Save with these easy car maintenance tips

It sometimes seems that running a car is a never ending series of expenses. There are the inevitable costs of insurance, registration, motoring association fees. Then there’s the weekly petrol fill, servicing costs and replacement of items that eventually wear out, such as tyres and batteries.

The good news is that there are things you can do to keep costs to a minimum over time. Some simple do it yourself maintenance tips will not only reduce the servicing costs, but will also help avoid bigger problems emerging and help retain the car’s resale value. Here are our top tips to help you start saving right now.

You don’t always need a mechanic
Most of us don’t have the skill, equipment or inclination to do our own car servicing (and doing so may void your warranty), but there are some routine maintenance tasks that you may be paying your mechanic to do, which you could easily do yourself. You’ll still need to get regular servicing done, but these simple tasks will reduce the bill and will help prevent larger problems emerging.

Checking fluids
Make it a monthly routine to check fluid levels. This can help preserve the car’s longevity and can save money on your mechanic doing it:

  • Oil can be easily checked. Park the car on a level surface and if it has been running, allow time for the oil to drain back into the sump. Locate the dipstick, extract it, wipe it clean with a rag, reinsert it fully and extract it again to make the reading. There are normally markings at the end of the dipstick to indicate minimum and maximum levels. Ideally the level should be near maximum. Top it up with engine oil if it is low, but be sure to consult your owner’s manual to make sure you use the correct oil type.

  • Coolant is another critical fluid check that you can do yourself. Wait until the engine is cool and check the plastic coolant reservoir that feeds into the radiator. This will usually have markings on it to indicate levels and you can top up with coolant (not water) if needed.

  • Transmission, brake and power steering fluid levels can also be observed at their reservoirs. Transmission fluid can be checked via a dipstick in a similar procedure as checking the oil, although in this case the engine must be running at the time of checking. Power steering and brake fluids usually have minimum and maximum markings on the side of the reservoir. These fluids will not need top ups as regularly as oil and coolant, so if levels are low then it’s probably best to consult your mechanic.

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Performing simple car check-ups yourself can save you trips to the mechanic

Tyres are critical
Tyre care is essential to car safety, but it is also a major cost saving opportunity. Air pressure should be checked at least monthly and this can even be done at home with an inexpensive pressure gauge. Check for cracks and bulges while you are at it, to avoid more serious problems emerging. Maintaining correct inflation will save money firstly through improved fuel economy and secondly through longer tyre life.

Front tyres will wear out faster than rear ones, so it’s advisable to have the tyre shop rotate the positions for even wear. If tyres do need replaced, always question whether all four need done since the wear may not be uniform. Getting a wheel alignment regularly will also prolong tyre life and save money, so skimping on this when having tyres fitted is false economy.

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Choosing the right fuel
Using the correct fuel is not only important for cost efficiency, it can also protect your engine from damage. The important thing to know about choosing the correct fuel is that there is no blanket rule that applies to all cars; the correct fuel will depend on the type of car.

Cars manufactured in Australia or Japan later than 1986 are generally designed to run on 91 octane unleaded petrol and most will be suited to E10 (petrol blended with 10% ethanol), but it is advisable to check on the manufacturer’s website to be sure if E10 is suitable for your car. Many people have the perception that using higher octane premium fuels will automatically improve performance and efficiency but this is not the case if the car is designed to run on 91 octane.

European cars, on the other hand, are generally designed to use higher octane, so this should be done to achieve optimum efficiency. Check manufacturer’s guidelines to be sure.

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Using the correct fuel is not only important for cost efficiency, it can also protect your engine from damage

Other simple do-it-yourself checks
A car’s air filter is vital to its efficient running and this is an item that you can easily check and replace yourself.  A dirty air filter will impact fuel efficiency, so check it monthly – especially if you have lots of stop-start driving in built up areas. Replacements can easily be purchased at an auto parts retailer and installation does not require any mechanical knowledge.

Windscreen wipers are also cheap to purchase at an auto retailer and most will even fit them for a nominal fee on site (or you can quite easily do it yourself), so don’t waste money by waiting for your mechanic to fix it.

Your battery is another item that you can save on by checking and replacing yourself, rather than relying on your mechanic. A battery tester can be purchased quite economically and is a handy way to avoid the frustration of being stranded with a dead battery. Check the terminals for residue build up too - your auto parts retailer will be able to supply you with a cleaning fluid for these. If the battery does need replaced your auto parts retailer can advise on the type and can usually install it for a small fee, but it is simple enough to do yourself. When detaching battery leads, remember to always detach the negative first.

The prevalence of auto part stores these days also means that you can ‘cut out the middle man’ and buy a lot of your own parts rather than have your mechanic buy them in when you get your car serviced.

Prevention is better than cure
While many simpler tasks like the ones described above are quite doable and can save you money, it is equally important to know where to draw the line and hand things over to your mechanic. Skimping on regular servicing may seem like a good way to save money, but it will cost you in the long run as poor maintenance will lead to more expensive major repairs down the track.

When it comes to choosing who to service your car, many may balk at the cost of using dealer service centres, but a good local mechanic will often be cheaper and do as good a job. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission states that warranties are still valid if you have the vehicle serviced by someone other than the dealer, as long as they are qualified, follow manufacturer’s specifications and use genuine or appropriate quality parts. The only exception to this may be for any extended warranties that you may have taken up, so check with the manufacturer to be sure about this.

Have any other tips? Share your ideas below.