids can be purchased fairly cheaply from your local auto parts store, and replacing them requires you to take off the cap and pour.
For larger maintenance issues, plan to take the car to a local mechanic. While plenty of people save a lot of money by doing all of their own maintenance work, larger issues should be left up to skilled professionals unless the car owner has some experience. When visiting a mechanic, be aware of a few techniques that car mechanics use to “upsell” or pad the bill.
First, be aware of paying for any parts or service on items that are “about to wear out” Check your car’s maintenance manual for a schedule of when parts such as timing belts are supposed to be replaced, and ask to see the parts that need to be replaced.
Finally, be aware of services that you probably don’t need. Services such as throttle body cleaning, wheel balancing, and power steering fluid flushes aren’t actually needed by many new cars on the road today. Refuse these services on your car, and look for a new mechanic when they’re offered.
Of course, always look for deals and specials on maintenance that you will need to pay someone else to do for you, and realize that the quote given by many mechanics can be negotiated. Some people save money by buying the parts themselves from a local auto shop then simply paying a mechanic for labor to install them.
Car maintenance does not have to be a budget buster, as long as you follow these simple rules to keep your costs down.