Keeping up with your car maintenance probably isn’t the most thrilling item on your to-do list. But paying a little bit of routine attention (and cash) on your vehicle is completely worth it—for your safety and your savings. We’ve got 13 car maintenance tips that can keep your car out of the shop, and keep you from having to buy a new vehicle as long as possible. Take a look!
13 Car Maintenance Tips to Save You Money
1. Check your spare tire.
It’s just as important to keep the backup tire inflated as it is the four tires under your car. The last thing you want is to discover your spare is flat while you’re pulling the jack out of your trunk. It’s better to spend a dollar at the air pump every few months to inflate your spare than to spend hundreds on a tow truck in your time of need.
- Maintenance tip: Test the air pressure of your driving tires and your spare tire once a month.
2. Change the oil.
How much can skipping oil changes affect your budget? Oh, plenty. Oil problems can be some of the costliest car maintenance issues to fix, since oil affects pretty much everything your car does. So don’t skip it. Getting your oil (and filter) changed costs around $35–75.1 For the price of a family dinner at a higher-end fast food joint, you’ll lower the risk of wearing out your engine—which costs a lot more than burgers and fries to replace.
- Maintenance tip: Change the oil every 5,000 miles or follow your car manufacturer’s recommendations.
3. Keep the battery clean.
Over time, corrosion (which looks like white or bluish powder) can form on the terminals of your car’s battery (those little metal knobs on top). If you don’t keep them clean, the battery could develop a crack or simply not function, leaving you stranded. Since a quality car battery can cost upward of $250—and a tow can run you even more—buying a $5 wire brush and keeping the terminals looking spiffy is money well spent.2
- Maintenance tip: Test your battery twice a year and inspect it for corrosion.
4. Replace the brake pads.
Do you hear a squeaking sound when you hit the brakes? If so, your brake pads could be on their last legs. Replacements can cost up to $300 per axel, plus the labor charge if a professional installs them.3 We know that price tag may seem hefty. But this isn’t something to mess around with. You can’t just screech to a stop with your feet like Fred Flintstone. Don’t get in an accident. Keep your brakes working.
- Maintenance tip: Check the brake fluid every time you change the oil to be sure it’s not dark in color. If it is, you’ll need to change the brake system sooner rather than later.
5. Replace your cabin air filter.
Your car’s cabin air filter keeps pollutants from coming in through the vents. It’s a pretty important job, so treat your air filter well. Plus, using an old air filter long past its life can lead to major problems for your air conditioning system. And trust us, you don’t want that. Servicing the AC unit can cost around $430–521, but replacing it is more like $1,319–2,515.4
- Maintenance tip: Change your cabin air filter every 12 months or 12,000 miles.
6. Get new windshield wipers.
Depending on the make and model of your car, buying new windshield wipers can run you $50–61 for parts and labor.5 While that seems like a hefty price tag for something so small, this is another time when safety is the priority. After all, if you can’t see the road, you really shouldn’t be driving. It. Isn’t. Safe. Repairing or replacing your car after a crash will cost you way more than new wipers.
- Maintenance tip: Check your windshield wipers at the change of each season and replace them when necessary.
7. Get your tires rotated.
Did you know you can easily extend the life of your tires just by rotating them every so often? It’s true! The tires on your car don’t wear down the same way. When you rotate them regularly, they’ll last longer and you’ll save around $187 a tire, which is nearly $748 for a brand-new set of four.6
- Maintenance tip: Rotate your tires every 3,000–5,000 miles.
8. Check the shocks, springs and struts (aka the suspension system).
The suspension system is one of those intricate parts of your car that you probably don’t think about—until it stops doing its job and makes your ride bouncier than a trampoline park. If you find that one of the shocks needs to be replaced, go ahead and replace all four of them. Yeah, it sucks, but it’s better in the long run for the overall life and well-being of your car.
- Maintenance tip: Check the shocks and full suspension system every 15,000–30,000 miles.
9. Check your coolant.
If you don’t stay on top of changing your coolant, you run the risk of serious corrosion inside your car. Which is both gross and damaging. The coolant affects everything from the heater and air conditioner to the radiator and water pump. For something that impacts that much of your car’s overall health, you don’t want to skip the maintenance on this one.
- Maintenance tip: It’s a good idea to check your coolant twice a year—once before the warm weather hits and again before the cold weather swoops in.
10. Check your spark plugs.
If your engine is giving you trouble, one of the common reasons (and easy fixes) is the spark plugs. And guess what? A spark plug generally costs less than $10!7 What a small price to pay to avoid a major engine overhaul—because replacing that sucker starts at about $4,000.8 Yuck.
- Maintenance tip: Check and change the spark plugs about every 30,000 miles.
11. Inspect your belts and hoses.
Giving your belts and hoses a once-over can save you from a huge mechanic bill later down the road. Worn-down belts can cause other damage to essential parts of your car. And if you have a weak radiator hose, it could go belly-up completely, which would cause your engine to overheat and not run at all. And running is kind of a car engine’s main job.
- Maintenance tip: Replace your timing belt every 60,000 miles and your serpentine belt every 40,000 miles. It’s recommended that you change your hoses every four years or whenever one is showing signs of wear.
12. Check your headlights, turn signals, brake and parking lights.
Tickets are expensive and can jack up your car insurance costs. Also, your lights are another important safety feature. They help you see and communicate with other drivers. Skip the tickets. Stay safe. Check your lights.
- Maintenance tip: Have a friend help you make sure everything is working well by testing out the headlights, turn signals, brake lights and parking lights once a month.
13. Do the emissions inspection.
Depending on the state or even county you live in, your car may be required to pass a state emissions inspection. By keeping up with the necessary car maintenance on your vehicle, it should pass with flying colors. But if it doesn’t get a gold star, that’s something you want to know too. The emissions facility will tell you what failed and what needs to be fixed so your car can fully pass the inspection—so it’s safe and road-ready.
- Maintenance tip: Don’t forget to take your car in for inspection once a year. Check with your local department of motor vehicles about the specific requirements in your state.
- Bonus maintenance tip: Check out our Ramsey Car Guide for more info on buying, selling and maintaining your vehicle!
Set Up a Car Maintenance Line Item in Your Budget
Even though keeping up with car maintenance is less expensive than paying for major repairs, it can still add up. Stay on top things by making sure car maintenance and repairs have a spot in the budget.
Start budgeting with EveryDollar today!
One of the easiest ways to do that is by creating a sinking fund for car maintenance. Put a little in the fund each month, and you’ll have cash on hand when you need it! Or if you know something big is coming (like you’ll need new tires soon), stash even more away in that fund so you can pay cash.
If you’re looking for a fantastic budgeting tool for your money journey, check out EveryDollar. It’s got a special sinking fund feature. And it’s free!
Okay. There you go—13 car maintenance tips, and how to budget for them so you can enjoy the ride with less stress . . . on your car and on you