Notes from a Car Mechanic: 6 Simple Money-Saving Tips

No, I’m not a car mechanic — I need help filling my car’s gas tank! This is a guest post from my father-in-law, Tony, who has over 20 years of experience specializing in the maintenance of tractor trailers and cars as a mechanic and shop owner/operator. (He’s also helped me with lots of home improvement projects too — like my hot water heater replacement adventure.)

Thanks, Dad, for filling in for me today!

mechanicCars are expensive. Not only are they are expensive to buy, but they are expensive to operate and maintain too. That’s why it is important that you never neglect routine maintenance of your car — otherwise it won’t run as efficiently as it should and this will end up costing you more money than it should in the long run.

Here are several simple but very important tips that will end up minimizing your car operating and maintenance costs in the long run. Best of all, most of these tasks can be done by the average person at home in their garage or driveway.

Maintain Proper Tire Pressure

To improve gas mileage make sure your tires are inflated to the proper pressure (measured in pounds per square inch, or PSI). For every pound your tires are under-inflated, your gas mileage can drop up to one percent. If you drive with poorly inflated tires, it is not unreasonable to see that checking your tire pressure at least once a month can result in big savings at the gas tank. Lower tire pressure also causes tire tread to wear out faster and forces premature tire replacement.

For some car models, front and rear tire pressure can be different. For those who aren’t sure what pressure to inflate their tires to, check your owner’s manual. Many cars may also have a decal on the driver’s door pillar showing the proper pressure level. You can purchase an inexpensive tire pressure gauge at your local auto parts store.

Did You Know? You should always check your car’s tire pressure when the tires are cold — that is, in the morning before you take the car out — otherwise you’ll probably get an inaccurate reading.

Rotate Your Tires Regularly

Rotating your tires regularly allows you to get better tire wear, thereby extending the life of your tires. You should rotate your tires every 6000 miles. High performance tires should be rotated every 4000 miles.

Did You Know? Tire rotation sequence varies, depending on the type of car you drive. Make sure you check your owner’s manual for the proper rotation sequence — some vehicles rotate front-to-rear on the same side, while others rotate front-to-rear on opposite sides (that is, right-front to left-rear, and left-rear to right-front, left-front to right-rear, right-rear to left-front.)

Clean the Battery Terminals

Alternators are relatively expensive to replace, but by keeping your battery terminals clean and free of corrosion you can save wear and tear on both the battery and the alternator by making it easier to provide your car’s electrical components with the proper operating voltages. You can find small wire brushes made exclusively for cleaning car battery terminals in your local auto parts store.

Did You Know? A small dab of petroleum jelly will help keep your battery terminals cleaner longer.

Change the Oil and Oil Filter Regularly

Some manufacturers say you can change your oil after as much as 10,000 miles, but I still recommend you do it every 3000 miles, or three months — which ever comes first. By changing your oil and oil filter every 3000 miles you’re draining all of the impurities like dirt and condensation from your oil pan, reducing wear and tear on your engine.

If you change the oil yourself, please take the old oil to a recycling center for disposal. In the old days we didn’t think about the environmental impacts of how we disposed of our old oil; we’d simply pour it down catch basins down the street, or put it in containers and dispose of it in the trash. Thankfully, those days are long gone.

Did You Know? Although I wouldn’t recommend it, especially for today’s newer cars, many frugal people still save their used oil and reuse it. They place the used oil in a large container and then let it sit. After a long enough period of time, the dirt, grit and water that contaminates the oil eventually settles to the bottom, leaving clean oil that can be skimmed off the top for reuse.

Change the Air Filter

At the same time you are changing your oil and oil filter, make sure to also check your air filter. That’s because a clean air filter will put more money in your pocket by improving your gas mileage.

Did You Know? Replacing a clogged air filter can improve your gas mileage by as much as 10%.

