They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and the adage applies very well to keeping your car running right. Here’s 7 common sense things you need to be checking on your car on a regular basis to save yourself a lot of money in the long run. We found the tips in the summer 2007 issue of our USAA member magazine. They’re all pretty obvious, which is why you’ll be smacking yourself in the head if you don’t do them, so read up and make sure you’re on schedule.
1. ENGINE COOLANT AND ANTIFREEZE
How Often: Check twice yearly, once before summer and again before winter; change if coolant has brown tint or rust bits.
Pay Now: Free to check; up to $5 to top off with correct mix of water and coolant or antifreeze. If you don’t use the right coolant for your car, you could damage your engine.
Or Pay Later: Without coolant, you can damage the water pump ($50 to $100) and possibly your engine.
How Often: Check monthly; change every 3,000 to 6,000 miles
Pay Now: Free to check; $20 to change yourself (oil, disposal fees); $20 to $40 at a shop.
Or Pay Later: Not changing the oil can void your warranty. Increased wear will shorten the engine’s life span. Rebuilt engines cost $1,000 to $3,000, plus labor, depending on the car.
3. AIR FILTER
How Often: Check monthly; change when less than 50 percent of the filter lets light through when held up to a 100-watt bulb.
Pay Now: Free to check; $15 to $50 to change yourself; add another $20 or so for someone else to change it for you.
Or Pay Later: 10% increase in fuel consumption; if gas costs $3 per gallon and your car holds 20 gallons, you’re wasting $6 with each fill-up–$156 a year, if you fill up every two weeks.
4. TRANSMISSION FLUID AND FILTER
How Often: Check monthly; change every three years or 36,000 miles.
Pay Now: Free to check; a few dollars to top it off; $30 to change it yourself; $40 to $80 to for someone else to do it.
Or Pay Later: Dirty or low fluid can cause problems with shifting and transmission failure. Transmissions cost $1,000 to $2,000, plus labor, to repair or rebuild.
5. BRAKE FLUID
How Often: Check each oil change; change every two years or as needed if your brakes feel soft.
Pay Now: Free to check; $3 to $20 a quart, depending on the fluid; $65 to $165 for a mechanic to change the brake fluid.
Or Pay Later: $60 or more to replace pads; $2,5000 or more, depending on your car’s year, make, and model, for a complete brake job. Brake fluid absorbs moisture over time, reducing the brakes’ effectiveness, which can lead to accidents.
6. TIRE TREAD
How Often: Check monthly; buy new tires when you see all of Lincoln’s head on a penny stuck headfirst in a tread.
Pay Now: One penny to check; $40 to $200 per tire to replace, plus labor.
Or Pay Later: As much as $25,000 or more for a new car if you wreck due to a tire blowing.
7. TIRES FOR PROPER INFLATION
How Often: Ideally once a week, but at least monthly; inflate as needed.
Pay Now: Free to check; 25 to 50 cents to inflate.
Or Pay Later: $40 to $200 per tire, plus labor, to replace improperly worn tires.