You don’t have to be a car mechanic to know that cars are expensive. Most people also understand that cars are not only expensive to buy – they’re expensive to operate and maintain too. As a car mechanic for more than 20 years, I know this better than anybody. The good news is there are ways to avoid costly car repairs.
The truth is, if you neglect routine car maintenance, you shouldn’t expect it to run as efficiently as it normally should. That neglect will also end up costing you more money over time. With that in mind, 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
Here’s another way to avoid costly car repairs: 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 recommend changing the oil after as much as 10,000 miles. However, I still recommend you do it every 3000 miles, or three months. 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. This reduces 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. Eventually, the dirt, grit and water that contaminates the oil settles to the bottom. You can then skim the clean oil 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 way to avoid costly car repairs: 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 rule of thumb is that gas mileage increases by 2% for every 50 pounds removed from your car.
Even if you buy used cars, they’re still expensive to operate. By faithfully following these tips you’ll minimize your operating costs by keeping your car running as efficiently as possible. They’ll also reduce long-term maintenance costs by prolonging the life of your car’s most expensive parts.
Photo Credit: phillip.bitnar