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How to lower car-ownership cost.

         To minimize the cost of car ownership, here are some tips from cradle to grave.

   When car-shopping, be sure to check with Consumers Reports. It is the most unbiased source of vehicle information, and affordable. The April edition is devoted to new and used vehicles. Not only does it offer tips on what to buy, but how to buy and what “extras” you can avoid.

   I have followed Consumer Reports advice on the last nine vehicles I have bought and have not been disappointed. Not all vehicles are created the same. The small investment of buying the magazine, or searching its website, and spending two or three hours on research can save you thousands of dollars down the road.

   Next, establish a routine for getting your vehicle serviced. The owner’s manual has schedules for when services are due in addition to all of the other vehicle information.  Keep in mind that oil services are best to do a little more often (more on that later).

   Some of the most frequently over-sold items in the service field are air filters. Remember it’s OK for some dirt to be in them; just shake out the large stuff and continue to use them. Most filters will work fine for 15,000-20,000 miles in most conditions, and a dirty air filter in modern vehicles does not affect fuel mileage. Newer vehicles are much  more maintenance free then older vehicles.

   “Tune-ups” are just not done on newer automobiles. Your vehicle will never need one; only worn or defective parts will need to be replaced. Tune-ups used to involve setting critical components to make the vehicle run correctly. Now, all these are handled by a complex engine-control system which includes many sensors and an electronic control unit (ECU). If any of these components have problems, the check-engine light will illuminate on the dash.  These sensors and ECU are very dependable. ECUs seldom need to be replaced. The most common reason is water damage caused from plugged 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 you need new brakes, and some repair shops will keep an eye on your brakes during routine services and report back to you so no surprises happen. Brakes wear out slowly most of the time. Brakes with 10-15 percent material remaining should be replaced, even though they continue to stop you safely below that level.

   Oil leaks are easy to monitor if you park inside a garage; you will have oil on the floor. So keep an eye where you park.

   Other oversold items include 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 consistent care of your vehicle. If you are a gadget person, there are a few smart phone apps that make maintenance and costs easy to monitor.

   With research and good care, your vehicle should have a good life of 10-15 years or 150,000-250,000 miles.

                                                             An ounce of prevention...

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

   With the cars of the 1950’s and 1960’s, tune-ups were done every 5,000-7,000 miles, coolant was flushed every fall and oil changes every 2,000 miles, with typical engine life about 100,000 miles. 

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

   How often should oil services be done?  Some manufacturers are recommending up to 18,000 miles between oil changes, on newer cars using synthetic oil, while other sources say every three months or every 3,000 miles, my suggestion is 5,000-10,000 miles on synthetic oil for newer vehicles (2000 or later) or once a year in most cases.

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

   Similarly, some manufacturers even claim that their new transmissions never need service. But 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, and decreasing ownership costs.

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

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In other words, a dollar of care can save $50 of repair.


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