This article is part of our 52 week journey through Bill’s latest book, The Graduate’s Guide to Life and Money. Each week, a full excerpt from his book will be presented from beginning to end. To get your copy of his book, visit www.TheGraduatesGuide.com.
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to save money on your car is to maintain the one you own, or maintain the one you buy. I am the first to admit that I occasionally forget to change the oil, sometimes for months. When you are already being pulled in multiple directions at once, with your finances and your time, the last thing you want to think about is spending money on your car. We tend to only spend money on our car when it is having problems, instead of spending money to prevent it from having problems. As you go through this book you will start to look at things such as retirement, vacations, emergency funds, and paying off your debt. Once you get excited about doing all of these things with your money, little setbacks such as $80 for a battery and $300 for an alternator can really be frustrating. When we discuss cash flow issues, we’ll try to help you build these little expenses into your budget. In the mean time, let’s find some ways to keep your car running for as long as possible.
To find the specific maintenance recommendations for your car, you should consult the owner’s manual. Generally, there are a few procedures that are standard for almost every vehicle.
Change your oil every three months or every 3,000 miles, whichever comes first
Don’t think just because you drive short trips you can wait longer to change your oil. Driving short distances is actually harder on your car than long trips. Your engine does not have enough time to heat up. It’s a little more technical than that, but I don’t really understand and you don’t have to either. Just change your oil every three months no matter how many miles you put on it. If you put a lot of miles on your car, change your oil every 3,000 miles even if it has only been a month since your last oil change.
Changing your oil does not have to be expensive. A quart of oil will cost between one and three dollars. An oil filter will cost another $5. So, for less than $10 you can change the oil yourself in about 20 minutes. If you are like me, and you fear the idea of tasting oil by accident, or have visions of leaving an oil trail in your driveway because you did something wrong, take your car to an oil lube shop. You can usually have the oil changed for about $20. Look for coupons. Most oil places will have coupons ranging from $3-$5 in the newspaper, on the back of grocery store receipts, and in those flyers you get in the mail.
Check your tire pressure monthly
Your owner’s manual should tell you what tires to use and at what pressure they should be inflated. If you want, write that down in this book, or put it in your glove compartment, or on your calendar. Keeping your tires inflated properly will not only allow your tires to last longer, but will also keep your car more fuel-efficient. Having your tire pressure too low will reduce your car’s gas mileage. Over-inflating your tires can be dangerous.
Rotate your tires every six months
Here is another way to keep your tires longer. By rotating them you will not be wearing any one tire significantly more than any other one. This could also help keep your car in alignment. If you live in a region where you have to use winter treads on your car for at least a few months every year, just have them rotated in the early spring and the late fall when you switch tires anyway.
Of course, almost every car has specific maintenance needs at various mileage levels. For instance there is usually a 10,000-mile, 30,000 mile and 60,000 mile maintenance recommendation. At these various levels you should be checking or replacing certain belts, hoses, etc. At specific times you will also need a tune-up or you may have to change your coolant. You should really consider these future cost when you are searching for your next car. You’re not just looking at $250 per month for the payment. Your budget needs to be able to handle these maintenance costs as well. You can schedule them in with your list of goals. Follow the guidelines on the following page closely and your car should last a long time.
As a general guideline, I have included a chart that will help you keep up with your car.
- Windshield washer fluid
Every 3 Months (Or 3,000 Miles)
- Engine oil (replace)
- Air filter
- Oil filter
- Fuel filter
- Power steering fluid
Every 6 Months (Or 6,000 Miles)
- Automatic transmission fluid
- Battery and cables
- Windshield wiper blades (replace)
- Lights (including blinkers)
Every 12 Months (Or 12,000 Miles)
- Cabin air filter
- Chassis lubrication
- Coolant (antifreeze)
In addition, for purposes of safety and convenience, here is a list of recommended items to keep in your vehicle. Obviously certain items are only needed in the winter.
- Jumper cables
- Spare tire & jack
- Flashlight & extra batteries
- Fire extinguisher
- First aid kit
- Duct tape
- Extra windshield washer fluid
- Heavy duty rags or paper towels
- Pair of work gloves
- Tie-down straps
- Ice scraper
- Mini shovel
- Small bag of sand for traction
- All-in-one tool kit (includes screwdrivers, hex keys, wrench, etc.)
Bill Pratt is a former credit card executive turned student-advocate. He is the author of Extra Credit: The 7 Things Every College Student Needs to Know About Credit Debt & Ca$h and The Graduate’s Guide to Life and Money. Bill speaks at colleges to educate and entertain students about real-life issues in money, leadership, and success. His goal is to help students succeed personally and financially so they can improve the lives of those around them. You can learn more at www.ExtraCreditBook.comor www.TheGraduatesGuide.com.