Maintenance requires regularity — always check your vehicle manual for maintenance schedules, fluid types and other car maintenance information specific to your vehicle. Then, here’s what to check:
• Every Month – Check your fluid levels including coolant, oil, transmission and power steering fluid. Running low can seriously damage your engine.• Every Oil Change – Whether you change the oil yourself or take it to a shop, make sure the following things get taken care of:
o Use proper oil grade for your vehicle.
o Replace the oil filter. This ensures you keep solid contaminates from prematurely wearing down your engine.
o Check and potentially replace the air filter.
o Make sure none of the hoses are cracking, drying or leaking.
o Fill the brake fluid to the proper level.
o Check the inflation in your tires. Underinflated tires can reduce your gas mileage.
o Ensure all lights and signals are in working order.
• Every 30,000 Miles – An in-depth checkup is usually recommended every 15,000 miles to 30,000 miles. Expect to pay $150 to $250 to:
o Inspect and rotate tires. On a quarter, place George Washington’s head between the treads. If you see his wig, you have less than 1/8 of an inch of tread left and need new tires.
o Replace fuel filter.
o Inspect cooling and braking systems.
o Replace the air filter and spark plugs.
Eventually you’ll need a mechanic. And there are two questions you should ask yourself first: Who is going to do the work? And are they qualified? The dealership, while normally expensive, often guarantees any work they do to your vehicle. Chain stores, on the other hand, can be an inexpensive alternative, usually specializing in a particular area of car maintenance. And what could be your best bet: Independent garages. The neighborhood mechanic might have some good deals and personalized service.
You should search the Better Business Bureau online at bbb.org for accredited mechanics in your area, or look for technicians certified for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) and accredited by the American Automobile Association (AAA). Don’t forget to check the mechanic’s service warranty offer — the longer, the better.
If you like to do it yourself, you might be able to save labor costs and avoid dealership or mechanic markups on replacement parts. Oil changes, for example, can be done fairly easily and inexpensively, but don’t neglect important components of your maintenance program. Decide what projects you have the capacity to complete. If you’re not ready or able to complete a repair, take it to a shop.
Average hourly shop rates vary, but expect $50 to $60 at a dealership and $25 to $40 at a non-dealership mechanic. Also, don’t be surprised by fees for a mechanic to inspect your car. Often the inspection cost is applied to the repair cost if you elect to have the repairs made at their shop. Check out edmunds.com for cost estimates for your specific car.
Try to park away from the crowd to avoid scratches and dents. And of course wash and wax your car regularly to protect the paint job.
Watch for windshield chips. These can be relatively inexpensive to fix before they grow into cracks. If the windshield is cracking, repair or replace it as soon as possible. Temperature changes can make the crack grow over time and inhibit vision.
If you need new tires, a good auto detail or windshield repairs, check out aaa.com and search for approved repair and service providers. Keeping your car in running order will ensure that you’re never stranded on your way to work or facing a hefty fine for an avoidable problem.