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Saving money on automobile maintenance and repair

What is the right amount in vehicle maintenance? This is one of the questions that is always going through my mind is.  Too much and you’re wasting money; not enough the vehicle life and dependability of you vehicle flies out the window.

The owner’s manual has great information on what to do and when. But-and this is a big but-is the manufacturer's recommendations  sufficient to ensure the vehicle will have a long life?

On one end of the spectrum is the “up sell” of fluid changes (the oil or fluid wiped on a white rag showing how dirty it is, shocks that are seeping slightly or the air filter that is somewhat dirty. (Remember, a slightly dirty air filter will NOT affect your fuel mileage, advanced electronics engine controls compensate for this on vehicles 95 and newer. A real plugged air filter should be replaced because it will cut engine power)

 The other end of the spectrum is oil services every 20,000 miles, no recommendation of transmission services, never having to change fuel filters, no brake fluid changes and life time antifreeze. These are “no brainers” in my opinion, wrong. Some automotive gurus’ feel this is the way to make sure vehicles wear out sooner so you will have to buy a new one. In my opinion, I go along with that theory. We have a lot of major engine repairs from oil sludge either plugging the oil pick-up screen or more common, solenoids that control valve timing getting plugged with sludge.

Now mind you, air filters and most fluids should be changed in a vehicle, the question is, how often. This is not an easy question to answer. My automotive “bible” Consumers Report and I part company on this, they recommend for the most part to follow manufactories reconditions. Not enough for me.  Some service centers recommend oil changes every 3 month, way too often in my opinion.

So what is the answer? A very strong “depends”.

It depends on your driving style, the vehicle you drive, your risk tolerance, how long you plan to keep you car and last, do you want the vehicle to last even if you plan to sell it.

My recommendations are below. Note this is for the person who drives 10-12,000 mile per year, normal vehicle and normal driving.

Oil Service 5,000 miles or once a year on normal oil, 5-15,000 on synthetic oil or once a year.

Air and cabin filter, inspect 15-20,000 miles and replace as necessary.

Transmission service 30-60,000 miles

External fuel filter 60,000 miles.

Brake fluid change every two years

Power steering fluid  60,000 miles

Coolant 60,000 miles or every 4 years

Spark plugs, as per manufactory recommendation

So what is the bottom line, talk to your favorite shop and come up with a plan and then stick to it.


More tips to save money

To repair of not repair, that is the question.

There has been a trend to replace gaskets, O-rings and shocks or struts when there is a trace of oil on them. In the automotive world, there are oil leak that allow oil to leak onto the ground. These need to be repaired soon from many reasons. The most important is if you lose enough oil, it will ruin your engine. Second and just as important, all oil that leaks on the street ends up in the storm drains. Theses drain untreated into our rivers, streams and then into the ocean. Not good for the environment.

The second is what I call a seep, oil is present but not leaking onto the ground or a drop now and then. These you be repaired if oil is dropping onto the ground for above reasons.

The third kind of oil leak is just the very small presents of oil mist around gaskets or on the top of the shock or strut. It’s more like a very small film, if you wipe your finger on it, it will not leave much residue on your finger. This residue oil leak does not need to be repaired; it will never leak or form a drop.

Oil doesn’t have a service tension and will “mist” areas like the top of a strut, the cylindrical rod that goes in and out of the oil reservoir, picking molecules of oil, distributing this on the top on the strut. My guess is that it is less the 1-1000th   of a teaspoon.

So if you are told you have an oil leak and find no oil under your car, it might be a good time to get a second opinion or take a look yourself.

Be sure to check your tire pressure monthly when your tires are cold, that is, driven less than a mile. Recommended tire pressures are set by the manufacture and will be on your door jam or owner’s manual.   


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