Certain things keep me up at night.
Stock market? Nope.
Business issues? Every once in a blue moon.
Family? Not unless the little ones begin drinking my coffee.
Weird questions that no one in their right mind should ever ponder? Bingo!
Car maintenance seems to be an inescapable recurring thought these days. So I may as well take the dive here.
For simplicity purposes let’s assume you drive 10k miles a year. Your maintenance chart may look like this.
Oil: Change Dino every 5k. Synthetic can be nice for extended intervals but on a long-term ‘cost’ basis, dino oil is usually the better deal.
Best Deal: Black Friday Pep Boys Special, 10 quarts Castrol & 2 Purolator Filters (Cost $12)
Air Filter: Replace every 15k if you operate in high dust or pollen areas. Every 30k otherwise. A $10 air filter is perfectly fine although you can always get the ones with better filtration elements for just a few bucks more.
Best Deal: Frequent Bob Is The Oil Guy once a month and see what’s up in the rebates section. Combine the air filter discount with an oil change when you drive more than 10k a year.
Coolant: Replace every 5 years.
Best Deal: Pep Boys $1 Coolant, 2 gallons, every couple of years. It’s more than you’ll ever need.
Spark Plugs: Inspect Platinum plugs at 50k, Replace every 100k… or do it more frequently since you can buy them for free.
Best Deal: Pep Boys 16 Free Spark Plugs after rebate.
Fuel Filter: Some replace every 30k to 50k. Others don’t replace them at all. I would opt for the 30k if it’s easy, 50k if it’s hard.
Best Deal: Can’t recall ever seeing a good deal on fuel filters.
Belts & Hoses: Inspect once a month. Replace as needed. DO NOT forget about the ones not mentioned in the usual maintenance regimen. Replace those at the 7 year or 100k mark. I’m talking specifically about the vacuum, radiator and heater hoses. These can add hundreds to thousands in repair costs when they fail at the wrong times.
Best Deal: Shop around. No rhyme or reason here. This is also a good excuse to buy an…
Owner’s Manual: Haynes tends to be very good for advanced beginners. Factory manuals are more for enthusiasts.
Best Deal: If you buy a used car, consider using the one from the local library. Other than that buy it used, new, Ebay, whatever. Just make sure you have one.
Tools: Socket set, wrench set, Snake screwdriver set, a 12 gallon drain bucket, a torque wrench, and a few well chosen extensions will likely give you the best overall use along with a few special tools as prescribed in the owner’s manual. Just make sure you have what you need for regular maintenance.
Best Deal: Black Friday. I tend to like Craftsman tools. The cheap Chinese ones are fine but why not buy what you can happily keep for the rest of your life?
Brakes: Try to turn the rotors once if you can help it. Always have a brake set on hand for the times when you need to replace them.
Best Deal: Black Friday. Pep Boys has Prostop Brakes for $10.99. Often times you can get the better sets which typically sell for $40 to $50. This is what I did for our two Hondas. Rotors can be had cheap at the junkyard. Other junkyard parts worth buying are mentioned here.
Wash & Clean: In a perfect world we would wash every month and wax once to twice a year. In practice few people do it. For those that truly love their vehicle…
Best Deal: I am open to any suggestions for this one beyond the ‘look for free’ advice. If you don’t have a garage, a top quality car cover can be a truly wonderful alternative. Yours truly prefers to just get a good car cover and do a complete wash, wax and detail once a year.
Brake fluid: Follow the factory rec’s. Buy a large bottle when it’s on sale. For most cars sucking it out with a Mityvac every 5 years and putting new stuff in will be fine.
Power steering fluid: 5 years or 50k. Buy when it’s on sale.
Tranny fluid: Mityvac it out once every 30k for most front wheel drive vehicles. Once every year for most minivans. Yes it seems excessive but one of the better feelings that comes with long-time ownership is when you drive a 200k+ vehicle that still shifts like brand new. Those who own Panther vehicles won’t ever need to bother with it.
What else? I would prefer to have a Mityvac so I can remove all the fluids in a quick and easy fashion without loosening any bolts. But if you really want to redneck it, go and buy some clear hose from Home Depot, inhale and siphon. On second thought just get the Mityvac.
Radiator: Once every 100k or 8 years. Earlier if you notice any temperature variance. Make sure to replace the hoses and thermostat while you’re there as well.
Best Deal: 1-800-Radiator and Ebay tend to be very cheap and worthwhile.
I don’t think I’ve missed anything. Oh wait, there’s…
Tires: A long lasting tire will almost always be better than the cheap low-end [self-censored].
Best Deal: Buy your favorite brand on a Black Friday. Have them rotated every 5k. Every 75k tire I’ve bought has lasted 85k to 95k by doing this.
Big Items: Timing Belts are best bought around the time you need them. However water pumps, alternators, fuel filters, windshield wipers, headlight bulbs, and hoses can all be bought whenever there is a good sale. Those who have an Advance Auto Parts nearby can benefit from their 50% off sales. Amazon, Autozone, O’Reilly’s, and other stores have their sales as well. This site does a good job tracking the discounts. My advice is to buy the high quality units at a discount price.
Now I’m sure there’s a few other things….
Battery: Black Friday deal. Buy one within the third year of ownership and shop around every five years for a cheap reserve.
Battery Jump Pack: The Peak Battery Jumpers can be had for $20 to $30 on Black Fridays. Beats the heck out of a AAA membership.
Battery Charger?: I would opt for a basic one with automatic shut off. Usually can be bought on sale for $20 to $30. When the dead battery or bad alternator rears it’s head, this pays for itself.
Battery Cables? I like having them. The ‘Emergency Kits’ are usually fine for normal cars and you usually get a few fix-a-flat’s with them as well.
Now what else have I forgotten? Oh…
Gas: Always use a 3% to 5% cash back card for gas if you can find it. The average family spends at least $2000 a year on gas, and this will yield at least $60 to $100 extra in your pocket.
OK… done… feel free to modify as needed.
Thanks!: I would like to offer a special thanks to a few posters at the ‘Bob Is The Oil Guy’ site for helping me modify and add several of these recommendations. An additional thank-you must go to those posters at TTAC and beyond who will find this advice valuable. I am not much for designing matrixes for organizing all this information. So if anyone here wants to give it a shot please feel free.