Filed under: How to Save Money
By Donna Freedman
Getting a new car can cost the equivalent of a year's after-tax salary. After spending that much on four wheels and an auto body, you'd like to think it would run trouble-free for a decade.
That's a lovely dream. The reality is that regular maintenance and eternal vigilance are required, lest a small issue turn into a huge, expensive problem.
Staying on top of maintenance pays off in the long run, i.e., you can keep your car longer. Today's cars will easily last 200,000 miles, or maybe more, if you take care of them. A friend of mine drove a 1994 Acura Integra for 20 years before replacing it about a month ago.
Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson has some ideas on how to get the most from your wheels. After you watch his video, read on for more tips.
It's easy to remember oil changes, because the folks who do them for you usually put a reminder sticker on the windshield. But you need to discipline yourself to take care of other issues.
Signaling for Help
That "check engine" light could mean something as simple as a loose gas cap, but it could also be an issue with the oxygen sensor, which costs about $250 to fix. You need to know which one it is, so don't ignore that illuminated warning.
Put off fixing the O2 sensor, and two things will happen: decreased mileage and a big fat repair bill later on. So get that light checked out.
Speaking of oxygen: There's an air filter on your car, and from time to time (probably once a year) it needs to be replaced. This is a fairly simple job, let Edmunds.com walk you through it, but make sure it gets done even if you have to pay somebody to do it. That's because not doing it can result in a mechanic's bill of $400 or more.
Mileage still bad? Engine somewhat sputtery? Spend a hundred bucks on a PCV valve fix. It's no fun to part with a C-note, but potentially major engine damage could result if you ignore the fix.
Or suppose the vehicle in front of you flings a piece of gravel straight into your windshield. The resulting ding isn't pretty, but it isn't a big crack so you figure you can ignore it.
Don't. The small chip can expand into a giant crack that impedes your vision and ultimately leads to needing a new windshield. The sooner they're repaired the better, since rain can drive dirt into the crack and make it harder to fix. Your insurance company may pay for these tiny dings to be fixed before they turn into expensive windshield replacements.
When was the last time you had the tire pressure checked? Fewer service stations provide this service these days, so buy a pressure gauge and check it yourself.
Properly inflated tires mean better gas mileage. Underinflated tires wear out faster and may be more susceptible to blowouts, according to Edmunds.com.
See a puddle under your car? Be afraid. Be very afraid. Then get your vehicle looked at right away. Whether you're leaking oil, transmission fluid, antifreeze or gas, this is something that needs fixing now.
Here's a tip from personal finance writer Liz Weston: Before you get into your vehicle, take a minute to walk all the way around it. Look for those puddles and also take a gander at the tires to see if they seem low.
This would also be a good time to do the penny test to determine whether the tread is still good and to check your auto's fluid levels.
Don't Put Off Until Tomorrow
Some folks believe that scheduled maintenance translates into "another way the dealer can gouge me." In addition, being carless even for part of a day can be a major hassle for those who need their autos for work or who have long commutes and no public transit.
Thus it can be tempting to put off oil changes and other maintenance. But ignoring your ride can cost you. Maybe it drives just fine right now, and maybe your best friend never does much for his car and he hasn't broken down yet.
Well, maybe you and he have just been lucky. Picture yourself standing by the side of the highway, waiting for a tow truck. Now picture it late at night and/or in the winter.
Besides, remember how much you spent to buy that vehicle? For maximum return on initial investment, follow the manufacturer's maintenance schedule and keep an eye on things in between.
Your reward: 10 years (or more) without an auto payment and lower insurance costs as the vehicle ages. What could that do for your bottom line?
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