Car Maintenance is Important. It can Also Get Expensive.
Even as cars evolve to need less-frequent care, maintenance and replacement costs can take a big bite out of your wallet. Don't worry
, we're not going to try to teach you how to rebuild an engine or even dirty your hands - just how to make smart decisions that'll keep you rolling for less
Give Regular Fuel A Try
Even if your car says premium fuel recommended - or even required - few really need it
. Most late-model cars can adjust to regular fuel because engines are now equipped with knock sensors, which adjust the engine's timing automatically when they detect detonation - the tell-tale 'pinging' sound. You may experience a slight decrease in power and fuel economy, but no damage to the engine. A key exception: If your car is turbo- or supercharged and specifies super, follow the manual. And for Pete's sake, you're doing neither your car nor your wallet any favors by putting higher-grade gas in a car that calls for regular.
Don't Change The Oil More Than You Need To
Sure, Uncle Marvin changed his oil every 3,000 miles and his Studebaker ran forever. But oils have evolved, and so have engines. Even Jiffy Lube's
not running the "every 3,000 miles" pitch anymore. Stick to the manual's recommendations and refuse all entreaties from service managers and ad campaigns, especially ones for oil additives. Note that your manual may tell you to follow your car's electronic oil-use sensors rather than go by a specific mileage. Don't get me wrong - oil is your engine's lifeblood and it's critical to change it. But doing so more often than your vehicle's manufacturer recommends simply doesn't pay off.
Find A Local Mechanic You Trust And Show Him Your Business
Too many car owners flip from shop to shop, forking over fortunes on major repairs. Here's a better strategy: Identify a gas station owner or car repair shop manager in your neighborhood you like, make sure he knows you're creating business for him, get to know him on a first-name basis and be friendly. It's amazing how a bond of trust like this can save you money. I work with someone whose trusty local gas station owner came to his house to jump-start his battery in an emergency, and charged him nothing.
Know Thy Hybrid
You go out to start up your hybrid and nothing happens. Don't fret
. In addition to whatever exotic chemical composite hybrids have to run the drive system, they have a conventional 12-volt lead acid battery that powers the headlights, radio and dome lights that kids are so good at leaving on overnight. See if it's just a jump start you need before you call for more serious help. Prius
owners - there IS a 12-volt battery in there - you just can't see it. Consult your owner's manual for how to jump start.
Keep The Right Parts Dry
I see this all the time in my neighborhood: Drivers come home and park the car in front of the garage door. Then when rain threatens, they run out to pull it inside lest their car get rained on. Or, when it gets dark, they pull the car in for the night. Ouch!
Here's what's wrong with that: Starting a cold engine is when the bulk of its wear occurs. That's in part because all the oil is sitting at the bottom, rather than distributed around the parts that move. But also, when your engine runs and doesn't get warm, the byproducts of combustion, including water, collect in the oil and can - over time - turn it into a noxious sludge that attacks the motor from the inside. On a longer trip, your car's engine gets hot and the water is boiled out of the oil and the engine - no worries there. So: Avoid short trips when you can - especially the short and pointless ones.
You Bought A Car - You Didn't Marry The Dealer
Independent shops are fighting back against dealer marketing efforts that play on consumer fears of voiding a warranty. If you have your maintenance done on time with quality parts - and keep your paperwork - federal law is on your side if push comes to shove over a warranty claim. Check out the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act
. If your dealer makes you happy by giving you a loaner car, fine. Enjoy it. But it's frequently the more expensive choice for basic servicing. One reason often cited for taking a car to the dealership for maintenance work is that dealers - as representatives of car manufacturers - are more likely to see if there are any outstanding recalls on your car. But, you can do a lot of this research yourself, either by checking with your independent shop, or by looking up your car online in the government's SaferCar.org
No Ignoring The Oil LightLet's play this one safe
. You see something come on about oil? Pull over as soon as you safely can and turn off the engine. Sure, it's possible that the light has something to do with oil level or an oil-change interval, but in case it's the oil-pressure light, you need to act in minutes, if not seconds, to keep your engine from destruction. Now that you're safely stopped, open up your owner's manual and look up "oil" to see what you're dealing with. Maybe it's just an oil change warning and you can keep going to your destination. But if it's the oil pressure, you could have a serious problem and will likely need a tow.