Cars are expensive to own and drive. However, it is almost impossible to live without one except in some places, like New York City (NYC), Washington, D.C., or Chicago, where public transport is extensive.
The average cost of car repairs is approximately $500 to $600. This value probably goes up annually. Furthermore, an unexpected car repair takes time and is a hassle. Hence, drivers know it’s prudent to perform routine car maintenance to avoid inconvenient and costly breakdowns.
Cars are costly and can be a major budget item for most people. For example, according to the AAA, small sedans cost about $0.501 per mile to own. Larger cars are the most expensive to own. For example, a minivan’s ownership costs roughly $0.6734 per mile, while a pickup is the highest at $0.7539 per mile. A sizeable part of that cost is car maintenance and repairs. Some people use an emergency fund for larger expenses.
Moreover, owners of today’s cars know that maintenance costs are rising. Routine expenses, like oil changes and tire rotations, are increasing. The price of more costly items, such as new tires or brake pads, is growing too.
Nevertheless, regular car maintenance helps with safety and prevents more significant problems later. For instance, worn-out tires or brakes are hazards because stopping distances are longer.
However, car maintenance does not always have to be complex or costly—some things you can do yourself, while other items will likely require a mechanic. But by performing routine maintenance, your vehicle’s life can be extended beyond 100,000 miles.
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Do-It-Yourself Routine Car Maintenance
Some car maintenance can be performed by the owner, making this option the cheapest of all. Granted, today’s cars are more complex and full of electronics, but there are still simple checks, and maintenance one can complete.
Check Tire Pressure
Checking and maintaining tire air pressure is simple and easy. Properly inflated tires improve gas mileage, handling, and tire life. Underinflated tires will wear out faster, increasing maintenance costs. Additionally, it will lower fuel efficiency because the engine must work harder. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) says appropriately inflated tires will save $0.11 per gallon. Overinflated tires will also cause a bouncy ride.
Most cars have a sticker on the driver’s side door jamb listing the correct tire pressure. In addition, you can inflate the car’s tires yourself at most gas stations for $1 or $2.
Replace Wiper Blades
Wiper blades are another accessible DIY maintenance item. Worn-out wiper blades will cause streaking and visibility problems on a rainy day. They should be replaced every six months to a year. It’s easy to buy replacements at an automotive parts store, like AutoZone or Advanced Auto Parts, and replace them yourself. Some stores even replace them for you for free, saving dozens of dollars.
Burned Out Lightbulbs
You can lower car maintenance costs by replacing lightbulbs yourself. Burnt-out light bulbs are a safety issue, but they are usually easy to change, and new ones cost a few dollars. Newer cars typically have access points in the trunk and engine compartment or the wheel wells. The old bulb is easy to pull out of the socket, and the new one is clicked into place.
Don’t try to replace the headlights yourself. The process is usually more complicated than simple light bulbs at other locations.
Replace Air Filter
The engine air filter prevents dust, dirt, and debris from entering the engine. But it can become dirty, slowing the airflow and causing a loss of power and fuel efficiency. Air filters last about 15,000 to 45,000 miles, depending on the car and driving conditions. So replacing them yourself is much cheaper than having the dealer do it.
Inspecting and changing it is relatively simple. The engine air filter is usually in a plastic housing in the engine compartment at the side with a large hose connected to it. Check your vehicle’s manual for the location and how to open the housing. You may need a socket wrench or screwdriver, but newer cars typically have clips for easy access. If the old one is dirty, remove it, and replace it with a new one.
Similarly, replacing the cabin air filter can improve the performance of heating and air conditioning. The filter’s housing is usually located below the glove box.
Harder Routine Car Maintenance
Some car maintenance tasks are more difficult to perform yourself but are necessary periodically. Hence, taking your car to a dealer or mechanic may be required.
Oil Change and Tire Rotation
Vehicles need oil for an engine to work properly. Engine oil should be changed every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, though it varies depending on the car’s age and type of driving. Later model cars have sensors that may indicate when the oil needs to be replaced.
Vehicle owners can do the job themselves, but it’s dirty, and oil must be properly disposed of at the correct facility. Hence, it’s easier to use a mechanic. Standard oil is less expensive than synthetic oil, but most people like the latter better now because it typically lasts longer.
Concurrently, tires should be rotated to ensure they wear evenly, maximizing tread life. Tires wear at variable rates depending on their location. Moreover, evenly worn tires will have better traction, handling, and braking performance.
Depending on the model and driving conditions, tires must be replaced approximately every 40,000 to 60,000 miles. But the tread can be checked by a mechanic during an oil change. Worn tires are a safety issue because of worse handling and longer braking distance. According to the AAA, tires worn to a depth of 4/32-inch have, on average, longer stopping distances of 87 feet for cars and 86 feet for trucks. In addition, handling ability is reduced by 33% in cars and 28% in trucks.
New tires must be balanced and sometimes aligned, so it is probably best to let a mechanic replace them.
Brake Pad Replacement
The last item on this list of routine car maintenance is brake pad replacement. Brake pads wear with time and use. City driving is hard on brake pads, which will wear out faster than during highway driving. How a person drives also influences the wear rate. Worn brake pads will cause longer stopping distances.
An excellent time to check brake pads is during an oil change and tire rotation. Mechanics commonly include it in their list of checks. Besides checking thickness, there are other signs of worn brake pads.
We have all heard the squealing sound of worn brake pads. Some later-model cars may have sensors with indicator lights too. Other clues that the brake pads need replacement are pulsing when braking and grinding metal noises. These are signs it is past time to replace the brake pads.
Brake pads are replaced in pairs per axle, so vehicle owners must simultaneously replace the pads from the front or rear axle.
Routine Car Maintenance Will Save Money and Improve Safety
Routine car maintenance keeps your vehicle running smoothly for many years and miles. For example, my 2005 Acura TSX has over 218,000 miles and I keep up with the maintenance. Also, it improves safety. Basic checks and low-cost care can improve fuel efficiency and handling and lower overall ownership expenses. Furthermore, it prevents more significant problems and repairs in the future, making it sensible to do. Lastly, keeping a used car in running condition saves on the cost of a new car, which now averages $46,000.
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Prakash Kolli is the founder of the Dividend Power site. He is a self-taught investor, analyst, and writer on dividend growth stocks and financial independence. His writings can be found on Seeking Alpha, InvestorPlace, Business Insider, Nasdaq, TalkMarkets, ValueWalk, The Money Show, Forbes, Yahoo Finance, and leading financial sites. In addition, he is part of the Portfolio Insight and Sure Dividend teams. He was recently in the top 1.0% and 100 (73 out of over 13,450) financial bloggers, as tracked by TipRanks (an independent analyst tracking site) for his articles on Seeking Alpha.