Reduce Unnecessary Car Weight

Here is one final tip: If you can avoid it, don’t drive around town with your car loaded with unneeded items like heavy tool boxes — the extra weight reduces your gas mileage. Take those items and put them in your garage or basement until you need them. Although I don’t recommend you do this, when driving locally I even leave my spare tire at home — that’s because my Chevy Trailblazer has a full-sized spare tire that probably weighs upwards of 50 pounds.

Did You Know? A common rule of thumb is that you can increase your gas mileage by two percent for every 50 pounds of excess weight removed from your car.

Even if you buy used cars, they’re still expensive to operate. By faithfully following these simple tips you will minimize your operating costs by helping to keep your car running as efficiently as possible. More importantly, these tips will reduce your long-term maintenance costs by prolonging the life of some of your car’s most expensive parts.

Photo Credit: phillip.bitnar


  1. 1


    I am most guilty of the last item – at any one time, there’s at least one set of golf clubs, tennis gear, swimming gear, and some things to donate riding around in my trunk.

    There’s just no more room in the house!

    I’m working on getting better at this.

  2. 2


    Wojo! You crack me up, man! You’re an architect, for goodness sake! Can’t you design some cool hidden compartments in your house to hold the contents of your car trunk? LOL

  3. 3

    Judy P says

    Number 1, Len I love your blog, but I am your Mom so enough said. Tony I loved your “Notes from a Car Mechanic”. Everyone should pay attention to this, it is so true.

  4. 5

    Jill says

    Greetings from Melbourne. Thanks for the useful info. I’m doing a project at uni and your content was quite useful. Thanks for sharing! :)

  5. 6

    Led says

    I’m guilty about putting too much weight in my car, I’m not aware about the extra weight reduces gas mileage. Thanks for sharing these information. I’ve learned a lot.

  6. 7

    David says

    I have a problem with 2 items here, Len. First, it is a waste to change your oil every 3,000 miles/3mos. Modern oils and engines simply don’t require it. I own a 2002 Toyota Camry with 123,000 miles that has never had anything but 5-7,500 mile synthetic oil changes and it’s insides are clean and tight. Synthetics are not double the price of conventional oil but provide far superior protection under extreme heat and cold. A 5qt jug at WM will set you back about $25.
    Air filters are also changed far too frequently. Modern car engines (those built since the mid 1990’s monitor airflow and adjust the amount of fuel to the injectors accordingly. I just replaced mine after 25,000 miles and saw no increase in fuel mileage. It also wasn’t that dirty. If you live on a dirt road or drive in very dusty areas then you might want to change more often.
    BTW, I just discovered your site today through a link from The Wirecutter…great site. If you wnat any other facts vs myths on car maintenance from a maintenance freak, let me know. I’m not a blogger, but I do know automobiles.

    • 8

      Len Penzo says

      Hi, David. Thanks for stopping by!

      Don’t tell my father-in-law, but I change the oil in my cars every 7500 miles now too for the reasons you mention.

      If you’d like to contribute a guest article of your own on car maintenance, I’d love to publish it! You can contact me at for more details.

  7. 9

    David C. says

    Another suggestion is to join an online forum for owners of vehicles like your own. There’s a group for just about any vehicle you might own. It is a great resource and usually free.
    I’m on a Toyota 4Runner forum and have gleaned many tidbits of information on problems that arise and how to head them off or fix them. Joining and participating has saved me money and extended the usable life of my vehicle. Just remember to use the search function before you post, as some can get cranky when you ask the same question that two dozen people have recently asked.

  8. 10


    You know, I just went through it on the oil. I generally figure the car will tell me when, as the manual says it calculates oil life based on sensors and time, and whatever else goes into the algorithm. It started running rough, I took it in and they said it was dirty and also had gone low. No leak just had burned off over time. If the car tells me to get it done, I will, but I’ll also do it after 4-5 months at the most regardless. A $35 oil change is a lot cheaper than $3,500 to rebuild the engine.

  9. 11

    Allie Johnson says

    I’m really bad about the last one…every time I move I end up leaving a (usually heavy) box or two in the trunk full of stuff I’ll probably never use again. Whoops! Thanks for the great tips!


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