"The days of fixing carburetors on weekends are probably past," says Jared Gall, associate editor for CarandDriver.com. But how can you tend to your car's needs and avoid those pricey auto repairs? Here's what the experts say you need to do.
Read the owner's manual
Nobody likes reading manuals, but your car's manual is packed with guidelines for everyday car chores, says Gall. Follow the maintenance schedules — such as 15,000 miles, 30,000 miles or 60,000 miles — outlined in the manual to avoid more serious problems later, Gall says. The manual also provides routine advice on jobs such as oil changes.
"Oil maintenance is the lifeblood of the vehicle," says Reilly Brennan, editor in chief of AOL Autos. If you're planning a long summer trip, an oil change beforehand can provide you with some peace of mind.
In addition, failing to replace your timing belt as directed in your owner's manual can destroy your entire engine, says Mike Allen, senior automotive editor for Popular Mechanics. "It's not an inexpensive thing to do — anything from $200 to $600 to have it replaced," says Allen. However, that's far less than the cost of a new engine.
Purchase a tire gauge
A tire pressure gauge costs about $5 and can lengthen the life of your tires four or five times, says Gall. As Allen of Popular Mechanics notes, many cars manufactured from 2006 to the present date have a tire-pressure monitoring system, but this will only inform you if your tires are 25 percent inflated. Relying on this indicator rather than checking tire pressure regularly can reduce your fuel economy and wear out your tires.
If you're ambitious, buy a bicycle pump for $5 or an air compressor for $25, Allen suggests. That way, you'll save some quarters by doing without the pump at the gas station.
"If your car has one wheel that's off by 2 or 3 pounds, that can affect your tire pressure by 5 or 10 percent," Brennan says. "Check every one to two weeks and you'll save a lot of money."
Test batteries in the fall
Gall of CarandDriver.com suggests taking your car to get the battery tested in the fall, so you'll last the winter without getting stranded. If you need to get your battery replaced, you'll have less stress doing it in September as opposed to in the middle of a blizzard.
Brace for a brake check
The antilock braking system (ABS) is a linchpin to various components working properly in your car, says Brennan. "When the ABS light goes on, it's critical that you take it for service," he says. "It can actually trigger (failure of) three or four components." Oil and grease can affect brake performance as well.
"Brake fluid should be flushed every three or four years," Allen says. As brake fluid gets old and breaks down, it could boil, Allen says. "The antilock braking hydraulic unit has some very small needle valves that depend on fresh clean brake fluid to act properly," Allen says. Replacing the ABS system can set you back several thousand dollars.
Rotate your tires
"Rotate tires every 10,000 miles or annually," says Allen. "That's something that would take a guy in his driveway maybe an half an hour." You can find the rotation guide in your owner's manual.
Buy wiper blades in warm weather
AOL Autos' Brennan suggests replacing your windshield wiper blades in the spring or summer months. If you buy them in the winter time, they'll be worn out early, he says.
Check your lights
A simple task such as making sure all your lights work can save you from expensive repair bills should an accident result from inoperable headlights or turn signals.
In the long run, routine maintenance and careful inspections can keep your car from expensive trips to the auto mechanic. It might require more time and effort on your part, but when it comes to your auto, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
—Brian T. Horowitz