As much as it hurts, frugal fringers sometimes spend money in order to save money. Maintenance is a prime example of this. Whenever your vehicle requires routine attention, choose from among these tightfisted strategies.
40.1 Ditch the Car
You don’t have to worry about maintenance if you never own a car in the first place (see Chapter 44).
40.2 Follow the Owner’s Manual
The manual lists maintenance you should perform at stated mileage levels or months of operation. By following these schedules, you keep warranties alive, forestall repairs, and extend your vehicle’s lifespan.
For these easy jobs, don’t pay a mechanic who charges $60 per hour and marks up parts by 20 percent.
□ 40.3.1 Replace Fluids
These include brake fluid, coolant, transmission fluid, and wiper juice. An oil change shop might refill these for FREE, but if it charges, do it yourself.
□ 40.3.2 Change Windshield Wipers, Air Filters, and Lights
Follow Appendix 1 for these purchases and install them yourself.
□ 40.3.3 Switch Out Batteries
Dispose of old ones responsibly.
□ 40.3.4 Perform Your Own Oil Changes
Well, maybe. You need heavy-duty ramps to raise your vehicle while you work underneath. You also need a plan to dispose of used oil and filters (which some national car part chain stores accept). If this all seems like too much trouble, proceed to 40.4.
40.4 Save on Oil Changes
Stacking works great here. You can use your credit card (2 percent reward) to buy a discounted gift card (8 percent off) to a national lube chain that issues online coupons (33 percent off). With three tiers of savings, after your next visit the only thing left squeaking will be your wallet.
□ 40.4.1 Avoid Dealers, Except for Special Offers
Dealers usually don’t cut deals. In contrast, competition among oil change shops is heated.
□ 40.4.2 Ignore the Big Lie of Every Three Months or 3,000 Miles
Manufacturers now design most engines to run 5,000 miles or more between oil changes. Follow the schedules in your owner’s manual and ignore what oil change shops say.
□ 40.4.3 Use Synthetic Oils
These cost more, but you save because you change oil only half as often. Check the manufacturer’s latest guidelines about which synthetics work best for your model.
□ 40.4.5 Seek Discounts
Search online for coupons. Or join your favorite shop’s mailing list and the coupons will show up just in time for your next oil change.
□ 40.4.6 Decline Upsells
Stick to entry level services. Extras usually trigger hefty markups.
□ 40.4.7 Decline Fluid Flushes and Other Extras
Follow the schedules in your owner’s manual.
□ 40.4.8 Procure the Oil Yourself
Recently, I saved $8 by supplying the synthetic oil myself (the garage hadn’t stocked the right grade, so I shopped around). Confirm with the shop ahead of time whether it will accept this arrangement.
40.5 Save on Windshields
□ 40.5.1 Hire Windshield Repair Services
Act fast, and a repair shop can fill a chip with resin before it grows into a large crack. Check your policy; many insurers cover this.
□ 40.5.2 Buy Windshield Repair Kits
Apply the resin yourself. Amazon sells several products.
□ 40.5.3 Purchase Glass Insurance
If your car runs through windshields, consider buying coverage.
40.6 Save on Tires
According to the CES, the largest single cost of car maintenance is the purchase, replacement, and mounting of tires. No wonder. New tires for a small sedan now run about $450, and more for larger vehicles. To manage costs, follow Appendix 1 and these additional tactics that save you money where the rubber meets the road.
□ 40.6.1 Find the Best Tires for Your Vehicle
Visit these sources when you shop.
- Consumer Reports. The annual Used Car Buying Guide lists the best-rated tires, including winter tires.
- Chat Rooms. Visit to find the best-liked tires for your model.
- The Best Online Resource for Tires. Go to TireRack.com and enter your vehicle’s year, manufacturer, model, and trim line. Up pops a long list of tires that fit your car, which you can sort to find the bestsellers. Customer reviews abound. Even if you buy elsewhere, TireRack provides a goldmine of information.
□ 40.6.2 Shop the Internet
The prices at TireRack.com and Tires-Easy.com often undercut warehouse clubs, which usually offer the lowest prices among physical stores. If you buy online, don’t forget to factor in the costs for shipping and mounting tires.
□ 40.6.3 Seek Rebates and Coupons
Special offers are common for tires. Look for them before you buy.
□ 40.6.4 Haggle
Use prices from websites to dicker with local shops. For additional approaches, revisit Chapter 5.
□ 40.6.5 Avoid Bells and Whistles
When you buy tires, don’t pay extra for road hazard protection. If you run over a nail, the repair only costs about $12.
□ 40.6.6 Don’t Buy Used Tires . . . Unless
Usually, this line item is no place to save with a secondhand purchase. Tires salvaged from wrecks might have serious problems that are undetectable to the naked eye. One exception: when you buy from someone you trust who can vouch for the tires’ history.
40.7 Follow Up on Tire Purchases
Prolong the life of your tires with these steps.
□ 40.7.1 Drive Fewer Miles
Limit mileage to save on gas and tire wear. For tactics, see 39.4.
□ 40.7.2 Drive Easy
The basics: avoid peel outs, sudden stops, heavy loads, and hard cornering (see 39.6).
□ 40.7.3 Keep Tires Inflated
Reduces wear and improves gas mileage. Buy a good tire gauge.
□ 40.7.4 Rotate, Balance
Good care prevents bad wear.
□ 40.7.5 Maintain Shocks and Suspension
If your car drives choppy or your tires wear unevenly, have the shocks and suspension checked.