Simple Car Maintenance Tips to Save Money on Future Repairs

By Jake Schroeder
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Photo Courtesy: Redline Reviews/YouTube

Anyone who owns a car knows that they can be both a huge blessing and a major curse. One of the biggest pains of car ownership is having to deal with necessary repairs on the vehicle. Depending on your warranty coverage, the price tag on those repairs can be pretty steep. However, there are some simple but key maintenance tips that you can follow to save money and time on repairs in the future.

Drive Responsibly

This tip is pretty simple but needs to be said. Driving responsibly on the road instead of speeding and swerving through lanes can help to avoid minor or major car accidents. Keeping your eyes on the road and enough space between the car in front of you will also assist in your reaction time to any mishaps around you.

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Photo Courtesy: Conduite Facile/YouTube

Speeding, rapid acceleration and hard braking are also quick ways to waste gas. They can all lower gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and five percent around town, according to research from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Learn Basic Car Maintenance

Taking some time to learn basic car maintenance can help you to cut down on repair costs. Study your owner's manual to understand how your car works and conduct periodic inspections. While you should trust a mechanic for some car repairs, certain things can be done right at home.

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Photo Courtesy: AutoGuide.com/YouTube

Other minor tasks include adjusting your tire pressure, filling various fluids, checking your battery and inspecting and replacing air filters. By not needing a mechanic for these tasks, you can lower maintenance costs and prevent future issues.

Consider Car Reliability

You should choose a reliable car right from the beginning to avoid major issues later. Knowing a car's reliability on the road determines the likelihood of unforeseen repairs and how severe they might be. There are many tools out there that estimate the annual cost of servicing and maintaining various models.

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Many trusted car sites or YouTube channels provide reviews on the latest models, including their reliability. Organizations like J.D. Power also issue data-based awards for dependability for individual models and even entire brands.

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Know Your Warranty

While you need a car insurance policy as the owner of a vehicle, understanding your car's warranty is also helpful if it’s a relatively new vehicle. This contract with your car's manufacturer can help you to avoid making the wrong choices when it comes to maintenance that could void the warranty altogether.

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Photo Courtesy: superspeedersRob/YouTube

By knowing your warranty, you’ll understand what your car's manufacturer will cover in terms of unexpected repairs. Depending on what the problem is, you may be able to use this in the future to your advantage. Also, save any service and maintenance records to help your case.

Find a Reliable Mechanic

Finding a trustworthy auto mechanic is essential when it comes to properly repairing your car. Someone who isn’t as experienced or doesn’t have the proper training could attempt to fix your car and end up making the problems worse in the long run. Even if they are competent, not every mechanic is necessarily honest about what repairs are needed.

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Photo Courtesy: Car And Driver/YouTube

When searching for a mechanic, look for someone who is certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). Technicians have to meet minimum work requirements and pass an exam that covers all areas of automotive repairs to become ASE-certified. These mechanics are more than capable of handling your repairs.

Bypass the Dealership

You might be tempted to go to a dealership for every little repair. If your car is still under warranty, then a dealer might perform different repairs for free. However, if it’s not, it’s likely that you’ll have to pay much more than if you go to a local car shop.

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Photo Courtesy: Brantford Kia/YouTube

Independent garages can get original manufacturer parts for repairs and servicing. However, they also have less expensive, more general parts that can be used on your car as well at a cheaper price. If you can forego the dealership, you probably should.

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Get Gas Long Before Your Tank Runs Low

One big thing that people do is hold off on getting gas until the last possible moment. It's understandable with the unpredictable price of gas these days. However, that can be an issue for your car in the long run.

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Photo Courtesy: Rachel Ballinger/YouTube

When your gas tank is near-empty and you're still driving around, it can lead to overheating and failure in your car. An empty tank promotes premature wear and breakdowns. Car experts say that owners should head to the gas station when they are down to a quarter tank of gas.

Get a Vehicle History Report

When shopping for a used car, you have no idea what happened to that car in the past unless you get the proper information. A vehicle history report is a must when buying any used vehicle. Requesting one can help you to steer clear of any cars that may give you trouble in the future.

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Photo Courtesy: Randy St/YouTube

Services like CARFAX provide a detailed breakdown of a car's background —even the details dealerships may not want to disclose. You can discover not only the number of owners and service history, but also major accidents and open recalls.

Shop For Good (or Better) Insurance

A key factor in car repairs is insurance. When shopping for a car, you ought to keep insurance premiums in mind. The make and model of your desired car and even the color can impact insurance costs and what will be covered at the shop.

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Photo Courtesy: State Farm Insurance/YouTube

Also, just because you already have insurance doesn't mean that there aren't better deals out there. Shop around every couple of months or when your policy expires. You may be able to save money on that front as well.

