It can be easy to save $10,000 over the life of your car, just by changing your oil, rotating your tires and driving smart. By helping your car last longer, you can trade it in less often. One study shows that, trading in your vehicle every eight years instead of every four, saves you over $3,000 in each of the last four years, even after repairs.
The key to getting those extra years of automotive life is doing small things regularly, though a few large repairs are inevitable with an aging car. Modest preventive maintenance costs only about $500 a year, and does not take much time.
Change the oil and filter
At $40 a shot, an oil change is one of the most cost-effective ways to improve your gas mileage and protect your engine. Since the downside of skipping an oil change is a $4,000 engine, the payback is huge. For most cars, count on an oil change every 5,000 km, or four times a year. Annual price tag: $160.
Wash your car
Road salt, sludge and pollution can corrode your car from the inside out, leading to costly body work later. When cleaning, watch for early signs of rust blooming on the bottom of your doors (this can happen within four years without regular washing). Another three to four years and corrosion begins to affect underbody components like brake lines, leading to spending thousands in rust-related repairs. You should wash your car at least once every two weeks, especially during the salty and dirty winter and spring seasons. Annual price tag: do it yourself and it's free.
Rotate the tires
Regularly rotating your tires, removing them and changing their position (front to back and elft to right) reduces uneven wear and extends tread life. That translates into major savings, since you can wear out a set of tires (average cost: $500) in only 20,000 km if you're careless. If you do this twice a year or every 10,000 km, this may have an annual price tag: $40. Some tire dealers will include free regular rotation when you buy a full set.
Keep your tires properly inflated
Under-inflated tires will reduce your tire life by at least 15%, as well as slightly increase your fuel consumption. 80% of cars are on the road with incorrect tire pressure. Check your tire pressure every other time you fill up, which costs you nothing.
Don't let your car idle too long
Don't run your engine for more than two or three minutes after turning on the ignition, especially if it's cold. In some communities, now, this is illegal, because of car theft and pollution concerns. Begin driving slowly, because while your engine may be warmed up, your transmission is still cold.
Get your fluids flushed
The key liquids for your car's operation should be kept fresh. New power steering fluid ($50) prevents a buildup of sludge and varnish that can affect handling. New brake fluid ($100) helps to lengthen your brake life from two years to three or more. Changing your transmission fluid ($200) can save you paying $2,000 to $3,000 for a new transmission. If you do this every two years for all three, the annual cost is $175.
Flush the cooling system
Draining and replacing the coolant in your radiator every two years ($100) can save you money by protecting the components and preventing corrosion. Some new long-life coolant in many new vehicles extends it to every 80,000 km or five years. Annual price tag: $50 maximum.
Use your parking brake
Use your parking brake, even with an automatic transmission, especially if you're parked on an incline. It helps the brakes last longer.
You can do this by setting aside about a half-hour for an oil change every three to four months, and have your tires rotated at the same time (at the same or a different garage). Add another two to three hours once a year for extra servicing.