Your car is one of your most valuable possessions. You use it almost every day. But if you're intimidated by any maintenance that goes beyond filling the tank and getting the car washed, you're asking for a future of unnecessary and costly repair bills.
Know Your Car's Maintenance Schedule
Regularly taking care of the little things can help you avoid big, expensive problems down the line. Knowing your maintenance schedule will also prevent you from performing unnecessary repairs. For example, the oft-cited 3,000-mile mark may actually be too frequent for many people to get oil changes.
Find A Trustworthy Mechanic
In her book, "Buying a Car for Dummies" (1998), Deanna Sclar recommends finding a good mechanic before you need one. Test the shop's services on a small job to get an idea of whether you can trust them with the inevitable large jobs. Asking for recommendations from people who take good care of their cars is a great way to find a repair shop.
Check Your Fluid Levels
Even if you barely understand anything about how cars work, you can easily learn how to check and replenish your car's fluid levels yourself. Most of these items are readily accessible under the hood. According to "Auto Upkeep: Basic Car Care" (2003) by Michael E. Gray, these are the most common fluids car owners need to check:
- Engine oil
- Transmission fluid
- Brake fluid
- Clutch fluid (for manual transmissions)
- Windshield washer fluid
- Differential fluid
- Power steering fluid
- Battery electrolytes
Keep Your Tires Inflated
An under-inflated tire can cause a blowout, meaning that in a best-case scenario, you have to buy a new tire sooner than usual, and in a worst-case scenario, you can cause an accident resulting in thousands of dollars of damage to your vehicle and others. Properly inflated tires also save you money by improving your gas mileage.
Invest In An OBD-II Reader
This handy electronic device is easy to operate and can pay for itself in just one or two uses. For less than $100, it will allow you to read the codes produced by your car's electronic on-board diagnostic system, if your car's model year is 1996 or later. This means that when your check engine light goes on, you can find out what's wrong and how serious the problem is without having to take your car to the mechanic.
This isn't an exhaustive guide to maintaining your car, but learning how to take these simple precautions will help you save money by keeping your car running smoothly and avoiding unnecessary repairs. Perhaps they'll even give you the confidence to delve deeper into understanding how your car works.