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Follow a Regular Maintenance Schedule

Since it's better to be proactive than reactive, car manufacturers suggest that owners follow a regular maintenance schedule for their cars. The schedule recommended is a 30-60-90 schedule based on different parts and systems needing to be inspected at 30,000-, 60,000, and 90,000-mile intervals respectively.

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Photo Courtesy: AutoGuide.com/YouTube

Some parts that are at risk of wearing out include wear out include tires, rubber gaskets, windshield wipers and hoses. You may need to pay some money for the inspection and part replacements early on, but it will help avoid higher payments later on at the auto shop.

Check Your Spark Plugs

Issues with spark plugs are one of the most common reasons for engine trouble. Problems that can come with bad spark plugs include slow acceleration, loss of power, engine misfires and difficulty starting the car. They should be checked and changed about every 30,000 miles.

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Photo Courtesy: Fixbook/YouTube

Driving with bad spark plugs can damage your engine, but replacing them costs only $15 to $30. That’s a small price to pay to avoid more serious engine issues. Replacing the engine in your car can cost a whopping $3,000 to $7,000.

Wash Your Car Frequently

Washing your car regularly, even in the winter, will have your car looking cleaner and shinier. However, keeping a clean car is about more than just appearance. Clean cars also save money in the long run.

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Photo Courtesy: Car Washes of Georgia/YouTube

Dirt and grime can build up on the exterior of any car. If left unwashed, that material grinds against your car's clear coating, exposing the paint. That can ultimately lead to rust, which can damage the undercarriage. Leaving a car dirty on the inside will also lower the resale value of the car if you ever want to give it up.

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Get Regular Oil Changes

Getting regular oil changes, either by yourself or at the shop, is one of the key ways to save money on unnecessary repairs. It can be a hassle, especially if you have to wait for a mechanic, but it's vital.

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Photo Courtesy: Scotty Kilmer/YouTube

When oil breaks down, it becomes a sticky mess that can lead to metal-on-metal contact throughout the engine. This can lead to poor car performance and more expensive repairs later on. The owner's manual will recommend how many miles you should drive your car in between oil changes

Don’t Over Oil

Though it’s important to change your oil regularly, you should avoid using too much oil. No more than a quart of oil is needed. Oil reservoirs are designed to hold a little extra oil, but more can lead to extensive engine damage.

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Photo Courtesy: Sooner Garage/YouTube

Too much oil can even lead to irreparable engine failure. Spark plugs can also become damaged, resulting in the need to replace them more frequently. All of that will cost you a boatload of money in repairs.

Don’t Ignore Strange Sounds

When you hear strange noises on the road, it may be tempting to ignore them and keep driving. However, those noises are signs that there could be something seriously wrong. Getting things checked out as soon as possible could help you save money on repairs.

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Photo Courtesy: The Proctor Dealerships/YouTube

Strange noises typically mean mechanical problems, whether it's with your engine, brake pads or suspension. The longer you hold off on fixing them, the worse they will get in the future. The worse they get, the more money they will cost to fix.

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Stop Idling

Experts say that warming up your car in the mornings, especially in the winter, doesn't help your cause. The engine actually warms up faster by being driven. Most manufacturers recommend driving your car slowly 30 seconds after starting it.

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Photo Courtesy: ChrisFix/YouTube

In fact, excessive idling and frequent restarts are hard on the engine. When your engine is left running without your car actually moving, fuel is only partially combusted, leading to a fuel residue buildup on cylinder walls. That can then mess up your spark plugs and exhaust system.

Check Your Coolant

Checking the coolant may be something that many car owners don’t think about so much. Changing your coolant twice a year (once before warm weather hits and again before cold weather comes) is crucial to the life of your car. The coolant affects not only your heater and air conditioner, but also your radiator and water pump.

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If you don’t regularly change your coolant, you risk having some serious corrosion inside your car. That could cost major bucks to fix, and it would all be over a minor maintenance issue.

Keep Your Tires Inflated

Keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure for your car can help save money on tires and gas. You can improve gas mileage by 3.3 percent by doing that, according to research from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

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Properly inflated tires are safer and lower the chance of a tire blowout, which can be both costly and dangerous. You can find the correct tire pressure level for your car on a sticker in the driver's side door jamb or glove box. It's also in the owner's manual.

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Change Oil and Air Filters

It can be easy to forget about changing the oil and air filters in your car. When it comes to your oil filter, it should be changed alongside your actual oil, which could be at 3,000 miles or maybe longer. Not changing the filter can lead to overheating in the engine, low oil pressure and weak performance.

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Your car’s air filter needs to be checked roughly every 12,000 to 15,000 miles. A dirty filter affects engine efficiency and also reduces gas mileage. You can blow it with an air hose to clean it, or you can just replace it.

Stop Braking Hard

While out on the road, drivers may slam on the brakes to avoid running a light or hitting another car. However, doing so can cause you to lose control of the vehicle and get into an accident. It also reduces gas mileage and wears on your tires.

