Money Saving Car Maintenance

Another post about cars means that I did not write it….this one is by Darius, my resident car owner and expert!

You’ve done it! You researched, test drove, budgeted right, and got a great deal on the perfect ride. You drive out of the dealership under all kinds of pomp and circumstance, then you rear end another car because you were trying to figure the radio controls out. Insert WTF face here! But, really, it is the most common cause of accidents on the road. New owners distracted by their shiny new car.

Car ownership costs are one of those nebulous things that can sneak up on you if you aren’t careful. Here are some things I learned the hard way.

After you buy your car, call your insurance company before you even turn the engine on. Then drive right into a parking spot, put it in park, grab the Owner’s Manual from the glove box and spend a few minutes reading about the stuff you want to use for the trip home. You can read more once you get home. Where the radio controls are and what they do, where the climate controls are, the windshield wipers, etc… This 10 minutes can save you up to $3000 worth of repair costs. Money well saved!

Maintenance That Will Save You Money

-Tire Pressure: Most modern cars will have a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) and will display the current tire pressure (and the optimal tire pressure). The only thing on your car that touches the ground are your tires. Tire pressure is critical for efficient motoring and safe vehicle driving so, when that little orange tire light with the exclamation point illuminates, DO NOT IGNORE IT. As an example; four tires on a car that are under inflated by only 2 pounds per square inch (psi) will cost you an additional $150 in fuel costs per year.

-Oil Changes: If the car manufacturer tells you to change your oil every 5,000 miles with a full synthetic. DO IT. Motor Oil not only lubricates your engine mechanicals but it also absorbs lots of heat and removes and retains engine deposits. That is why oil goes in a golden color and comes out jet black. If you don’t change your oil regularly, your engine will slowly destroy itself. The first thing to go will be your fuel economy followed by the engine seal that keep the oil where it should be. Finally, the metal components may sieze up. So, that $50- $100 oil change could save you $300 in additional fuel expense, $4000 in engine work, and up to $10000 for a new engine. Money well saved!

-Check Engine Light: When the little orange engine light comes on, get it fixed IMMEDIATELY. That one light is attached to a very powerful and sophisticated computer that monitors over 170 different functions and sensors. There is a reason it is there and a resaon why it came on. For example, your light comes on and you ignore it. The light came on because the oxygen sensor in your emmissions control system went bad. No biggie, right? Well, that sensor controls how much fuel is used by your engine under every condition. So, it may cost you more fuel every time you drive. On GM cars and trucks, if you have OnStar you can get the exact reason why your engine light came on. That is pretty convenient.

Maintenance You Can Ignore

-Gasoline Brands: All US gasoline has to meet a very strict federal standard. Some big name brands put additives in their gasoline but there is no real benefit to the consumer. The benefit is to the oil company in the form of revenue. Don’t be fooled by the name of the gasoline, it could cost you an extra $1500 per year. Also, if your car says it just needs regular gas in the owner’s manual, there is no need to pay for premium.

-Some maintenance is super easy to do yourself. Replacing windshield wipers at an oil change place can set you back $30-$50 a blade, but buying them at the store costs about $20 each. Just read the manual for the right type and then snap them on. Everyone can do that on their own!

-Aftermarket products: Just don’t do it! You want to put some 20s on your Cruze? Skip it. Remember that sentence above about cars needing to be efficient by law. When you change the parameters of the car, many things can go wrong. Bigger wheels are heavier. That means, more energy is required to get them moving, stop them, and turn them. You car was not designed for that. So, those fancy wheels and tires you bought for $600 could cost you up to $500 in extra fuel every year, $900 for a brake job you wouldn’t have needed before, and up to $2000 for new suspension components. Besides, bigger wheels make your car slower (unless they are made for exotic lightweight materials which most of us can’t afford anyway).

You car is a big chunk of money out of your budget. Understand you car by reading the owner’s manual and take care of it just like the manual says and that car could run indefinitely.

