Skip to the content

No one wants to experience the hassle of getting a hefty estimate from a mechanic, or being stranded on the side of the road. While routine car maintenance comes with a cost, this short-term expense is a much better option than the alternative. Here are some tips to take care of the small stuff now, so you’re not paying the big bucks later!

Read the owner’s manual. This first one is so simplistic and logical, it could almost go without saying. Yet, how many of us have actually read the manual? It’s not a good thing to overlook. Manuals can clue us in about needs particular to our make and model of car that we should keep in mind as we care for them. This might include things like the kind of gas or oil we should be using, how to use the heat, vent, and AC controls, or explanations for our dashboard meters and warning lights.

Keep a car care checklist, so you can be confident you are doing all you can to prevent repairs. Many of the items that you should keep track of are covered below. Doing each of these in a timely fashion will allow you to save up for when the bigger expenses finally come along.

Budget monthly for car care, and save what you don’t use. AAA recommends an amount of $50 to budget towards car needs every month. Whatever you are able to save each month will provide you with a nice nest egg to go toward the more expensive repairs.

Some things are easy to do—and you might even be able to do them yourself! Buying parts online or at an auto parts store is much cheaper than paying a mechanic. If you’re a do-it-your-self kind of person and have a good place to work, go for it. Even if you don’t have your own garage, you can probably find a garage rental or storage unit for this purpose. Directions for simple and regularly needed repairs can be found online. And dads, mechanical know-how is a great thing to pass down to your kids!

If you’d rather not do-it-yourself, then look for a reliable and honest mechanic. Check Angie’s List, Google, Yelp, and other internet sites for a list of local mechanics. Then ask around among your neighbors and friends to hear their recommendations. Listen to the current customers before you make an appointment with any mechanic.

Keep up with oil changes. Newer cars let you know when 5,000 miles is up—and that it’s time to change the oil. But even so, don’t ignore the little sticker in the upper left corner of your windshield, and stay current with oil changes. Other services during a standard oil change include the following: checking the air filter; checking and filling the coolant, power steering fluid, brake fluid, and windshield wiper fluid; checking tire air pressure, checking chassis lubrication, checking the battery, and if needed cleaning the battery terminals.

Make sure your spare tire is in good shape. Of course, this means you need to know where the spare tire is located! Your owner’s manual will tell you.

Rotate your tires and keep an eye on air pressure. Typically, car manufacturers recommend rotating the tires every 5,000 to 10,000 miles. By rotating the tires, they wear evenly and the tread lasts longer. This also keeps the tread depth the same, which helps when braking and turning corners. Make sure you look at your tires frequently for any apparent leaks. Air often escapes from tires when the temperatures outside drop. When the tires are properly inflated, the tires wear longer and the car handles better.

Check the brake pads and replace them when necessary. Obviously, for safety reasons, being able to brake quickly is very important. And here’s another maintenance tip regarding brakes: if your brake fluid is dark in color when you check it, you are close to due for a new brake system.

Change your windshield wipers at least once a year. If you see hazing or streaking on your windshield when the wipers are in use, if the wipers are making a “chattering” noise, or if the wipers are pulling away from the windshield when you drive at higher speeds—then the blades need to be replaced. Keep in mind that often the cheapest blades do not last as long as higher priced blades.

Wash and wax your car frequently. In climates with diversity in seasons, springtime often means pollen-covered cars. Summer and fall have times of high-pollen as well, and falling leaves in autumn have a residue of their own. Then in winter, roads are treated with salt, cinders, and/or other solutions due to icy and snowy conditions, and the after-effects are hard on the car’s body and undercarriage. All of this is why washing and waxing your car periodically throughout the year is important. If you choose to do this at home, beware that car wash and wax soaps will clean your car, but are not so good at protecting the paint. Driving through your local car wash might be the best and easiest solution.

Make sure your auto insurance policy includes emergency towing, or that you belong to an organization like AAA or AARP which offers that service to its members. Getting stuck with car trouble away from home is not pleasant, and can be a safety risk as well; but it’s very reassuring to know that help is only a phone call away!

Routine car care and maintenance go a long way! Follow these tips now to avoid an unfortunate scenario later. Or, at least better equip yourself so that you’re always prepared in the case of a car emergency. Good luck and happy driving!