How to Save $1,000 a Year on Car Maintenance

Photo (cc) by WorldSkills UK

Most of us don’t have the time or energy to research or refine our car care regime. That leads us to follow poor advice from less-than-forthcoming auto technicians or go by outdated information — and spend much more than needed to keep our cars in optimal condition. If you’re like many car owners you may be wasting $1,000 a year or more on unneeded car maintenance.

Let’s put an end to that. Check out the following list of maintenance myths that we put together with the help of car experts, and learn what you should do instead that will result in big savings:

Myth No. 1: You should change your oil every 3,000 miles

Yes, that’s what plenty of “quick change” oil services and even technicians at dealerships advise. But they are often wrong. Most modern cars only need oil changes every 7,500 to 10,000 miles, according to auto expert Richard Reina, product training director at CARiD.com. Other cars, such as Mini Coopers, only need the oil changed every 15,000 miles.

Facts: Today’s oil is purer than it was even a decade ago. That oil combined with modern oil filters weeds out contaminants and lasts longer than 3,000 miles.

Solution: Check the owner’s manual of your car. It will state how often oil changes are needed. Most modern cars also have dashboard indicators that alert you to needed maintenance. And don’t just rely on the service advisers’ recommendations, even at a dealership. Car experts at Edmunds.com showed that one dealership recommended a 5,000-mile oil change. The car in question was equipped with an oil life monitor that signaled when a change was due (generally in the 7,500- to 10,000-mile range in this instance).

Myth ­No. 2: All automotive oils are about the same

Facts: Your car needs a specific weight of oil — often depending on the climate and/or season — to run properly. The weight — or viscosity — is critical because if the oil is too thin or too thick it won’t protect your engine and could result in expensive damage.

Solution: Find out the weight of oil your car requires to operate properly in your owner’s manual. Then pay the extra $1 or so for brand-name oil, such as Penzoil, Mobile or Castrol, said Reina. You’ll find these have been approved by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) or American Petroleum Institute (API) and contain additives that contribute to the health and longevity of the engine. “It’s like that old advertisement said, ‘You can pay me now or you can pay me later,'” said Reina. Find more points and advice in this Consumer Reports article on motor oils.

Myth No. 3: Your oil/transmission fluids/brake fluids need flushing

Facts: No car manufacturer recommends that all the fluids are regularly drained from your car (or “flushed”), and then refilled. “It is a money-making venture,” said Reina, noting many of these “flushes” cost $199 to $299.

Solution: Understand that “flushing” is not a regular part of maintenance. If it’s suggested as such, just say no. That doesn’t mean that fluids don’t ever need changing. It also doesn’t mean a “flush” is not ever warranted. But as Popular Mechanics underscored, regular “flushes” are not part of routine maintenance. Same goes for fuel injection cleaning!

Myth No. 4: It’s best to use premium fuel

Facts: Yes, in some high-end cars with high-performance engines — think Porsche or Maserati — premium fuel may be required. But in most cars regular fuel works just as well. If your owner’s manual states premium fuel is “recommended,” regular is fine.

Solution: “My tip to my friends who think premium might make a difference is to try a tank full. If you think you feel a performance difference, then maybe you want to spend the extra money,” said Reina. “If you don’t feel a difference, though, don’t spend the money.” Many people are afraid to mix regular and premium fuels, but it’s fine to do so.

Myth No. 5: Online reviews will sort out bad garages from good

Facts: It’s not unusual for retailers to solicit positive reviews from friends or conversely be targeted by trolls. Online reviews don’t always give you the facts about an auto repair facility.

Solution: Although Reina does much of his own automotive work he also takes his vehicles to a small garage that he’s patronized for years. Don’t be afraid to try small places and, by the same token, don’t blindly trust high-visibility garages with splashy advertisements or signage. If you don’t know where to begin to look for a reputable car care facility, he recommended seeking out reviews and recommendations from American Automobile Association (AAA), the Better Business Bureau and other organization that have long-standing reputations for trustworthiness.

What rules do you follow when getting your car serviced? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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