Cheap Car Care That Pays Off Big Down the Road


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With a little TLC, today's vehicles can easily last for 200,000 miles. Here are our top seven tips for keeping your auto humming.

Getting a new car can cost the equivalent of a year’s after-tax salary. After spending that much on four wheels and an auto body, you’d think it would run trouble-free for a decade.

That’s a lovely dream. The reality is that regular maintenance and eternal vigilance are required. That way, a small issue won’t turn into a huge, expensive problem.

Staying on top of maintenance pays off in the long run. Today’s cars will easily last 200,000 miles if you take care of them.

It’s not too hard to remember oil changes, because the folks who do them usually put a reminder sticker on your windshield. But you need to discipline yourself to take care of other issues. Here are seven easy fixes that make a big difference.

1. Respect the ‘check engine’ light

Eric Fleming Photographer / Shutterstock.comEric Fleming Photographer / Shutterstock.com

That “check engine” light could mean something as simple as a loose gas cap. Or, it could be an issue with the oxygen sensor, which costs about $250 to fix. You need to know which one it is, so don’t ignore that illuminated warning.

Put off fixing the O2 sensor, and two things can happen: decreased mileage and a big fat repair bill later on. So get that light checked out.

2. Replace the air filter

ensuper / Shutterstock.comensuper / Shutterstock.com

Speaking of oxygen: There’s an air filter on your car, and from time to time (probably once a year) it needs to be replaced.

This is a fairly simple job. Let Edmunds.com walk you through it if you’re up for a DIY project. But either way, make sure it gets done, even if you have to pay somebody to do it. Failing to make the change can result in a mechanic’s bill of $400 or more.

3. Fix the PCV valve

exhursky / Shutterstock.comexhursky / Shutterstock.com

Mileage still bad? Engine somewhat sputtery? Spend $100 to fix your PCV valve (positive crankcase ventilation). It’s no fun to part with a C-note, but major engine damage could result if you ignore the fix.

4. Repair a windshield crack

Dmitry Kalinovsky / Shutterstock.comDmitry Kalinovsky / Shutterstock.com

Suppose the vehicle in front of you flings a piece of gravel straight into your windshield. The resulting ding isn’t pretty, but it isn’t a big crack. So, you decide to ignore it.

Don’t. The small chip can expand into a giant crack that impedes your vision and ultimately creates a need for a new windshield. The sooner you repair a ding, the better, since rain can drive dirt into the crack and make it harder to fix.

5. Properly inflate tires

Rebecca Abell / Shutterstock.comRebecca Abell / Shutterstock.com

When was the last time you had the tire pressure checked? Fewer service stations provide this service these days, so buy a pressure gauge and check it yourself.

Properly inflated tires mean better gas mileage. Underinflated tires wear out faster and may be more susceptible to blowouts, according to Edmunds.com.

6. Pay attention to puddles

Georgil Shipin / Shutterstock.comGeorgil Shipin / Shutterstock.com

See a puddle under your car? Be afraid. Be very afraid. Then get your vehicle looked at right away. Whether you’re leaking oil, transmission fluid, antifreeze or gas, this is something that needs fixing now.

Some experts suggest that before you get into your vehicle, you should take a minute to walk all the way around it. Look for those puddles and also take a gander at the tires to see if they seem low.

This would also be a good time to do the penny test to determine whether the tread is still good and to check your auto’s fluid levels.

7. Don’t put off scheduled maintenance

Dmitry Kalinovsky / Shutterstock.comDmitry Kalinovsky / Shutterstock.com

Some folks believe that scheduled maintenance translates into “another way the dealer can gouge me.” In addition, being carless even for part of a day can be a major hassle for many people.

It can be tempting to put off oil changes and other maintenance. But ignoring your ride can cost you.

Maybe it drives just fine right now, but perhaps you have just been lucky. Picture yourself standing by the side of the highway, waiting for a tow. Now picture it late at night and/or in the winter.

Besides, remember how much you spent to buy that vehicle? For maximum return on your investment, follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule and keep an eye on things in between.

Your reward could be 10 years or more without an auto payment.

Do you have any cheap auto fixes? Share them in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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