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Cut long-term car ownership costs

To minimize the cost of owner of vehicles, here are some ‘cradle to grave’ tips for buying and maintaining a vehicle.

Check with Consumers Report when researching a new or used vehicle purchase. It is the most un-bias source for knowledge about vehicles - at a low price. The April edition is dedicated to new and used vehicles. Not only do they have tips on what to buy, but also how to buy and what “extras” to avoid buying with the vehicle.


I have followed Consumer Reports lead on the last 7 vehicles I have bought and have not been disappointed. Not all vehicles are created the same. An investment of buying the magazine or subscribing to Consumer Reports’ website, and spending several hours researching can save thousands of dollars down the road.

Set a routine on how you’re going to get your vehicle serviced. The owner’s manual has great information about your vehicle and when services are due. Keep in mind that oil services are best to do a little more often, as I have stated below. Air filters are among the most over-sold items. It’s ok for some dirt to be in them, just shake out the large stuff and continue to use them. In most conditions, an interval of 15,000-20,000 miles is fine with air filters. Also, a dirty air filter in modern vehicles does not affect fuel mileage.

Newer vehicles don’t require tune-ups, which used to involve setting critical components to make an engine run correctly. Now, these are handled by a complex engine control system that including many sensors and an electronic control unit (ECU) that provide an alert when worn or defective parts need to be replaced. If any of these components have problems, the “check engine” light or “service engine soon” light will activate.  These sensors and ECU are very dependable. Very seldom does the ECU need to be replaced; most common reason is water damage from plugs drains. If a water leak is detected inside your vehicle, it’s very important to get it fixed.

As mileage increases, problems and repairs will happen. Brakes need to be replaced; oil leaks may occur and suspension may need service. Some vehicles have a system that tells you when brakes need attention, such as a light that comes on or a “squealer” that makes a loud and consistent noise.

Some repair shops will keep an eye on your brakes during routine services and report back to you what percentage of brakes you have left so no surprises happen. Brakes wear out slowly most of the time. Brakes with 10-15 percent should be replaced. Even at that life, they are still stopping properly.  Oil leaks are easy to monitor if you park inside a garage, you will have oil on the floor. Keep an eye where you park.

One of the oversold items is shock absorbers or struts. Be sure to get a second opinion on them if told they need to be replaced.

I have always recommended that you find your favorite auto shop and have them take care of your vehicle. There are a few smart phone applications that make maintenance and costs records easy to keep track of.

With proper research and good care, your vehicle should have a long life of 10-15 years or 150,000-200,000 miles.

Preventive maintenance: the confusion from different recommendations

What kind of maintenance should modern cars have, and why should you do preventive maintenance at all?

With the cars of the 50’s and 60’s, tune-ups were done every 5-7,000 miles, coolant was flushed every fall, oil changes were done every 2,000 miles- and typical engine life was about 100,000 miles. 

With today’s more precisely built engines, 300,000 miles is not unusual with regular maintenance.  The question is, how does one maintain their vehicle for the fewest dollars per mile?

How often should oil services be done?  Some manufacturers are recommending up to 18,000 miles between oil changes, while other sources say every three months or 3,000 miles.

There are documented cases with Japanese and European car engines slugging up and needing major repair with under 50,000 miles, even though oil service were done in the prescribed factory times.

Some manufacturers are recommending that their transmission never needs service. Yet, even with lifetime transmission fluid, an instructor who worked for a major European dealership found that transmission life was doubled with prescribed maintenance. 

Life time anti-freeze or long life anti-freeze has had its problems as well. 

Preventive maintenance is the art of maintaining your car when and where you want to, increasing its life and dependability, decreasing the cost of ownership.

Oil changes done twice as often as the manufacturer recommends are advised.   Servicing of the transmission, cooling systems, and brake fluid needs to be done at least every 40,000-60,000 miles to maximize the life of these components.

Remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, or, putting it in monetary terms, a dollar of care will save $50 of repair.


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