20 ways you waste money on your car
By Des Toups
Cars make us irrational. We call them our babies and lovingly wax them every Saturday -- or we turn up the radio to drown out the sound of a dragging muffler. Either mindset will cost you money, sometimes a lot of it.
Walking the line between obsession and neglect means you never spend a nickel without a good reason -- and good reasons can include spending money on something thatís not broken.
Here, then, are 20 ways you waste money on your car.
Premium gas instead of regular.
Buy the cheapest gasoline that doesnít make your car engine knock. All octane does is prevent knock; a grade higher than the maker of your car recommends is not a ďtreat.Ē
3,000-mile oil changes.
Manufacturers typically suggest 5,000 miles, 7,500 miles or even longer intervals between oil changes (many car markers now include oil-life monitors that tell you when the oil is dirty -- sometimes as long as 15,000 miles.) There may be two recommendations for oil-change intervals: one for normal driving and one for hard use. If you live in a cold climate, take mostly very short trips, tow a trailer or have a high-revving, high-performance engine, use the more aggressive schedule. If you seldom drive your car, go by the calendar rather than your odometer. Twice a year changes are the minimum.
Taking false economies.
Better to replace a timing belt on the manufacturerís schedule than to have it break somewhere in western Nebraska. Better to pop for snow tires than to ride that low-profile rubber right into a tree.
Using the dealerís maintenance schedule instead of the factoryís.
Of course he thinks you should have a major tune-up every 30,000 miles. Most of the tasks that we generally think of under the heading of ďtune-upĒ are now handled electronically. Stick to the manufacturerís schedule unless your car is not running well. If your engine doesn't "miss" -- skip a beat or make other odd noises -- donít change the spark plugs or wires until the manufacturer says so.
Using a dealer for major services.
Independent shops almost always will do the same work much cheaper. Call around, ownerís manual in hand, to find out, mindful that the quality of the work is more of a question mark. Some dealers may tell you using outside garages violates the carís warranty. This is a lie.
Using a dealer for oil changes.
Dealers sometimes run dirt-cheap specials, but otherwise youíll usually find changes cheaper elsewhere. If youíre using an independent shop for the first time, you might inconspicuously mark your old oil filter to make sure it has indeed been changed. And donít let them talk you into new wiper blades, new air filters or high-priced synthetic oil, unless your car is one of the few high-performance machines built for it.
Not replacing your air filter and wiper blades yourself.
Buy them on sale at a discount auto-parts store rather than having a garage or dealer replace them. Replacement is simple for either part, a 5-minute job. A good schedule for new air filters is every other oil change in a dusty climate; elsewhere at least once every 20,000 miles. Treat yourself to new wipers (itís easiest to buy the whole blade, not the refill) once a year.
Going to any old repair shop.
At the very least, make sure itís ASE-certified (a good housekeeping seal of approval from the nonprofit National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence). From there, look for a well-kept shop with someone whoís willing to answer all your questions. Estimates must include a provision that no extra work will be done without your approval. Drive your car to make sure the problem is fixed before you pay. Pay with a credit card in case thereís a dispute later. Be courteous and pay attention. A good mechanic is hard to find.
Changing your antifreeze every winter.
Change it only when a hydrometer suggests it will no longer withstand temperatures 30 degrees below the coldest your area sees in winter. Your dealer or oil-change shop should be happy to check it for free. Every two years is about right. But you also should keep your cooling system happy by running the air conditioner every few weeks in winter to keep it lubricated, checking for puddles underneath the car and replacing belts and hoses before they dry and crack.
Replacing tires when you should be replacing shocks.
If your tires are wearing unevenly or peculiarly, your car may be out of alignment or your shocks or struts worn out.
Letting a brake squeal turn into a brake job.
Squeal doesnít necessarily mean you need new rotors or pads; mostly, itís just annoying. Your first check -- you can probably see your front brakes through the wheels on your car -- is to look at the thickness of the pads. Pads thicker than a quarter-inch are probably fine. If your brakes emit a constant, high-pitched whine and the pads are thinner than a quarter-inch, replace them. If your car shimmies or you feel grinding through the pedal, then your brake rotors need to be turned or replaced.
Not complaining when your warranty claim is rejected.
and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA)
to see if a technical service bulletin (TSB) has been issued about the component in question. Manufacturers often will repair known defects outside the warranty period (sometimes called a secret warranty). It helps if youíve done your homework and havenít been a jerk.
Not keeping records.
A logbook of every repair done to your car can help you decide if somethingís seriously out of whack. Didnít I just buy new brake pads? With a log and an envelope stuffed with receipts, youíll know who did the work and when, and whether or not thereís a warranty on the repair. And a service logbook helps at resale time, too.
Buying an extended warranty.
Most manufacturers allow you to wait until just before the regular warranty expires to decide. By then you should know whether your car is troublesome enough to require the extended warranty. Most of them arenít worth the price.
Never skimp on liability, but why buy collision and comprehensive insurance on a junker you can probably afford to replace? Add your deductible to your yearly bill for collision and comprehensive coverage, then compare that total with the wholesale value of the car. If itís more than half, reconsider.
Assuming the problem is major.
If your car is overheating but you donít see a busted hose or lots of steam, it might be the $5 thermostat, not your radiator. Or it may be that ominous ďcheck engineĒ light itself thatís failed, not your alternator.
Not changing the fuel filter.
Have it replaced as a part of your maintenance -- every two years or according to the manufacturerís schedule -- rather than when it becomes clogged with grit, leaving you at the mercy of the nearest garage.
Not knowing how to change a tire.
Have you even looked at your spare? Make sure itís up to snuff and all the parts of your jack are there. Changing a flat yourself is not only cheaper, itís faster, too.
Not keeping your tires properly inflated.
Check them once a month; otherwise, youíre wasting gasoline, risking a blowout and wearing them out more quickly.
Ten bucks for long lines and gray water? Nothing shows you care like doing it yourself.