A great story to read about:


Car shopping

I don’t know anything about cars except that you shouldn’t put diesel into a car that doesn’t take diesel and also something about sugar in a gas tank will wreck the car?

Understanding cars is a monster subject. I don’t even own a car, so this is the first installment of a few guest posts by Darius about our most loved appliance.

You are ready to buy a car, you say?!  You have followed Kate’s budgeting advice and you want to hit the road.  Great!!  What do you think the first step is?!  Color?  Brand?  NO!  The first step should be listing the criteria you want your new car to meet.  Only one of those criteria should be price.  Here is a sample list:- How many people do you want to carry?  Seems simple but it is a valid question. Why buy a four door pickup that can seat six when it’s just you?! (a tip for the boys…size really doesn’t matter). Do you and your friends take turns being sober drivers? You might want more seats for more safety.  For the ‘about to have kids’ readers, the smaller the person, the more junk they need. ‘Lower lift height’ is a parent’s new best friend.  Plan accordingly.
– How much cargo do you need to carry/tow? Cargo capacity is not just the weight a vehicle can haul.  An SUV with a racy and slick curved rear roofline looks nice but you can’t fit nearly as much into the back as you can with an SUV that has a more squared off look.  It’s just geometry (<—this is the moment your math teacher told you about). *Note from Kate: my mom has a Honda Fit and one time we fit a shelf, two dressers, a nightstand, a mirror and two people in there without even breaking a sweat! That car is a miracle clown car!*
– What kind of mileage do you want?  Automakers want you to focus on the highway mileage of their cars.  Unless you are commuting 50 miles over a traffic-free highway per day, you want to disregard this number. The EPA has implemented it’s ‘combined’ fuel economy rating and it is the BIG number on the car sticker.  This is calculated using a mix of driving 55% in the city and 45% on the highway and should give you a better idea of what mileage the average user can expect (and should help you estimate gas costs)
– Do you live in an area that requires four or all wheel drive?  Four wheel drive (in most cases) weighs more and lowers fuel economy.  It also costs more (except on Subarus) and requires that much more maintenance.  Does it make the car safer to drive?! On snow, ice, hurricane level rains, mud, and loose dirt: yes. Otherwise…no. If you don’t live in an area where you need the extra safety, save yourself some cash and stick with two wheel drive.
– How much do you want to spend? There are a few options to get your hands on a car. You can:
  • Pay cash. This means no interest and therefore will save you money in the long run. Cash price=sticker price.
  • Finance. Remember this simple rule…on average for every $1000 you finance (fees and interest rates included) with a bank, it will cost you $16.67 per month in payments for a five year car note (60 months) (depending on your loan rates).  $17,000 financed = ~$283 per month. The total amount would be lower if you paid cash up front.
  • Lease. Leasing means that you can pay less to get a nicer car (overall), and you don’t have worry about maintenance because the car is under warrantee. However, this is not a good financial option because you end up with no physical asset at the end of your lease- you have been making monthly payments and when your lease is up, you have no car. For most twentysomething readers, this is a bad financial decision.
  • If you have bad credit, do NOT sign up for a high interest loan. Horror story from the front page of the LA Times here. (Summary: Ms. Lee paid $3000 down and signed a loan with 20% interest for a $7500 car. Over the next year and a half, she paid $6,966 more on the loan ($9966 total for a $7500 car). According to the terms of her loan, she still owed $11,610. When she fell behind in the payments her car was repossessed and she was left with nothing (even though she had already paid more than what the car was worth. This is not an unusual story. If you have $3000, buy a less nice car with cash and then save up for a nicer car.)
  • Don’t forget to budget in your insurance costs.
– Do you live in an urban or rural area?  Buying a 4X4 Heavy Duty pickup when you live in a city will mean that you will be very frustrated driving to (and parking!) any event in the city.  Parking spaces are tight and parking garages have an average clearance of 6′ 6″.  Consider where you live…trust me…you will do your future self a lot of favors.
Next time:  Resources for Car Knowledge.

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