How to Save Money on Car Maintenance

July 20, 2009

Regular car maintenance can be a great way to save money on your auto expenses. Expensive car repairs can often be avoided, or at least postponed for years, if you take steps to maintain the health of your vehicle. 

Smart Money magazine recently ran an article on affordable tips for car maintenance.  While some of them don’t really apply to me (using the recommended gasoline grade for luxury cars like BMWs or Mercedes) or aren’t something I have the time or tools for (changing my own oil) there were some valuable ones.

Do It Yourself Auto Repair

Air Filters
Often when I get my oil changed the service manager brings by air filter to show me the dirt and dust it contains and asks if I want them to replace it. I always say no because it’s really easy to replace and there’s always a markup on it, sometimes up to 30% more according to the Smart Money article.  Every car that I’ve owned has the air filter under a piece of plastic in an easy to reach spot.  Usually you just open a plastic or metal clasp and lift the cover to pull out the old and put in the new filter.

Tails Lights
I’ve replaced both the headlights and tail lights on our cars. You tell the people at Autozone or a similar store your make, model, year; and they’ll sell you the right lights.  Your car manual will often have a diagram and description of how to access and replace the burnt out bulbs.  The light bulbs average from $4.50 for a tail light up to around $11 for a head light according to the article, however, you may be charged $30 to have a mechanic change it for you.

Paint Scratches
A few years ago I took our CRV into a local shop to get a quote for fixing a few rusty spots on the hood.  The estimate came back at over a hundred dollars so instead I got the right paint match from a car paint store for a few bucks, removed the rust with sandpaper, and touched up the spots myself.

The Smart Money article explains that estimates to touch up scratches are often so high because “many shops are likely to paint an entire door or section (wherever the scratch is), so the color blends in.” Instead of paying the hundreds to paint a whole section, save money by touching up just the scratch yourself.

Cheap Auto Repair

Overheating can be very damaging, and very expensive, for your vehicle.  I speak from personal experience; a cracked head gasket put a former car out of commission when we had a cooling system failure.  The car was paid off and likely had several more good years left so it was a costly mistake on my part.

Keep a spare bottle of antifreeze in your trunk, it’s not expensive and it just what you car might need on a hot day to avoid overheating.  In addition to checking antifreeze levels and keeping it full, it’s worth the money to have a mechanic drain, flush, and check your cooling system periodically to keep your car running cool.

Window Cracks
This is a tip I didn’t know about until I read the Smart Money article. If you have a crack in your windshield you can have it sealed someplace like Jiffy Lube so it won’t continue to grow and require you to get a whole new windshield.  The article estimates that you can have the chip or crack sealed for around $40 – $70, which is much cheaper than a new windshield.

Oil Changes
The article actually lists the equipment you need to change your own oil but I don’t have the time or desire to change it myself.  I do take our cars in every 3,000 miles to have the oil changed.  Just like the antifreeze, the cost of keeping the engine lubricated is much less than the potential cost of damage if you don’t have enough clean oil.

I’m on the mailing list of the Honda dealer, JiffyLube, and Valvoline so I get postcards in the mail announcing discounts on oil changes.  Sometimes JiffyLube or Valvoline will offer an early bird special where you get a decent discount if you come in first thing in the morning.


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Ben Edwards, the founder of Money Smart Life, saved up enough to buy a Nintendo back when he was 12 years old. When he used the money to buy shares of Wal-Mart stock instead, he knew he wasn't like the other kids... His addiction to personal finance has paid off for his family and now he's helping you to afford the life that you want. Check him out on the web at Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook.

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8 Responses to How to Save Money on Car Maintenance

  • Sarah

    Also, Autozone will replace a lot of things for you for free if you buy the part there. I can do it myself, but i’m usually stopping off after work and am dressed up. They’ve replaced my blinker lights, my windshield wipers, my air filter. I think they replace batteries as well as I’ve seen them hauling dirty ones in the store. Sometimes there is a wait, but usually not too long.

  • Dan

    To save some money on that oil change, don’t do it every 3.000 miles. Consumer Reports (and many automakers) suggests changing the oil no more than every 7,500 (or six months, whichever comes first) for normal driving. That 3,000-mile recommendation is only for severe driving conditions: heat, cold, dust, lots of stops and starts. Link:

  • Jerry

    These tips are great reminders and common sense measures to keep costs low on car maintenance. After insurance, car payments and repairs you want to do all you can to make sure you’re saving as much money as possible. It may pay dividends if you end up selling your car in the future.

  • td

    I started doing oil changes this year on my own car this year. It takes me about 45 minutes and for the price I was paying for oil changes I can obtain better oil and a filter (~$27 – I got 5 quarts of of oil Platinum Pennzoil Syntheic and a mobil 1 filter from Advance Auto Parts, ~$40 (after rebate) I got 10 quarts of Mobil 1 and 2 mobile filters). If you plan on changing your only oil, you need a wrench for the drain plug and another wrench for the filter, a collection pan, and I suggest getting a Blitz galvanized drain pan (

  • Ben

    Wojciech, I agree, air filters are a snap to replace. Much cheaper than paying someone else to do it.

  • Wojciech Kulicki

    As annoying as it is to replace my taillights (in both of our cars), it definitely beats paying someone else $30 to do it.

    I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than $2 on a package of taillights, and that’s for a 2-pack! Can’t beat that.

    I’ve also told the auto shop “no” when they ask about the air filter. Most of the time, I get silence on the other end of the line for a few seconds. I think most people just say “sure, whatever” simply for the convenience. I would agree that air filters are one of the easiest things to replace in a car.


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