Cost and Upkeep

Regular Maintenance to Cut Costs on Automobile Upkeep 

When it comes to car maintenance, many of us follow a “sight-unseen” rule, where we don’t actually get the work done until an indicator light pops up-or worse, when a serious problem arises. That’s because, for whatever reason, car maintenance and upkeep are anxiety-ridden topics for us.   

Part of that anxiety might just be a lack of understanding of how simple and responsible it is to do basic car upkeep. By performing regular checks at designated mileages every year, you can mitigate many of the problems that come from easily-fixed issues related to fluids and normal wear and tear.  

Here, we’ll break down some basics of regular maintenance, and how these approaches can save you headaches and money down the road.

Why Preventative Car Maintenance? 

Because this piece of machinery is one of the most important appliances you own. It gets you to work, gets your kids to school, and it takes you wherever else you need to go.  

Because of this, regular maintenance and vehicle service schedules can improve your savings by reducing costs on potential issues with your car without totally disrupting your travel needs.   

For example, regular service

  • Reduces wear and tear on your vehicle. As your car gets older, it’s that much more important to keep fluids topped off and moving parts cared for. This kind of upkeep typically costs less then more extensive failures, and it reduces the likelihood that parts will break due to dirt, wear, or lack of lubrication.  
  • Lowers Risk of Accidents or Breakdown. Of course, with a fully functioning vehicle, the likelihood for breakdown is also greatly reduced. No matter how much you think auto maintenance costs, it is nothing compared to the costs of a tow on top of whatever extensive repairs will be needed after a major accident or engine failure.  
  • Improves Gas Mileage. Cars that are regularly maintained run smoother and will get better gas mileage and better overall performance.

Not all of the savings are obvious up front, but overall a maintained vehicle is a cheaper vehicle. 

Recommended Vehicle Service Schedule (or, “How to Take Care of Your Car”)

Outside of major engine checks and diagnostics, there are some very easy and basic maintenance tasks that you should perform on your car on a regular basis. Note that upkeep is typically based on mileage and not time, because they are predicated on use and wear.

  1. Every 3,000 Miles (about every 3 months)
    Most of us know that we should get our oil changed every 3,000 miles. With an oil change, there are a host of checks that help keep your engine running smoothly. This includes changing the oil filter, checking tire pressure and tire wear, exhaust filters and pipes, hoses and belts, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, windshield fluid and wiper blades, and the air filter. Many of these checks and replacements have to deal with the day-to-day operation and performance. That means that lubrication and fluids move freely through your engine, air moves freely through the car, all belts and hoses are doing their jobs, and your transmission and power steering are properly working. Also, checking your tires regularly ensures that they wear evenly and don’t get too low, potentially damaging the car rims.
     
  2. Every 6,000 Miles (about every 6 months)
    Here, you should still have all the above checks plus a few additional inspections. The additional inspections include checking your battery and battery cables and chassis lubrication.Battery upkeep is a must to prevent a car that won’t start (or worse, an electrical system that dies while driving). Chassis lubrication keeps your drive shaft running without annoying squeaking or early shaft failure due to wear. And you should always have new wipers and wiper fluid to keep your windshield clear from dirt or rain.
     
  3. Every 12,000 Miles (about a year)
    Once a year you should have an examination of key systems in your car. These include radiator coolant, steering and suspension systems, brakes, brake pads, brake fluid, cabin air filter, and wheel alignment.This yearly examination includes everything looked at in 3,000 and 6,000 miles, but also includes your cooling, steering, and brake systems. It’s probably pretty obvious why you’d want to have these checked, but we can’t stress enough that brakes, steering, and engine cooling are things that we can take for granted, and do not want to wait to go out.
     

On top of the above items, you might consider a monthly vehicle maintenance checklist that includes checking fluids, filters, and the operation of things like your wipers and your steering.
 

The schedule above might seem like a lot of work. But really, it is just a regular upkeep schedule based on the needs of your car. Your vehicle will need oil every 3,000 miles for top performance, just like it needs a checkup to ensure brakes and steering are optimal every year.  This is literally basic car maintenance.

Taking Care of Your Car vs. Professional Help

Some of us know cars, and that’s great. There are a few checks and tasks on this list that are very easy to take care of. Replacing wiper blades and fluid is a relatively simple task, and more advanced car owners can change their own oil and filters (with proper collection and disposal practices).   

But if you are not one of these advanced users, or if you don’t know how to inspect your vehicle’s chassis, belts, and engine, then you are much better off finding a professional to help you out.

There are two approaches to this:

  1. Use a quick drive-in garage for basic care. Speedy oil-changing businesses are a dime a dozen, and many will include basic examinations with an oil change (usually lights, filters, and basic hose and belt checks—if not more). This is an OK solution for your quick maintenance needs, including fluid top-offs, filter changes, and the like.  
  2. Find a reputable mechanic. Once you get into an actual vehicle maintenance checklist, you want to have someone you trust on hand. A skilled mechanic can perform the more advanced 6-month to yearly checks to make sure that your car is in as best shape it can be.

Even if you decide to do some of your own work, you should have a mechanic on hand who can give you expert and frank advice without trying to push unneeded repairs on you.  

Keep Car Repair and Maintenance Costs Low

You might avoid the suggested schedule above because it costs too much. But let’s be real here: getting your oil changed four times a year is much less than the cost of a locked engine. Getting your brakes checked yearly is much, much less than an accident caused by faulty brake pads or a leaking brake line.   

And if you don’t want to think about the worst-case scenarios, at least recognize that these maintenance procedures keep your car performing at its highest level, saving money on gas overall.  

So, if you haven’t yet, talk with your mechanic about a regular schedule, and learn some basics about checking fluids and tires so that you know when your car needs a little care.