Car Care Saves Cash

These days, who wants to spend more money than they have to on anything? Nobody I know. Yet hundreds of thousands of Americans spend much more on car repair than they need to simply because they don't do the little things to maintain their vehicle properly. And when you put off the preventive maintenance that your car needs, it can hit you hard in the wallet. Ouch!

Sadly, many drivers today regard maintenance as an unneeded and unwanted expense. And while today's vehicles require less on-going maintenance than ever before, "less" doesn't mean "none." Even the most sophisticated vehicle on the road today still requires basic maintenance that will prolong its life measurably.

You want proof? According to AAA research, more than five million breakdowns could be avoided each year if motorists performed a simple inspection of their tires, belts, and hoses. That's pretty basic stuff, folks, but those items are much less likely to be looked at these days than they were decades ago because of the almost universal switch to self-service gasoline. That routine under-the-hood look that used to take place with every full-service fill-up just doesn't happen these days.

According to the Car Care Council, the typical driver should budget approximately $60 a month for preventative maintenance of their vehicle. While performing regular preventative maintenance may seem costly and inconvenient, that $60 a month could well turn out to be the best investment you could make.

"The consumer should be proactive, not reactive, in the care of their car," said Joel Burrows, vice president of training and research development for Precision Tune Auto Care, a nationwide provider of preventive maintenance and repair. "For example, fluids should be checked every time you have the vehicle serviced, and oil should be checked every time you fill the tank with gas."

While that's wise advice, when is the last time you checked your oil? Or checked the air pressure in your tires? In this busy workaday world it always seems like next time is the right time to perform these rudimentary duties, and next time never seems to come.

In addition to checking fluids and tire pressure, it is also essential to make sure that the air filter is cleaned, engine and chassis are lubricated, battery terminals are clean and spark plugs are in good condition. Another simple tip is that you should never run the fuel tank dry. When fuel is pumped into a dry tank, there is a higher chance of getting oxygen, moisture, and deposits into the fuel tank. Plus, it's usually a long walk to the nearest gas station, no matter where you end up stranded after running out of gas. Let's face it, a cold, rainy night is not the time to start your much-needed exercise program.

If you have any questions about what maintenance items you should perform, a book filled with easy answers most likely resides right in your glove compartment. Probably it is untouched, still in its plastic folder. Now, it's hardly the scintillating reading that my colleague's book, Fatal Photographs, is, but the price is right and a quick perusal is almost guaranteed to save you cash.

"Car owners have to take it upon themselves to read the manual," said Burrows of Precision Tune Auto. "If every consumer actually read their manual, they would be much more aware of basic precautionary maintenance, which would save them money in the long run."

If you put off performing preventative maintenance because you think it's a way to save money, think again.

"A major mistake car owners make is assuming that the purchase price of the car is the only amount of money they'll ever spend on it," Burrows said. "A car is no different from the human body, in that it has to be maintained from the day you are born. The automobile, from the day you start driving, it begins destroying itself."

Okay, your car might not be drinking, playing cards and chasing women, but it does live a hard life nonetheless. So a little TLC can go a long way in helping your chariot last longer, and remember, each year you can nurse along your current car rather than buying a new one can save you $10,000. That's a pretty good return for a few hundred dollars in maintenance costs each year.

Cleveland-based auto journalist Luigi Fraschini is a firm believer in preventive maintenance. Unfortunately, he reports it hasn't worked well on his hairline.