Take care of your car and it will take care of you. By performing routine maintenance one can avoid breakdowns and other problems that are costly and tricky to handle. Car Talk is dedicated to helping car owners care for cars properly and affordably. National Car Care Month is a great time to step back and make certain your car care plan is the best it can be.
Car Care Month, or months, since both April and October are car care months, were created by a group named the Car Care Council. The group has been inactive for a couple of years, but what they started is worthy of mention.
During the Car Care Months, we in the auto industry and as a community of owners take time to reflect on best practices regarding car care. Car Talk is all about car care, with an eye towards consumer advocacy and not overpaying for good car services.
When you maintain your car, always keep the receipt. Always. Get an 8.5 x 11-inch folder of some sort and put every receipt inside following any sort of car maintenance short of car washes. Even if there was no charge for the work, such as following a warranty repair or recall. This information is very valuable to you when you need a warranty repair, when you sell your car, or if you ever opt to purchase an extended warranty.
When Car Care Month began it was in October. The Car Care Council had a good reaction to the idea of a month-long car care period, so they added April as well. Both months are ideal times to consider car repair. In areas with serious winter weather, spring and fall are times when owners who use winter tires have them swapped, and many vehicle owners align their maintenance around the spring and fall car care cycle.
Car Talk considers car care and proper maintenance of great importance. However, a proactive plan for repair when needed is a big part of car ownership. And unfortunately, every car requires repairs from time to time. We all rely on our vehicles for transportation, entertainment, and for many of us, even commerce. Keeping your vehicle properly maintained is one good way to help ensure what we like to call “up-time.” Time when the car is operating properly and reliably.
The worst way to deal with maintenance and repair issues is to wait for the worst to happen. By properly caring for tires, we can save money and have a safer vehicle. The same holds true for the remainder of the vehicle. When maintained according to its designers’ intent, the vehicle will deliver on its promise to work well for us. When neglected, we find ourselves in a pinch and have to react to breakdowns or poor performance.
Maintaining your vehicle on its normal schedule need not be a budget-buster. Many new vehicles come with included maintenance. Here’s a quick chart highlighting the duration of the included maintenance by brand. Our list is not comprehensive, so always check with your retailer about included maintenance when you shop and be sure to factor it into your purchase decision.
Pricing from dealers can be very illogical. For example, we took the image above at a name-brand car dealership in Metro Boston. This particular brand has an easy-to-change cabin air filter located behind the glove box. Changing it requires no tools and takes under 2 minutes. The part - from the actual dealer - costs under $30.
So why does the dealer need to charge $50 in labor for two minutes of work? This particular maintenance task is ideal for those who have no experience working on cars. Videos on Youtube show you how to do it and if you mess it up for some reason, the car is still driveable. Give it a shot. Save yourself $50. If you need a filter, your local parts store can help, or you buy it online with Advanced Auto Parts. Also, Amazon has a helpful tool to ensure you get the right part.
Many dealers offer coupons and special deals for service. Take advantage of them. Always look on the dealer website before you schedule service. See if there are any deals available. If not, look at the next closest dealer for your brand. If they have a service special running, you can always ask your preferred dealer to match that price, or try the new location.
Local shops have pricing we find to be more logical. Once you have a relationship with a local dealer you may well find that some quick checks and small jobs are priced into other work, or may even be offered as a courtesy. For example, a technician may check your brake pads for life and ensure the tire isn’t bound by a frozen caliper when rotating the tires. While not a full brake inspection service, this type of work can cost you nothing at a local shop if you ask.
Here is a list of the most common maintenance items and their cost estimates.
|Maintenance||Cost At Dealer||Cost At Local Repair Shop||DIY Materials and Time|
* Returning your used oil to the recycling center often takes more time than the actual oil and filter change.
You may be surprised to hear that oil and filter changes are not the most expensive aspect of car maintenance and repair. Rather, it is tires. Tires for modern cars often cost as much as $200 per tire before taxes and before mounting and balancing. Add in an alignment each time you buy new tires and you should budget $1,250 for tires every three to five years depending on your mileage and your luck. Do you drive an electric vehicle? You may find your tires wear more quickly due to the car’s higher weight and added torque compared to conventional cars.
