Don't spend a
nickel without a darned good reason. Bone up, wise up and
don't let anyone lead you astray.
Cars make us irrational. We call
them our babies and lovingly wax them every Saturday -- or
we turn up the radio to drown out the sound of a dragging
muffler. Either mindset will cost you money, sometimes a lot
The line between obsession and
neglect is fine, but walking it properly means you never
spend a nickel without a good reason -- and good reasons can
include spending money on something thatís not broken. Here then, are 20 ways you waste
money on your car.
Premium gas instead of regular.
Buy the cheapest gasoline that doesnít make your car engine
knock. All octane does is prevent knock; a grade higher than
the maker of your car recommends is not a ďtreat.Ē
(great, more money for Lottery
3,000-mile oil changes.
Manufacturers typically suggest 5,000 miles, 7,500 miles or
even longer intervals between oil changes (many car markers
now include oil-life monitors that tell you when the oil is
dirty -- sometimes as long as 15,000 miles.) There may be
two recommendations for oil-change intervals: one for normal
driving and one for hard use. If you live in a cold climate,
take mostly very short trips, tow a trailer or have a
high-revving, high-performance engine, use the more
aggressive schedule. If you seldom drive your car, go by the
calendar rather than your odometer. Twice a year changes are
the minimum. (of course, we at autothing.com know
most people will continue to believe those Jiffy Lube
stickers that recommend an oil change every 16 miles, ha!!)
Taking false economies.
Better to replace a timing belt on the manufacturerís
schedule than to have it break somewhere in western
Nebraska. Better to pop for snow tires than to ride that
low-profile rubber right into a tree. (that's a visual)
Using the dealerís maintenance
schedule instead of the factoryís.
Of course he thinks you
should have a major tune-up every 30,000 miles. Most of the
tasks that we generally think of under the heading of
ďtune-upĒ are now handled electronically. Stick to the
manufacturerís schedule unless your car is not running well.
If your engine doesn't "miss" -- skip a beat or make other
odd noises -- donít change the spark plugs or wires until
the manufacturer says so.
Using a dealer for major
services. Independent shops almost always will do the
same work much cheaper. Call around, ownerís manual in hand,
to find out, mindful that the quality of the work is more of
a question mark. Some dealers may tell you using outside
garages violates the carís warranty. This is a lie.
Using a dealer for oil changes.
Dealers sometimes run dirt-cheap specials, but otherwise
youíll usually find changes cheaper elsewhere. If youíre
using an independent shop for the first time, you might
inconspicuously mark your old oil filter to make sure it has
indeed been changed. And donít let them talk you into new
wiper blades, new air filters or high-priced synthetic oil,
unless your car is one of the few high-performance machines
built for it.
(oh, like my twin
Not replacing your air filter
and wiper blades yourself. Buy them on sale at a
discount auto-parts store rather than having a garage or
dealer replace them. Replacement is simple for either part,
a 5-minute job. A good schedule for new air filters is every
other oil change in a dusty climate; elsewhere at least once
every 20,000 miles. Treat yourself to new wipers (itís
easiest to buy the whole blade, not the refill) once a year.
Going to any old repair shop.
At the very least, make sure itís ASE-certified (a good
housekeeping seal of approval from the nonprofit National
Institute for Automotive Service Excellence). From there,
look for a well-kept shop with someone whoís willing to
answer all your questions. Estimates must include a
provision that no extra work will be done without your
approval. Drive your car to make sure the problem is fixed
before you pay. Pay with a credit card in case thereís a
dispute later. Be courteous and pay attention. A good
mechanic is hard to find.
Changing your antifreeze every
winter. Change it only when a hydrometer suggests it
will no longer withstand temperatures 30 degrees below the
coldest your area sees in winter. Your dealer or oil-change
shop should be happy to check it for free. Every two years
is about right. But you also should keep your cooling system
happy by running the air conditioner every few weeks in
winter to keep it lubricated, checking for puddles
underneath the car and replacing belts and hoses before they
dry and crack.
Replacing tires when you should
be replacing shocks. If your tires are wearing unevenly
or peculiarly, your car may be out of alignment or your
shocks or struts worn out. (though
we suppose it could still just be your tires, right?)
Letting a brake squeal turn
into a brake job. Squeal doesnít necessarily mean you
need new rotors or pads; mostly, itís just annoying. Your
first check -- you can probably see your front brakes
through the wheels on your car -- is to look at the
thickness of the pads. Pads thicker than a quarter-inch are
probably fine. If your brakes emit a constant, high-pitched
whine and the pads are thinner than a quarter-inch, replace
them. If your car shimmies or you feel grinding through the
pedal, then your brake rotors need to be turned or replaced.
Not complaining when your
warranty claim is rejected. Check Alldata and the
National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA)
to see if a technical service bulletin (TSB) has been issued
about the component in question. Manufacturers often will
repair known defects outside the warranty period (sometimes
called a secret warranty). It helps if youíve done your
homework and havenít been a jerk. (this article from MSN presumes you may be a jerk, lol)
Not keeping records. A
logbook of every repair done to your car can help you decide
if somethingís seriously out of whack. Didnít I just buy new
brake pads? With a log and an envelope stuffed with
receipts, youíll know who did the work and when, and whether
or not thereís a warranty on the repair. And a service
logbook helps at resale time, too.
Buying an extended warranty.
Most manufacturers allow you to wait until just before the
regular warranty expires to decide. By then you should know
whether your car is troublesome enough to require the
extended warranty. Most of them arenít worth the price.
Overinsuring. Never skimp
on liability, but why buy collision and comprehensive
insurance on a junker you can probably afford to replace?
Add your deductible to your yearly bill for collision and
comprehensive coverage, then compare that total with the
wholesale value of the car. If itís more than half,
reconsider. (remember, it's better
to underinsure than overinsure -- wait, that could be the
other way, hmm...)
Assuming the problem is major.
If your car is overheating but you donít see a busted hose
or lots of steam, it might be the $5 thermostat, not your
radiator. Or it may be that ominous ďcheck engineĒ light
itself thatís failed, not your alternator.