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Photo Courtesy: ChrisFix/YouTube

Over time, hard braking can also damage your car. Putting that extra stress on the brakes could overheat the brake pads. Of course, that leads to having to shell out more money at the car shop to fix something completely in your control.

Rotate Your Tires

A simple rotation of your tires every 3,000 to 5,000 miles can easily help you save a lot of money at the auto shop. All four tires on your car wear down at different rates depending on the car, your speed and the roads you drive on.

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With regular tire rotations, you can ultimately extend the life of your tires. That could save an extra $400 to $800 for another set. You will probably need to get another set at some point anyway, but you can delay that for a while with this simple task.

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Check Your Spare Tire

Just like you keep your four normal tires inflated, it’s just as important to keep your spare tire at the right pressure. People sometimes forget that this tire must be inflated as well. If one of your tires goes flat and your spare is down too, you’ll be out of luck.

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Not doing so means calling a tow truck to get your car to the shop instead of being able to drive it yourself. To spare yourself that painful invoice, test the air pressure of your driving tires and the spare tire once a month.

Properly Using Premium Gas

People spend extra money on premium gas thinking that it will be great for their cars. Honestly, unless your owner’s manual suggests it, you don’t need to waste your money on premium gas. It costs 10% to 15% higher than regular gas.

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Photo Courtesy: Consumer Reports/YouTube

It has no benefit unless your car has a high-performance engine. However, putting regular gas in a car that does indeed take premium gas can harm it over time. Always refer to your owner’s manual for the right products to put in your specific model. That could save you money on repairs later on.

Check Fluid Levels

You should check the fluid levels in your car. Your power steering and radiator fluids should be topped off with every oil change. Also, be sure to look at your automatic transmission, brake and clutch fluids.

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The fluids that you need for your car costs just a few dollars. However, if you have to replace a broken or worn part due to low fluids, you will have to pay hundreds for a mechanic to fix it. Again, something so minor can become major in the future.

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Get New Windshield Wipers

This may seem like a small thing, but replacing your windshield wipers is a must. Quality wipers cost anywhere from $30 to $50 for the pair. You want to make sure that the windshield is clear of any rain or dirt that can obstruct your view while driving.

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Not only that, but if the windshield is not clean, dirt can build up over time. That can cause the glass to begin to break down. New wipers are cheaper than having to get a whole new windshield, which can cost between $100 to $500.

Check the Suspension System

Many car owners rarely think about the maintenance required for the suspension systems in their vehicles. That includes the shocks, springs and struts. All of that should be checked every 15,000 to 30,000 miles.

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Photo Courtesy: ChrisFix/YouTube

If you’re experiencing difficulty while steering, feeling every bump in the road, or your car is pulling to one side, there is possibly a problem with the suspension system. Holding off on fixing this issue can cause other internal damage to the car, adding on to the price you’ll have to pay your mechanic. It’s also unsafe.

Get Your Car Inspected

Depending on your state or county, you may be required to pass a state emissions inspection. Even if it’s not required, however,you should still consider getting one done once a year.

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Photo Courtesy: TODAY’S TMJ4/YouTube

During the test, an inspector uses a dynamometer to measure a vehicle’s emissions to determine whether or not the vehicle's emission control equipment is working properly. The vehicle's exhaust system should be intact and leak free. Getting the emissions test lets you know what problems are happening internally so that you can fix them as soon as possible.

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Buy Your Own Parts

A major tip in saving money on vehicle repairs is buying your own parts for repairs that you need. Mechanic shops often charge high prices for parts that you can buy yourself at a local store like Auto Zone or Advance Auto Parts or even online through Amazon.

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Photo Courtesy: O'Reilly Auto Parts/YouTube

Ask the shop you plan on taking your car to if they will allow you to bring your own parts. Most will say yes, though they won't provide a warranty on the parts. However, the manufacturer of the parts most likely will, so you'll be fine.

Look for Discounts

Everyone loves a good deal on premium services, especially when it comes to car repairs or maintenance. Even with insurance, unexpected car repairs can just about break the bank. Luckily, many shops offer coupons, bundles or limited-time deals to help drive more business.

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Photo Courtesy: Merchant's Tire & Auto Center/YouTube

Various local shops and national chains offer discounts or bundle deals on routine services like oil changes and tire rotations. Online coupons are also great for major services like when you need to have your brakes done or get your tires replaced.

Decline Add-On Services Offered

Even though mechanics work on cars, they are also, in a sense, salespeople. They might recommend extra add-on services like engine and transmission flushes or scheduling some maintenance prematurely. This adds on more time and labor to the final bill.

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Photo Courtesy: Consumer Reports/YouTube

Pay attention to the things that your mechanic says or does when it comes to your car. It could be possible that he is simply trying to add on more services that you might not even need. If he’s acting like all of these different services are huge emergencies, he might just want the extra money.

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