How do you know which tires are the best for your vehicle? Car Talk has done extensive research on all popular models to help. Check out our Buying Guide for Best Tires here. Where is the best place to buy tires? Car Talk suggests a local independant tire retailer or chain, or your dealer if you cross-shop the pricing and find it to be competitive.
Online retailers have great pricing, great service, and can help you find a shop in your area that can mount the tires you purchase from them. Car Talk's recommendations for online tire buying are SimpleTire and Tire Rack.
Read more on the 7 Most Expensive Car Repairs here.
Yes, aftermarket parts are not inferior to your car’s OEM parts in most cases. If you wish to use branded parts such as oil filters or air filters, be aware that they are widely available online and usually at prices a lot lower than your local dealership’s parts counter.
Once your vehicle is out of its included maintenance period, which won’t come until year six for a Jaguar, or year four for a Hyundai, Jeep, BMW, or MINI brand vehicle, Car Talk suggests searching locally for a trusted independent repair shop or chain. Dealers tend to have the most expensive service costs. Although dealers may well have a great price on an oil change as part of a promotion, when it comes time for repairs, you will find that a local shop or independent chain can have a cost as much as 30% less. Establishing a relationship with a local service provider before you need it is always a good policy.
Car Talk suggests word of mouth followed by a close reading of reviews when searching for a local maintenance and repair shop. Google can be a great resource for those looking for reviews. Shop reviews are usually found either through a Google browser search, or by using Google Maps if you already know the name of the shop. Sort by “Newest.” This will give you the best picture of how that shop’s customers felt after a recent visit. Don’t be put off by one or two bad reviews. The fact is car repair can be stressful for owners. Blaming the messenger is sometimes a reaction to bad news. Look at the overall review score and read what customers say - good and bad. Local Guides on Google are reviewers who post a lot of reviews. We trust their reviews more than those who post one angry-gram. Don’t forget to post your own review after you have service. You can also search through Car Talk's Mechanics Files to find a trusted shop near you.
Each season, take a few minutes to do a quick review of where your vehicle stands with regard to maintenance. Use your owner’s manual. Each manual has a chart the manufacturer recommends for your specific model. Do not rely on your local dealer for this list. They often add unnecessary work at a high cost to you.
Here are things every car owner can and should have on their seasonal list of maintenance items:
There are many ways to take advantage of National Car Care Month. Local shops and dealerships will certainly have coupons and incentives on their sites. You can also grab great deals online.
We did the research and compiled a lot of good information for our readers on Car Talk's Deals and Coupons page.
Our friends at SimpleTire put together this helpful survey and article detailing the Americans feel about Car Care. They also put together this very detailed infographic based on their findings and kindly allowed Car Talk to post the information for our readership.
National Car Care Month happens in April and also October. These are both ideal times to review your car car plan and take action.
Follow the instructions in your owner’s manual. Lost your manual? Nearly every manual for every modern vehicle is available online. Be sure to follow the maintenance schedule the manufacturer suggests - not the dealer’s - to avoid overpaying.
Your dealer can most certainly do a fine job of maintaining your vehicle. In fact, many brands come with included maintenance for many years. Use the dealer during those periods to avoid wasting money. However, after that period, your local trusted independent shop or repair chain may have much better pricing than your dealership.
We suggest not doing so. In fact, avoid buying an extended warranty, snake oil, or any other added service on the day you buy your car. You can always add these things later after you have passed through the emotional time of the car purchase itself.
Your owner’s manual is the only place that has the right answer. Most cars require oil changes at least once per year, but not all.
Cars that are used infrequently often have special needs. Have your brakes and battery checked at each service interval, and be aware that many maintenance tasks occur at time intervals, not just mileage intervals. One last tip; Tires have expiration dates. Ask your mechanic to check them when they reach six years of age. Tread depth is not the only way to inspect a tire for safety.