Dollars and Sense

Vehicle Maintenance Myths That Could Cost You

A lot of your accumulated car wisdom probably comes via tidbits from friends, relatives, shop teachers, driving instructors and various other fellow passengers on the highway of life. While some of this passed-on knowledge can be incredibly shrewd and useful, chances are some of the information just doesn't compute.

The myth: Replace it all
Back in the day, when filters, spark plugs and other car parts wore out faster, it made more sense to have your mechanic replace a bunch of components whenever you took your car in for an oil change. These days, though, just about everything in your car lasts much longer than it did in previous generations. Keeping a detailed service record and cross-referencing it with your owner's  manual will help YOU know when things need to be replaced and not make you reliant on your mechanic for potentially costly decisions. 

The myth: Use cleaners other than windshield wiper fluid
Are you one of those people who likes to use those "sneaky little tricks" to do a job more efficiently? If you are, and you've heard the one about using other kinds of cleaning liquids in place of windshield wiper fluid, be aware that while your windshield may seem cleaner, you are also probably stripping your car's finish in the process.

The myth: Winterize or else!
If you normally share the roads with sled dogs, you may need to take special precautions for the colder months. However, in most areas, all you probably need to do to get ready for winter is check your tire pressure and install snow tires if you have them.

The myth: Let your car warm up before you drive
This one isn't complete nonsense. There was a time when cars needed a little run-time before the engine was operating at optimal efficiency. However, unless you drive a classic car, you are only wasting gas by running your engine prior to a trip.

The myth: Flush it
Some mechanics out there are quite flush happy. They want to flush your transmission, your radiator, your engine oil, and so on. But modern vehicles require these actions very infrequently. Consult with your owner's manual to make sure your money isn't just getting flushed down the drain.

The myth: Put your car in neutral at a stop light
The logic (if you can call it that) behind this suggestion is that it is supposed to put less strain on cars with automatic transmission. Shifting into neutral over and over will actually send you to the shop for a new transition much faster than if you had just left it alone.

The myth: Top off the brake fluid and forget it
If your vehicle is low on brake fluid, you have a problem. Either the fluid is leaking or your brakes are becoming dangerously worn out. From a money-saving perspective, it may seem counterintuitive to spend hundreds of dollars for brakes, but it's better than having to pay for repairs and higher insurance rates because you couldn't stop in time.

There are lots of folks out there who like to share vehicle advice. However, you can do yourself a big favor by at least researching their tips to make sure you aren't just creating more problems. You'll also be rewarded for your efforts by having a few more dollars in your pocket.

10 Car Maintenance Tips That Will Save You Money

  1. Avoid paying for high octane gas as the benefit doesn't justify the cost.
  2. Inflate your tires to the level listed in your car's owner's manual, not the maximum listed on the tires. This will help you achieve better mileage and less wear.
  3. Have your fluid levels checked before every long drive.
  4. Thoroughly research online reviews of local mechanics to find the best.
  5. Get your tires rotated at least twice a year to make them last much longer.
  6. Install a vehicle service app for your mobile device to help you remember when to perform your maintenance.
  7. Avoid the rapid acceleration and abrupt braking of "jackrabbit" driving.
  8. Make sure your spare tire is present and in working shape to remove the need for a tow in the case of a flat tire.
  9. Consult with your trusted mechanic and your owner's manual about the appropriate mileage benchmarks for oil change. You may not need to do it every 3,000 miles. However, make sure it doesn’t void your warranty.
  10. Perform the easy task of changing your own air filter instead of paying a mechanic to do it.

Recommended Reading

Start Me Up: A Practical Guide to Understanding Your Vehicle, Mike Davidson, 2013
Being a car owner and managing your finances have several things in common. They both tend to have negative consequences for reckless behavior. Regular maintenance is a strong practice for each. But perhaps the way they are most similar is in the fact that you probably began each process without the full information. Much like being handed a credit card, when you are given the keys to a car you are instructed on the basics of how to operate it, but not much else.

"The Auto Guy," as Mike Davidson is known, helps fill a vital gap in the knowledge base for car owners with this book. Lest you think, "I can just look it up on the internet when I have a problem," consider the fact that knowing how to prevent problems is likely going to save you piles of money over fixing various breakdowns. On top of that, Davidson's tips for safety put you in better position to avoid accidents that can really ding your financial health.

This book will likely have some sage advice for you no matter your age or experience level, but it is especially recommended for new drivers or parents of new drivers. If you fall into one of these categories, consider this little book the alternative to "learning the hard way." Taking shortcuts with your vehicle may seem like it makes sense in the short run, but long-term you are just going to cost yourself more. 

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